Monday, August 31, 2009

Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon
Copyright 2009
Three Rivers Press - Fiction/General
288 pages

Godmother begins in a charming little antiquarian bookstore in Manhattan. Elderly Lillian works in the store and barely makes enough money to survive but she loves her job. Early in the morning, she opens the glass case behind the counter and reads from a book that is very special because of the scrawled reminder in French, translated, "All my old loves will be returned to me." Lillian hopes this sentiment will come true for her because she used to be a fairy godmother -- and a very special one. She was Cinderella's fairy godmother, but she made a huge mistake and was cast down to Earth. At least . . . that's what we are led to believe.

The author basically draws you into this magical, fanciful tale about a woman who must bind her wings every day before going out into the world and who has been separated from her perfect, beautiful life as a fairy. The scenes alternate between her days as a fairy godmother (with her sister and two other best-fairy friends) and her current life. Lillian has discovered what she believes will finally be the way to return to the fairies -- by acting as a fairy godmother to a young lady she has met, bringing her together with the handsome and wealthy divorcee who owns the bookstore where Lillian works. Perfect! She can atone for her mistake with Cinderella and encourage a happily-ever-after ending for two people who appear to be made for each other.

Or, so the story goes until nearly the end of the tale. And, this is where little Bookfool's brain began to throb in a most discomforting manner because basically the author took everything she'd led the reader to believe and turned it upside down and inside-out. All I can say without spoiling the book completely is that there is a surprise twist. And, I suppose only the individual can decide whether or not that twist is palatable. In my opinion, it ruined the book. I enjoyed the first 250 pages. It was a nice blend of reality and fantasy. The ending, however, completely destroyed the book for this reader.

The usual Bookfool Method of Amending Bad Endings is to reimagine them in my own mind. Of course, I can't hang onto the book, in that case, because I'll be reminded of the real ending and that might make me grit my teeth, so this one will not stay in my home. I thought Marie at Boston Bibliophile wrote an excellent review:

Marie a and I felt about the same. I like her rating, "BORROW". Yep, I'd have to agree. Godmother is not a book I will ever reread. I loved it until the ending; it was on the verge of becoming one of my favorite books of the month. And, then . . . well. Damn. It was just disappointing.

3/5 - The vast majority of this book was wonderful. While the writing is a little cliché, I thought it actually improved as the story progressed. And, then that ending. Sigh. I knocked off two points because of the ending, when a magical, lovely tale went splat and became an average book that I was tempted to throw at the wall. I have to give the author her due; if not for the ending, I would have loved this book.

The most fitting quote just popped up at Twitter: If you are going to make a book end badly, it must end badly from the beginning. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Thanks for that, Bob. And, thank you to AdviceToWriters for tweeting that quote.

In other news . . . there's not much other news. We called off the flooring people till Thursday because Bookfool was suffering. Suffering, I tell you. In a word: migraine. You would think medical science would have figured out how to prevent those suckers, by now, wouldn't you??

Just walked in: Evenings at the Argentine Club by Julia Amante

Just about to walk out: 11 books and an audio that have all been requested from Paperback Swappers. I love it when I get a whole bunch of requests at once. The people in line behind me at the Post Office usually are not as thrilled as I am.

Tomorrow: I'll be going to a swim meet! Squee! And, the weather is decent!!! Kind of weird for August, but we're loving it. I was going to post a picture of my son swimming, but he said I don't have permission. I'll sneak one in when he's not looking, later in the week. Don't tell. ;)

Bookfool, recently taunted by a hummingbird who apparently did not realize he was supposed to hover nicely and pose, rather than chase a butterfly and then hide in the tree.

Wahoo! It's RIP season!!

I haven't participated in a challenge since I "unchallenged" myself, earlier this year. But, the RIP is my all-time favorite. I can't head into fall without digging around for spooky books, period. I've chosen to participate in Peril the Second, which requires the reading of two books from the genres listed at Carl's blog. However, I may read more. Sometimes, it's hard to stop.

My starter list:

1. Midnighters - Scott Westerfeld
2. The Calling - David Mack
3. Circle of Souls - Preetham Grandhi
4. Broken Angel - Sigmund Brouwer
5. The House on Tradd Street - Karen White

I'd better stop there. It's easy to get carried away . . .

Addendum: I've just been informed by Carl that the challenge began on August 23rd. Since I finished Darling Jim, last week, and it's suitably creepy, I'm going to call it my first completed RIP book, if only for the sake of linking up to my review to draw attention to a creepy book that others might miss. So, here we go:

Completed books:

1. Darling Jim - Christian Moerk

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
Copyright 2009
Henry Holt - Fiction/Crime/Ireland
288 pages
Christian Moerk's website
Great article about the author at Macmillan's website

"Fine, then," said the man, and took a bite out of what from a distance looked like an extremely ambitious-sized tea cake while following a rugby game on TV.

Niall nodded and continued over to his bicycle, which still waited patiently by the tobacconist's, even if he'd forgot to lock it again. He strapped the bag across his chest and swung his long leg across the iron bar, where the paint was peeling like autumn leaves. As he pedaled up Dublin Road, he could see the faint white glimmer of a jetliner's anti-collision lights as it navigated a landing approach to town right above the professionally cute storefronts. It was nearly midnight.

Niall didn't feel any impatient spirits gliding past on the road next to him as he biked the long trip home, nor did he even sense the faintest whisper of anger from two girls who refused to be forgotten.

But if Stash Brown himself had been the accidental carrier of Fiona Walsh's black book, he would have brought along his very biggest laser gun and never taken his eyes off the handlebars. Because two impatient ghosts were sitting backward right in front of Niall's face on the chromed steel, itching for him to open the damn thing and begin to read.

Oh, boy, where to start? First, Darling Jim is a very creepy, unusual book. The story begins with the discovery of three bodies in a small village in Ireland. An older woman and two of her nieces have all died in the same house, the nieces apparently held in captivity for many months. What could have led an aunt to torture and starve the two young women?

A postal clerk, rustling around in the dead-letter bin, finds an envelope that contains a diary written by one of the dead Walsh girls. Her journal tells part of the story, about a handsome storyteller whose countenance hid the truth of an evil string of crimes. "Darling Jim", they call him. The women follow him from one town to another, eager to hear the continuation of his story, which always ends with a cliffhanger.

After reading Fiona Walsh's diary, Niall (the postal clerk) goes in search of a second journal kept by sister Roisin, which Fiona mentioned in her own diary. When he tracks down the diary, there are still unanswered questions and Niall goes on a road trip to find answers. There were three Walsh sisters. What has become of Aiofe? What led the three sisters to commit a crime and their aunt to imprison them? Why are the villagers, including a friend of the Walsh sisters who works on the police force, angered by his curiosity?

Darling Jim shifts from one voice to another as the two Walsh sisters tell their story, Jim spins his tale, and Niall goes in search of answers. At times, I felt a little distracted and impatient by Jim's storytelling, but the book is skillfully rendered. There is no part of Darling Jim that isn't relevant to the unfolding mystery. And, it's a humdinger of a story. I don't think I could have ever set the book aside without knowing how it ended and finding out all the answers to the many questions posed throughout the book. It is, however, very dark and I'm not a big fan of truly dark, criminal tales, so I can't recommend it as enthusiastically as some might.

Just erased my rating. I can't fathom rating this book because I think it's well-written, solid storytelling -- it's simply not my favorite kind of story, a dark literary tale of deception, passion, and murder. I'd recommend Darling Jim to those who enjoy a darker story. I absolutely loved the Irish setting and although I'm no expert, it certainly seemed like Moerk captured the mode of speech. The sense of place was right on, in my humble opinion. There are some graphic descriptions of violence/crime scenes and sex.

What does the word "Ireland" make you think of? For me . . . the color green. I've never been to Ireland, but the photos I've seen have always been full of the color green. I looked up images of Ireland on Google and my favorite is a shot of Ireland by NASA:

Yep. Looks pretty darned green, doesn't it? [image source]

I think my copy of Darling Jim came from the publisher, via Twitter. Thank you!

Also finished, this week: Secret Society by Tom Dolby, Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon, The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang (a graphic novel), and Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman.

I should be back to blog-hopping, soon, but we have someone coming to look at our floorless den, tomorrow, to give us an estimate. I cringe at the thought of how much this repair is going to cost. Wish us a low estimate, please!

Bookfool, slowly getting back into the blogging thing

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Way Home by George Pelecanos *GIVEAWAY*

This drawing is now closed.

I've been feeling like it's about time for a giveaway (you know the feeling . . . that twitchy need to use a random number generator) and Miriam at Hatchette Books has nicely obliged by coming up with a giveaway of The Way Home by George Pelecanos . . . which just happens to be a book that President Obama has carried along on vacation.

I also confess to falling for that cover, simply because I love that shade of green. Yes, in fact, I am that shallow.

Visit George Pelecanos' website to read about the book.

And, watch the YouTube trailer, here (if I did this right . . . we'll see in a minute -- it's been a long time since I tried to embed a video of any kind):


1. Leave your email address. This is a MUST. No email, no entry, period.

2. Guess my cat's favorite vegetable. Seriously. If you get it right, you get an extra entry, but you don't have to be correct to be included.

3. Think like a North American . . . and be one. Unfortunately, this drawing is limited to residents of the U.S. and Canada. No P.O. Boxes.

4. Spread the word and leave a link to your post or tweet for an extra entry. There will be 5 winners, this time. Wahoo!!

The contest ends at 6 pm on September 21, 2009.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Don't Shoot! We're Republicans! by Jack Owens

Don't Shoot! We're Republicans! by Jack Owens
Copyright 2009
History Publishing Company - Memoir/Chronology/History
258 pages, incl. index

One night, because we had nothing more pressing and we were itching for adventure, three carloads of agents drove out of Birmingham and up the west side of Alabama into northeast Mississippi, hunting two fugitives who were joined at the hip. One, a dude named Singleton, was wanted for killing a convenience store manager in Alabama during a robbery, shooting him for the fun of it. Singleton collected coins and was a regular at numismatic shows, where he stole coins he couldn't buy. The other fugitive I'll call Thompson, a run-of-the-mill car thief. It was June, 1978. I'd been an agent for nine years and was certain I knew everything there was to know about everything.

It was darker than the inside of a snake's butt in rural Mississippi. We were a long way from home in a caravan of dull cars, feeling our way over unfamiliar roads, talking loud, comparing notes on the office stenos, invincible and full of ourselves. Every time we got out of the cars or rolled down the windows, elephant mosquitoes came at us like lava. No one wanted to stir. I longed for peanut butter and beer, resigned to a long night of it. . . .

. . . I looked down the highway. Headlights appeared in the distance. I clicked off the safety on the [M-79 grenade launcher]. I had to pee. Luther picked up the radio mic. "Quarter mile away," he said into the radio, which might have been heard in Natchez or in Detroit and not by the agents in the two cars directly behind us. You never knew about the reach of Bureau radios.

The publisher sent a description of this book to me and I said, "Yes!" I love memoirs and this one was supposed to be light-hearted and humorous, which is the kind of tone I prefer in a memoir. The bits above were pulled from a story in the prologue. By the middle of that anecdote, I was completely hooked. It probably didn't hurt that the opening story began in familiar territory, but the author definitely has a terrific sense of humor and his easy-going style is a real grabber -- I'm sure I would have been on the edge of my seat, even if that first anecdote didn't happen to take place in Mississippi.

Jack Owens was finishing up his law degree when he decided he didn't want to practice law (or take the bar exam) and applied for a job as an FBI agent. Subtitled, "Memoirs of the FBI Agent Who Did Things His Way", Don't Shoot! We're Republicans! tells about Owens' years as an agent, beginning at the time of his application to the bureau and ending with his retirement (including a few thoughts about changes in the bureau after he left). He did occasionally buck the rules a bit, but my overwhelming impression was that Jack Owens was definitely one of the Good Guys and a man who was committed to getting the job done.

During the time Owens worked in the FBI, the first Special Weapons and Tactics team was created. He was among the first federal agents to join a S.W.A.T. team and remained on one for many years. Owens also worked as a spy during the Cold War for a time, was on one of many S.W.A.T. teams that stormed a prison where hostages were held, and among those who staked out a bridge in order to catch a serial child killer in Atlanta. The man has a lot of interesting stories to tell.

Because his style is open and honest, I liked Jack Owens immediately and knew I was going to enjoy his memoir. He's what I'd call a straight-shooter, not one to mince words. If someone was ineffective or troublesome in his position at the FBI, during the years Owens worked, he tells you what the problem was and why he had difficulty working with or for that person. And, he's not afraid to admit his own mistakes in the book. The undercurrent, however, reveals a dedicated and enthusiastic agent who seemed to make friends with the vast majority of the people he worked with. Unlike the author of a similar memoir that I read in 2007: Blowing My Cover, the author stated the discomforts of his job as facts that he and his fellow agents lived with and expected to come with the territory, rather than complaints. He respected people who did the job and did it well. I loved his attitude.

Don't Shoot! We're Republicans! is also the title of one of the chapters and it's a great story. I should add that it's one of many tales that I enjoyed so much I had to repeat it to the family.

5/5 - An excellent memoir. The author is opinionated and was a bit of a rebel in many ways, but he tells his story in a way with such a nice, light touch that he comes off as a really likable guy. This is extremely fun reading; I heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone, particularly those who enjoy memoirs.

Did you know there are two acceptable spellings for the word "likable"? "Likeable" (with an "e")is also an accepted spelling. I only know this because I write the word one way and then I rewrote it and then I finally decided I'm getting old and it's okay to check my spelling online. I have a birthday coming up, next week. My son informed me that I'm going to be a year younger than I thought. Yes! It's like getting an extra year, free of charge!!

I've finished three books, since my husband came home to work on cleaning, clutter-removal and maintenance, so having the spouse around apparently doesn't inhibit my reading style. This has been a terrific reading month. More on that another time. I've yet to do a July Reads in Review post. I'd swear I'm going to get to it, but that just tends to get me into trouble so I won't. No swearing.

Hope everyone's had a marvelous week. I'm being summoned to get back to work. My husband is a slave driver. I can't swear to that, either. That would be kind of a lie . . . so I'll just shut up, now. Happy Weekend!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reviews forthcoming; Bookfool Expresses Dismay (film at 11)

Actually, I'm not too dismayed because I knew this was coming but . . . this past weekend Eldest Son came for a visit and this week Huzzybuns has taken off specifically to work on home maintenance. Since both events are pretty rare (particularly the latter), I haven't spent much time on the computer and likely won't for the rest of the week. I have, however, finished two books and hope to sneak in enough time to sit down and hammer out a couple of reviews. I will not have time to visit other blogs because if the husband asks someone to pass a hammer and I'm not there, he'll probably sit down with his blackberry. And, that would be a total bummer. Hope everyone has a fabulous week!! Will review ASAP and should be back to normal posting, next week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Tricks by David Rosenfelt

New Tricks by David Rosenfelt
Copyright 2009
Grand Central Publishing - Fiction/Mystery
309 pages
David Rosenfelt's Website

I'm going to use the cover blurb on this one because I think it's nicely written and a decent synopsis that doesn't give anything away:

Attorney Andy Carpenter is about to represesnt an adorable Bernese mountain dog puppy, whose owner was brutally murdered, in a custody fight. Few can rival Andy's affection for dogs, and he will do whatever it takes to insure that this little pup doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But his playful new friend possesses a deadly and valuable secret that a number of people are willing to resort to violence to obtain. It will take more than Andy's usual courtroom theatrics to save this dog, including a little help from his beloved golden retriever, Tara. Andy soon discovers that everyone around him is in danger, including his longtime girlfriend, Laurie, and he will have to come up with some high-risk new tricks to save those he holds most dear.

I love David Rosentfelt. I think this is the third Andy Carpenter mystery I've read (blame SuziQ, who piqued my interest and got me going when she assured me that they're not of the nightmare-inducing variety). I've missed at least two titles but this book stands alone well. Where necessary, the author quickly fills in relevant information from past novels without going overboard. As usual, Andy's trademark wit and refusal to follow the rules makes things fun. And, Rosenfelt even tossed in a nice explosion. I love it when authors blow things up.

The mystery was a lot more complex than I expected it to be and I enjoyed that. It wasn't confusing -- I'm not really the puzzle-solving kind, so too many strands tend to annoy me; but, New Tricks was just about right. And, I absolutely love the author's affectionate portrayal of dogs.

4/5 - Very good. Solid storyline, great characters, lots of action and humor.

Thanks to Miriam at Hatchette for the review copy!

Bit of utter coolness: I'm only temporarily driving three teenagers to the pool, since one of them has been grounded and she'll be back to driving herself, next week, but at the moment I am driving a car full of teenagers who are all avid readers. The conversations on the way to the pool have been lively and fun. They tend to lean toward fantasy and paranormal fiction (Eragon, Twilight and the Harry Potter books are favorites) and all three admit to reading favorite books to tattered shreds. It would actually be nice if the drive to the pool was a wee bit longer, just for the sake of listening to the kids talk.

Pondering, this week: Have you ever wondered why the British have the cutest slang words with the worst meanings? I mean . . . bugger sounds so adorable till you know what it means. There is a part of me that wants to be able to say, "Bugger off!" simply because I like the sound of the word, but darned if it isn't about the nastiest cute-sounding curse word. And, of course, there are lots more cute, awful British words. However, I don't think I'll mention any more because who knows what kind of delightful hits the word "bugger" will inspire.

Just walked in:

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes, and
Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz (all from Paperback Swap)

Gotta go. My cat needs the computer. She has some important twittering to do. Seriously.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Christianish by Mark Steele (review)

Christianish by Mark Steele
Copyright 2009
David C. Cook - Christian Life (nonfiction)
277 pages
Mark Steele's Website

I don't know when this competitive urge for Christians to get the win started, but it's made an awful mess of things. It may have been when we stopped pursuing Jesus and instead began picking sides. After all, the Beatitudes don't tend to look a lot like modern Christianity. We choose a political team. We select a denominational preference. We hitch our cart to a branch of philosophy. Anyone that disagrees is quickly and succinctly judged, and simultaneously disregarded as worthless.

Big problem with that approach.

We are supposed to be loving those who don't agree with us to Jesus--and you can't love those whom you deem worthless.

Christianish is subtitled, "What if we're not really following Jesus at all?" Wow, how's that for a thought? Before I go any further, I should mention that this book is specifically directed at people who are church-going Christians and the author was raised in a Christian school, so he has a slightly different perspective from some of us -- those who are Christian but don't currently attend church and/or those who grew up in secular (aka, regular) schools. I thought my childhood was strict, but wow . . . it must really be something to grow up in a school where even Halloween costumes tend to have Biblical themes. In that way, the author has a slightly skewed perspective, but his points are valid.

Steele zones in on the hypocrisy of Christians, how American Christians have reinterpreted the scriptures to suit our needs (that's what the quote above is about -- how we've decided somewhere in the Bible it says we're going to be granted prosperity and those who aren't prosperous must be doing something wrong) and how far removed most of us are from doing what the Bible actually says we're supposed to do.

He talks about how the church has tried to change with the times and instead has ended up alienating some of its own. And, he talks about behavior -- how the outside needs to reflect the inside . . . which, I suppose, is where that cover image comes from. I, for one, could not possibly count the number of times a car with the ubiquitous fish symbol has cut me off in traffic (the reason, in fact, that I've chosen not to put one on my own car -- because, what does it say to people if you make a bad move in traffic, whether you mean to or not?).

What I particularly love about this book is the anecdotes from Steele's life. They're mostly hilarious, sometimes poignant. He occasionally lost me when he dived into his theology, but the point was usually evident before he leapt in and muddled it up by explaining the deeper meaning. There's a story about a man named Michael, who overcame a severe phobia and then went on to help others do the things that could have easily paralyzed him, toward the end of the book. That one, for some reason, really got to me. I had tears streaming down my face; and, honestly -- I have no idea why. Perhaps I felt like he was speaking to me and the fears I have allowed myself not to face. Regardless, I just loved that story.

4/5 - Very good; excellent anecdotes but sometimes the application was a little convoluted and hard to understand. In general, this book was not quite what I expected but I loved what the author had to say and think his challenge to how we view ourselves as Christians is worth discussing. I'm going to haul this one to Bible study and pass it around.

I can't do a green post without tossing in a lizard. Apple green is one of my favorite colors, you know. This fellow was hanging out in a tree next to the city pool, where I've been spending a lot of time, lately. High school swim season chops my days into itty bitty chunks, but I love it. Isn't this little anole a cutie? We'll call him our Wahoo Lizard, since it's Wednesday.

On another note: I haven't bothered to stick a Book Blogger Appreciation Week button in my sidebar and I haven't written a post about it, but that's not a deliberate oversight so much as . . . I couldn't think of anything to say and keep forgetting to update my sidebar. I signed up thinking it would be a great way to view some other book blogs that I might not have found, otherwise. And, I was surprised to find that I've actually been nominated for awards in two categories. Many thanks to whoever did the nominating!!! I'm assuming those nominations came from a regular visitor (or two).

It's Wednesday! What do you have to wahoo about? I'm enjoying swim season -- the perfect excuse to finally get my camera out of the bag. Wahoo! for swim season. And, Happy Wednesday!

Bookfool, currently wearing her other favorite color (purple)

Oh, no! Major snafu!!!

I was doing really, really well on keeping up with my scheduled reviews (with the exception of Christianish, which I keep telling myself I'm going to finish and keep not picking up because . . . actually, I didn't read a word, yesterday -- too busy). Unfortunately, I put North! or Be Eaten down on the wrong day (wrong week, in fact) of my calendar and I haven't even begun to read it. The First Wild tour coordinator goes out of her way to make sure you don't screw up, but I still managed.

However, I've read the first in the series and I will happily refer you back to my review of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga. You will note that I thought it was really fab and eagerly anticipated the sequel. I'm still sitting here anticipating, I guess. Gotta crack the cover before you stop anticipating.

North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (sneak peek)

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:

North! Or Be Eaten

WaterBrook Press (August 18, 2009)


Andrew Peterson is the author of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats. He’s also the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter and recording artist of ten albums, including Resurrection Letters II. He and his wife, Jamie, live with their two sons and one daughter in The Warren near Nashville, Tennessee.

Visit the author's website and website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (August 18, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073871
ISBN-13: 978-1400073870


The Lone Fendril

TOOOOTHY COW!” bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree. The old pirate’s eyes blazed, and he stood at the base of the tree like a ship’s captain at the mast. “Toothy cow! Quick! Into the tree house!”

Not far away, an arrow whizzed through some hanging moss and thudded into a plank of wood decorated with a charcoal drawing of a snarling Fang. The arrow protruded from the Fang’s mouth, the shaft still vibrating from the impact. Tink lowered his bow, squinted to see if he had hit the target, and completely ignored his grandfather.

“TOOOOOTHY—oy! That’s a fine shot, lad—COW!”

Podo whacked the tree as Nia hurried up the rope ladder that led to the trapdoor in the floor of Peet the Sock Man’s tree house. A sock-covered hand reached down and pulled Nia up through the opening.

“Thank you, Artham,” she said, still holding his hand. She looked him in the eye and raised her chin, waiting for him to answer.

Peet the Sock Man, whose real name was Artham P. Wingfeather, looked back at her and gulped. One of his eyes twitched. He looked like he wanted to flee, as he always did when she called him by his first name, but Nia didn’t let go of his hand.

“Y-y-you’re welcome…Nia.” Every word was an effort, especially her name, but he sounded less crazy than he used to be. Only a week earlier, the mention of the name

“Artham” sent him into a frenzy—he would scream, shimmy down the rope ladder, and disappear into the forest for hours. Nia released his hand and peered down through the opening in the floor at her father, who still banged on the tree and bellowed about the impending onslaught of toothy cows.

“Come on, Tink!” Janner said.

A quiver of arrows rattled under one arm as he ran toward Leeli, who sat astride her dog, Nugget. Nugget, whose horselike size made him as dangerous as any toothy cow in the forest, panted and wagged his tail. Tink reluctantly dropped his bow and followed, eying the forest for signs of toothy cows. The brothers helped a wide-eyed Leeli down from her dog, and the three of them rushed to the ladder.

“COWS, COWS, COWS!” Podo howled. Janner followed Tink and Leeli up the ladder. When they were all safely inside, Podo heaved himself through the opening and latched the trapdoor shut.

“Not bad,” Podo said, looking pleased with himself. “Janner, next time you’ll want to move yer brother and sister along a little faster. Had there been a real cow upon us, ye might not have had time to get ’em to the ladder before them slobbery teeth started tearin’ yer tender flesh—”

“Papa, really,” Nia said.

“—and rippin’ it from yer bones,” he continued. “If Tink’s too stubborn to drop what he’s doin’, Janner, it falls to you to find a way to persuade him, you hear?” Janner’s cheeks burned, and he fought the urge to defend himself. The toothy cow drills had been a daily occurrence since their arrival at Peet’s tree house, and the children had gradually stopped shrieking with panic whenever Podo’s hollers disturbed the otherwise quiet wood.

Since Janner had learned he was a Throne Warden, he had tried to take his responsibility to protect the king seriously. His mother’s stories about Peet’s dashing reputation as a Throne Warden in Anniera made Janner proud of the ancient tradition of which he was a part.1 The trouble was that he was supposed to protect his younger brother, Tink, who happened to be the High King. It wasn’t that Janner was jealous; he had no wish to rule anything. But sometimes it felt odd that his skinny, reckless brother was, of all things, a king, much less the king of the fabled Shining Isle of Anniera.

Janner stared out the window at the forest as Podo droned on, telling him about his responsibility to protect his brother, about the many dangers of Glipwood Forest, about what Janner should have done differently during this most recent cow drill. Janner missed his home. In the days after they fled the town of Glipwood and arrived at Peet’s castle, Janner’s sense of adventure was wide awake. He thrilled at the thought of the long journey to the Ice Prairies, so excited he could scarcely sleep.

1. In Anniera the second born, not the first, is heir to the throne. The eldest child is a Throne Warden, charged with the honor and responsibility of protecting the king above all others. Though this creates much confusion among ordinary children who one day discover that they are in fact the royal family living in exile (see On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness), for ages the Annierans found it to be a good system. The king was never without a protector, and the Throne Warden held a place of great honor in the kingdom.

When he did sleep, he dreamed of wide sweeps of snow under stars so sharp and

bright they would draw blood at a touch.

But weeks had passed—he didn’t know how many—and his sense of adventure was fast asleep. He missed the rhythm of life at the cottage. He missed the hot meals, the slow change of the land as the seasons turned, and the family of birds that nested in the crook above the door where he, Tink, and Leeli would inspect the tiny blue eggs each morning and each night, then the chicks, and then one day they would look in sad wonder at the empty nest and ask themselves where the birds had gone. But those days had passed away as sure as the summer, and whether he liked it or not, home was no longer the cottage. It wasn’t Peet’s tree house, either. He wasn’t sure he had a home anymore.

Podo kept talking, and Janner felt again that hot frustration in his chest when told things he already knew. But he held his tongue. Grownups couldn’t help it. Podo and his mother would hammer a lesson into his twelve-year-old head until he felt beaten silly, and there was no point fighting it. He sensed Podo’s rant coming to an end and forced himself to listen.

“…this is a dangerous place, this forest, and many a man has been gobbled up by some critter because he weren’t paying close enough attention.”

“Yes sir,” Janner said as respectfully as possible. Podo grinned at him and winked, and Janner smiled back in spite of himself. It occurred to him that Podo knew exactly what he’d been thinking.

Podo turned to Tink. “A truly fine shot, boy, and the drawing of the Fang on that board is fine work.”

“Thanks, Grandpa,” Tink said. His stomach growled. “When can we eat breakfast?”

“Listen, lad,” Podo said. He lowered his bushy eyebrows and leveled a formidable glare at Tink. “When yer brother tells ye to come, you drop what yer doin’ like it’s on fire.” Tink gulped. “You follow that boy over the cliffs and into the Dark Sea if he tells you to. Yer the High King, which means ye’ve got to start thinkin’ of more than yerself.”

Janner’s irritation drained away, as did the color in Tink’s face. He liked not being the only one in trouble, though he felt a little ashamed at the pleasure he took in watching Tink squirm.

“Yes sir,” Tink said. Podo stared at him so long that he repeated, “Yes sir.”

“You okay, lass?” Podo turned with a smile to Leeli. She nodded and pushed some of her wavy hair behind one ear. “Grandpa, when are we leaving?”

All eyes in the tree house looked at her with surprise. The family had spent weeks in relative peace in the forest, but that unspoken question had grown more and more difficult to avoid as the days passed. They knew they couldn’t stay forever. Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang still terrorized the land of Skree, and the shadow they cast covered more of Aerwiar with every passing day. It was only a matter of time before that shadow fell again on the Igibys.

“We need to leave soon,” Nia said, looking in the direction of Glipwood. “When the leaves fall, we’ll be exposed, won’t we, Artham?”

Peet jumped a little at his name and rubbed the back of his head with one hand for a moment before he spoke. “Cold winter comes, trees go bare, the bridges are easy to see, yes. We should grobably po—probably go.”

“To the Ice Prairies?” asked Janner.

“Yes,” said Nia. “The Fangs don’t like the cold weather. We’ve all seen how much slower they move in the winter, even here. Hopefully in a place as frozen as the Ice Prairies, the Fangs will be scarce.”

Podo grunted.

“I know what you think, and it’s not one of our options,” Nia said flatly.

“What does Grandpa think?” Tink asked.

“That’s between your grandfather and me.”

“What does he think?” Janner pressed, realizing he sounded more like a grownup than usual.

Nia looked at Janner, trying to decide if she should give him an answer. She had kept so many secrets from the children for so long that it was plain to Janner she still found it difficult to be open with them. But things were different now. Janner knew who he was, who his father was, and had a vague idea what was at stake. He had even noticed his input mattered to his mother and grandfather. Being a Throne Warden— or at least knowing he was a Throne Warden—had changed the way they regarded him.

“Well,” Nia said, still not sure how much to say.

Podo decided for her. “I think we need to do more than get to the Ice Prairies and lie low like a family of bumpy digtoads, waitin’ fer things to happen to us. If Oskar was right about there bein’ a whole colony of folks up north what don’t like livin’ under the boot of the Fangs, and if he’s right about them wantin’ to fight, then they don’t need us to gird up and send these Fangs back to Dang with their tails on fire. I say the jewels need to find a ship and go home.” He turned to his daughter. “Think of it, lass! You could sail back across the Dark Sea to Anniera—”

“What do you mean ‘you’?” Tink asked.

“Nothin’,” Podo said with a wave of his hand. “Nia, you could go home. Think of it!”

“There’s nothing left for us there,” Nia said.

“Fine! Forget Anniera. What about the Hollows? You ain’t seen the Green Hollows in ten years, and for all you know, the Fangs haven’t even set foot there! Yer ma’s family might still be there, thinkin’ you died with the rest of us.”

Nia closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Peet and the children stared at the floor. Janner hadn’t thought about the fact that he might have distant family living in the hills of the Green Hollows across the sea. He agreed with his mother that it seemed foolish to try to make such a journey. First they had to get past the Fangs in Torrboro, then north, over the Stony Mountains to the Ice Prairies. Now Podo was talking about crossing the ocean? Janner wasn’t used to thinking of the world in such terms.

Nia opened her eyes and spoke. “Papa, there’s nothing for us to do now but find our way north. We don’t need to go across the sea. We don’t need to go back to Anniera. We don’t need to go to the Green Hollows. We need to go north, away from the Fangs. That’s all. Let’s get these children safely to the prairies, and we’ll finish this discussion then.”

Podo sighed. “Aye, lass. Gettin’ there will cause enough trouble of its own.” He fixed an eye on Peet, who stood on his head in the corner. “I suppose you’ll be comin’ with us, then?”

Peet gasped and tumbled to the floor, then leapt to his feet and saluted Podo. Leeli giggled.

“Aye sir,” he said, mimicking Podo’s raspy growl. “I’m ready to go when the Featherwigs are ready. Even know how to get to the Icy Prairies. Been there before, long time ago—not much to see but ice and prairies and ice all white and blinding and cold. It’s very cold there. Icy.” Peet took a deep, happy breath and clapped his socked hands together. “All right! We’re off !”

He flipped open the trapdoor and leapt through the opening before Podo or the Igibys could stop him. The children hurried to the trapdoor and watched him slide down the rope ladder and march away in a northward direction. From the crook in the giant root system of the tree where he usually slept, Nugget perked up his big, floppy ears without lifting his head from his paws and watched Peet disappear into the forest.

“He’ll come back when he realizes we aren’t with him,” Leeli said with a smile. She and Peet spent hours together either reading stories or with him dancing about with great swoops of his socked hands while she played her whistleharp. Leeli’s presence seemed to have a medicinal effect on Peet. When they were together, his jitters ceased, his eyes stopped shifting, and his voice took on a deeper, less strained quality.

The strong and pleasant sound of it helped Janner believe his mother’s stories about Artham P. Wingfeather’s exploits in Anniera before the Great War. The only negative aspect of Leeli and Peet’s friendship was that it made Podo jealous. Before Peet the Sock Man entered their lives, Podo and Leeli shared a special bond, partly because each of them had only one working leg and partly because of the ancient affection that exists between grandfathers and granddaughters. Nia once told Janner that it was also partly because Leeli looked a lot like her grandmother Wendolyn.

While the children watched Peet march away, a quick shadow passed over the tree house, followed by a high, pleasant sound, like the ting of a massive bell struck by a tiny hammer.

“The lone fendril,” 2 said Leeli. “Tomorrow is the first day of autumn.”

“Papa,” said Nia.

“Eh?” Podo glared out the window in the direction Peet had gone.

“I think it’s time we left,” Nia said.

Tink and Janner looked at each other and grinned. All homesickness vanished. After weeks of waiting, adventure was upon them.

2. In Aerwiar, the official last day of summer is heralded by the passing of the lone fendril, a giant golden bird whose wingspan casts entire towns into a thrilling flicker of shade as it circles the planet in a long, ascending spiral. When it reaches the northern pole of Aerwiar, it hibernates until spring, then reverses its journey.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Woodstock Story Book by Linanne Sackett and Barry Levine

The Woodstock Story Book
By Linanne Sackett and Barry Levine
Copyright 2009
The Brunswick Institute
176 pages

My copy of The Woodstock Story Book arrived on Saturday and I plopped right down to flip through it without realizing it would be such a quick read that I'd finish it before I got back up.

Just like the title indicates, the book is a "story book" very much in the form of a children's book, with rhyming text throughout:

The crowds assembled, started to grow

Still not sure if the acts would show

Captions round out the story of Woodstock, which is told in words and photographs with fond reminiscence and levity. As the story opens, you see photos of the crowd, tickets to the three-day event, the land where the concert was to take place. People are shown trickling in while construction crews were just getting started building the stage. Young people walked, it says, as far as 15 miles to attend the concert.

I only knew bits and pieces about Woodstock because I was alive when it occurred but young enough that it didn't mean anything at all to me, till later (although I do remember huddling around the TV to watch man walk on the moon, the same year). "Woodstock" was just a word that conjured up hippies, good music and a farm in New York. In spite of minimal text, I felt like the book gave me a good feel for the event, what it was all about, the atmosphere, and the variety and quality of acts.

There's some nudity, but in spite of the "make love not war" creed of the time, there are no graphic photos of people doing anything objectionable. Instead, the photos give you an understanding of the relaxed vibe in the crowd. My son read the book and particularly loved the caption about the man who walked around naked with his pet sheep and, "Nobody told him to get the flock out."

5/5 - I just loved this book. The layout is appealing with large photos, nicely captioned. Visually, the book is uncluttered and easy on the eyes. The poetic text is kind of silly, but it's not annoying; it's really just cute and adds to the light-hearted mood of The Woodstock Story Book, bringing the relaxed atmosphere to life. There's some nudity but it's not rude or offensive in any way. Still, some may want to keep it out of the hands of the younger kids if you're worried.

I'm still reading Christianish and decided I didn't want to hold off on reviewing other books, simply because I haven't finished a single title. Hopefully, I'll have that review posted by tomorrow. At the moment, my days are cut into little chunks because I'm currently driving my son to school and doing the school-to-pool run with three teenagers. This has also thrown a kink in my blog-hopping and I apologize for not having the time to visit other bloggers. Hopefully, we'll get adjusted, soon, and eventually the kiddo will return to driving himself to school (I just don't want him driving a distracting carload of teens).

Thanks to Lisa Roe and the publisher for the review copy of The Woodstock Story Book!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Christianish - Still reading

I'll take this little post down and replace it when I'm done with the book. Just wanted to let you know I'm still reading Christianish and it might be a few hours before I get the review posted because my eyes are burning and watering (so I keep shutting them, which makes it particularly difficult to read). It's good, so far. I particularly like the author's personal anecdotes because they have a tendency to make me do that twitching thing where it looks like you're having a mild seizure but, really, you're just trying to keep from waking up the cat by laughing too loudly.

Back soon!

Christianish by Mark Steele (sneak peek)

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:


David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Mark Steele is the president and executive creative of Steelehouse Productions, a group that creates art for business and ministry through the mediums of film, stage, and animation. He is also the author of Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself and Half-Life/Die Already. Mark and his wife, Kaysie, reside in Oklahoma with their three greatest productions Morgan, Jackson, and Charlie.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766926
ISBN-13: 978-1434766922



Nineteen months are all that separate my two older sons, Jackson and Charlie. In practically every way, one is the antithesis of the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but smash them together and they fill out the other’s weak spots, becoming one practically perfect human being. Of course, the scattered remains that are left would be a bit messy. In other words, they complete one another, either as a right example or as a wrong one—their choice.

Charlie is currently seven and Jackson just turned nine, which means their choices— at least for the time being—might skew a bit ornery. A few months ago, I walked upstairs to turn off our daughter Morgan’s light for bedtime. It was later than usual and a good hour after the boys had been put to sleep (which means something different for children than it does for pets). They had been told to go right to bed. Unconsciousness isn’t really something that can be demanded of a child, but I—like millions of parents before me— made the attempt anyway. As I opened Morgan’s door to check on her, I caught the two boys in her room. They ceased mid-play, frozen, and stared at me—deer in the headlights. They were standing in the middle of her bedroom, a clump of Lego’s squeezed in each fist. They gaped with wide-eyed guilt on their faces for about three solid seconds. And then they ran like mad wildfire through the adjoining bathroom. I heard the scurry of feet on linoleum, followed by the bounce of springs and the flip-flop of covers as they scrambled into bed.

Reasoning doesn’t enter into the equation all that much at the ages of seven and nine. For some reason, not only was the rationale to sprint away and dive into bed considered a good idea, but the identical urge to flee the scene hit both brothers at the same time.

I sauntered through the hall to their bedroom (the longer path than the bathroom route by about eleven inches) and creaked open the door. They were each in their bunk, feigning sleep. And so, the cover-up began.


They attempted to rouse themselves from their faux slumber, “What? Huh?”

Were you out of bed and playing in Morgan’s room?

A beat. A moment of pause. And then—both—simultaneously…


Certainly I sympathize with the gut instinct of the cover-up. It is the defensive urge of the male, not to mention the mischievous pre-puberty male. In later stages of life, it will be replaced in-turn by hormones, rage at injustice, and unnecessary snacking. Throughout my own young journey, I was on the punishment end of the cover-up multiple times.

It felt ironic to finally be on the other side.

No? I responded, You were NOT in Morgan’s bedroom?

Sweat trickled down their tiny foreheads.

Nope. No. Nope.

Just now? Like, fifteen seconds ago, you were NOT holding Lego’s in Morgan’s room?

(Slightly more hesitant than before) Noooo.

I paused for dramatic effect: Well—I saw you.

Not since the Noahic Flood have the floodgates burst open so abruptly. The words “I’m sorry” rat-a-tat-tatted out of their mouths repeatedly in a fusillade of desperate penance.

I know you are sorry, but you lied. You know what the punishment is for lying.

I’m fairly certain there were a couple of “yes, sirs” uttered amid all the slobber and snot.

Go downstairs. You’re each going to get one spank.

Yes. My wife and I believe in spanking. Not “grab-your-knees-while-the-back-ofyour-eyeballs-rap-against-your-brain” spanking. But certainly a recognizable sting that serves as a tangible reminder of why the punishable incident was a bad idea. We want our kids to have a sensory reinforcement that sin is not such a preferable option. It always astounds me when parents don’t believe in appropriate spankings, because the world spanks people every day—especially the people who didn’t receive any as a child. Personally, I would rather feel a short-term sting than the sort the Internal Revenue Service doles out.

Of course, an appropriate spanking is exactly that. Just enough to sting—and definitely on the derriere. And, of course, the act is attached to teaching and forgiveness and a walking through of the issue so that it leads to reconciliation and change and love.

That’s the pretty version.

The boys weren’t seeing the benefits just yet.

Jackson and Charlie have a very different approach to the news of an impending spanking. Charlie just stares. Wide-eyed. His brain immediately begins clicking and whirring. Within fifty seconds, he orchestrates a mental plan of how best to charm his way through the incident with minimal pain. By a sheer act of will and a reasoning through percentages, he determines swiftly that playing the situation down will cause it to end with only a slight portion of hurt to his person.

Jackson destroys everything within his wake.

Not literally. He doesn’t throw things or flail. But within a small eight-inch radius, the planet implodes. Jackson takes the news that he will receive one spank the way most react in a house fire. He hugs his favorite belongings close to his body while screaming and rolling on the floor.

I greeted Jackson into the spanking chamber (our bedroom) first as I knew that the twenty-two solid minutes it would take to actually deliver the one spank would be an epic purgatorial wait (and hence, bonus lesson) for Charlie.

The reason a Jackson spanking can take so long is because we don’t believe in wrestling our kids into the spanking. There has to be the moment of surrender. Charlie can fake surrender like the best of them—but Jackson? Not so much.

Lean over, son.


You can have a glass of water after your spank. It will take ten seconds.


You cannot have a glass of water until after your spank.

No one tells a father he is going to be put in a position to say these sorts of irrational things.

You’re stalling. Let’s just get the punishment over with.




You can go to the bathroom after I spank you. We would be finished already…


I promise I won’t whack the pee out of you.

See. Irrational things. Of course, this is when Jackson moves from delay tactics and transitions into physical blockers. As I lean him over and pull back the spank stick, all sorts of appendages start

flailing about spastically like Muppet tails, blocking the punishment trajectory. I’ve never seen the kid move so fast as he does when he strategizes a spank block.




BOTH FEET (wow)!


The kid is Mister Miyagi-ing me, suddenly Jean-Claude Van Damme, blocking every attempt to close the deal. He won’t play football, but this he can do. I finally settle Jackson down.

Jackson, I’m not going to fight you. You have to decide that you’re going to accept the consequences for what you’ve done. You’ve fought me so long, that now you’re going to get—

(Wait for it.)

—two spanks.

Son. Of. A.Gun.

I had no idea what the kid had in him. He began to writhe and weep and gnash his teeth. I’d never seen gnashing—but it’s actually very impressive. I believe he may have even utilized sackcloth. The boy just flat-out wailed like he was being branded with a hot iron. To the neighbors, it must have sounded like I was stunning him with a police taser.

And then, Jackson moved away from delaying and blocking—to step three: blame.


Who are you and what have you done with my child?


All right, son. For that, you’re now going to receive—

Somewhere, between the bedrock layers of our planet, a mushroom cloud was forming its power, readying itself for a self-imploding FOOM! Tension built, and a roar and a rumble began to build just beneath the crust of the earth.

—three spanks.

And that is when Jackson vomited.


He barfed.

He wasn’t sick to his stomach or coming down with a virus.

The boy got so worked up over three spankings that he literally upchucked everywhere. He blew chunks all over the proceedings. As a father, you can’t help but debate your own discipline tactics at this point. I helped him wash up and then cooled him down with a cloth. He began to settle.

After a few moments, I addressed him.

You okay?

I told you I needed to go to the bathroom.

Against all of Jackson’s hopes and dreams, the regurgitation session did not replace any of the punishment, and I forged ahead with the three spanks anyway. The beauty of Jackson is, though he fights you all the way, you know where he stands. When the punishment is over, Jackson is quick to reconcile, huddled and sobbing in my arms. At that moment, after the pain, he is truly repentant. And he always comes out the other side changed.

Amid all of this excitement, Charlie sat waiting in the hall.

For twenty solid minutes. Hearing the sounds of torrential screams and human wretching. He sat, stone. Eyes like nickels on a plate of fine china.

Needless to say, Charlie walked in, bent over, and received his one spank in about six seconds flat.

Immensely accommodating.

But alas, not nearly as life-changing as Jackson.

It’s harder to tell whether or not Charlie truly changes because Charlie knows how to charm. During that same spanking, he sat near Kaysie and spoke to her as Jackson’s sobs and moans were muffled behind the bedroom door.

I’m not gonna do anyfing Jackson is doing when I go get MY spanking.

You’re not, huh.

Nope. I’m gonna walk wight in and jus’ get spanked.

That’s a good idea, Charlie.

I do not wike it when Daddy spanks me.

I’ll bet you don’t.

I wike it when you spank me. This piqued Kaysie’s interest and she hesitated before asking nonchalantly–

Oh really? Why?

Because when Daddy spanks me, it hurts—but when you spank me, it does not— Charlie’s gaze finally met Kaysie’s. The realization of the privileged information spilling out of his mouth occurred to him. He stared.

I pwobably should not have told you dat. Kaysie smiled pleasantly.

Tell you what, son. From now on, we’ll let Daddy do all your spankings.

Charlie sighed.

Yep. I definitewy should not have told you dat.

So, there is an inherent difference in the way Jackson deals with disappointment and in the way Charlie deals with it. Yes, Jackson goes off the deep end, revealing his scars and putting his emotions in front of a microphone—but at least we know where Jackson stands when the consequence is said and done. Jackson wrestles his flesh to the ground— and he does so in public. That’s how we know the transformation is real. I know that his repentance is true because I witness his internal journey from resistance to acceptance firsthand.

Charlie? Well, you don’t always know with Charlie. Charlie is good at seeming fine. He keeps his deepest feelings close to his chest. And the rough stuff? You could go a very long time without Charlie allowing anyone to see the rough stuff. The result is an engaging and personable child—everyone’s best friend—though you don’t always know what’s really going on inside there.

And yet, we as a Christian culture seem to think that it is this same positioning and decorating of ourselves that ministers most. In an effort to put our best foot forward, we disguise the ugly, bury the past, and soak the dirty laundry in perfume. We have an emotional need to seem holier than all the “thou’s we encounter while fitting in to the perfect flawless world of those who side-hug us on the way to the sanctuary.

We delay. We block. We blame.

We cover-up.

And we somehow believe that it delivers a better impression of what it means to serve Christ. We believe that seeming the Stepford Wife makes us some sort of demented recruitment tool. But the truth is, we have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.


Many cite Matthew 5: 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but that verse doesn’t have anything to do with fakery. It is a call, instead, to spiritual maturity. And maturity owns up to the truth. Others refer to Jesus and how it was His holiness that truly ministered. This, of course, is true. But we too quickly forget that His holiness ministered most powerful as it stood side-by-side with His humanness. And, never was His humanness more on display than in His birth.

Jesus revealed the rough stuff with the very way He first came into the world.

It seems to me that the first sentence in the first telling of the Son of God entering into this world would be glorious and filled with holy hyperbole. Not so. Instead, we get a few pragmatic words: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is merely a preamble to the names that follow—names that expose Christ’s lineage. The first chapter of Matthew fires the names off bam, bam, bam: so-and-so was the father of whatcha-macall-him—never taking the smallest breath, diving headlong into historic minutia until ZING! Verse seven delivers the whopper—the first specific detail mankind received about the family Jesus comes from:

“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”

Uriah? Wasn’t he the guy David had killed? Murdered so that David could sleep with his wife? That guy? Why on earth, out of all the admirable people in Jesus lineage—and for that matter, all the honorable traits of David—why is this bucket of family dirt given the first and greatest mark of attention? A golden opportunity missed. Here the ultimate history book had the option of paving a red carpet and paparazzi before Jesus, publicizing the elitist line He came from and urging the public down to its knees in awe. This was the proof: that Jesus came from the lineage of the favorite King, the man after God’s own heart—David. But instead of applauding this fact, chapter one in Matthew pauses to remind the reading audience that this great King David whose line led to the Savior—this beloved ancestor of Jesus Christ—was a man of great failure and greater scandal.

Matthew started his history book with tabloid fodder. Why?

Because just like you and me, Jesus came from a scandalous history. But unlike you and me, Jesus was not afraid for the world to know and remember that scandal. As a matter of fact, He welcomed it.

We all come from something scandalous. Perhaps those who came before us, perhaps the life we lived before we lived for Christ, perhaps some aspect of our current life. But in modern Christianity, we have somehow deluded ourselves into believing that priority one is to eradicate this reality.

We bury. We pretend. We deny to others and ourselves.

And, even worse—when the opportunity arises to actually come clean with the soiled spots of our life history—we instead make believe everything is, and always has been, a series of either perfect, fine, or no big deal. And in so doing, we make ourselves into the very fakers we detest. We somehow convince ourselves that this is what Jesus would want: a wiped-clean façade. A steam-pressed, white cotton, buttoned-down church shirt.

We live the rough stuff, but we keep it silent. We believe it to be a lapse in faith to actually comment on the rough stuff or give it reference. We assume that exhaling the rough stuff somehow gives it more power, so we smile and wave and praise the Lord that everything good is permanent and everything not-so-good had zero effect on us. We have a terrible habit of skipping the rough stuff.

I don’t understand why I do this. I look at the way Jesus entered this world and I see very quickly why it was important for Him to make mention of his scandalous history. It softened the blow for the shame and disgrace that would accompany Him into the world. It was as if Jesus said, I know the manner in which I am born is going to start the rumor-mill flowing, so I might as well give it a head-start. And, what rough stuff it was:

a mother pregnant before even engaged

a father who almost broke off the engagement

parents who make their decisions based on angel dreams

a cousin born of the elderly

a birth in an animal barn

adoration from astrologers

a birth that prompts the murder of hundreds of other infants

Let’s just say that if you brought all these needs up during a prayer meeting, the family would be ostracized forever before the first syllable of amen.

The truth is this: Jesus experienced the rough stuff before the age of five in ways you and I could never imagine. We consider Christ’s sufferings and we picture Him at the age of thirty-three, but the beatings go all the way back to the birth canal.


How did we take this life picture and somehow misconstrue it to mean that if we just believed in Jesus, our lives would be wealthy, prosperous, and happy? Jesus doesn’t promise that. Jesus says that many great things will come to those who follow Him, but He also promises a whole lot of lousy.

And, here’s the key: the lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy.

Because lousy is life.

And lousy is important.

It is in the rough stuff where we truly become more and more like Christ, because it is amid the lousy where we experience life on a deeper level. With intense pain comes the opportunity to love more richly. With disappointment comes the push towards selflessness. Neither of those come with pleasant because pleasant breeds boredom. And boredom is a moist towel where the mung beans of sin sprout. Life following Christ is not supposed to be a ride. It’s supposed to be a fight because there is a very specific villain—and if we don’t fight, he wins. If our Christianity aims only for pretty and pleasant and happy and rich, the enemy becomes the victor.

But there is another just-as-important reason that we should embrace the rough stuff. Not only because Jesus did. And not merely because it is important.

We must embrace the rough stuff because, for far too long, Christians have skipped the rough stuff. We have pretended it does not exist in order to speak into existence a more promising present. But there is a massive dilemma when the Christianish skip the rough stuff.

Real life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

And those who do not yet follow Jesus know this. Their lives don’t skip the rough stuff and they know good and well that your life doesn’t skip it either.

So while we as a microcosm of faith have been busy naming-and-claiming, yearning for a better bank account and more pleasant pastures, ignoring the fact that lousy exists— the world watches.

And when they watch, they see the truth:

Life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

We say that our lives do skip the rough stuff.

Therefore, we are liars.

Or—at absolute best—we don’t understand real life at all.

The world is looking for Jesus, but they don’t know they are looking for Jesus because they believe they are looking for truth. You and I know that truth is Jesus. But they? They do not know that truth is Jesus because you and I are supposed to be Jesus— and you and I couldn’t look less like the truth.

For decades, our focus has been completely skewed. In the eighties, our passion was prosperity, never noticing that the only wealth that is important to Jesus is a wealth of love and compassion for those around us. In the nineties, we were branded by righteous indignation, and Christianity became a political term that meant we were anti more things than we were pro. In the new millennium, the postmodern set poured out bitterness and disappointment on the church of their parents, disregarding everything the previous generation built only to construct the same thing with hipper color palettes and larger video screens. We still worship what we want our lives to feel like more than we worship Jesus. We still major on the minors, debating whether the book of Job is literal or parable when we should be out there pulling people out of the rough stuff. We still spend more money on self-help books than we give money to help others. We have become a club—a clique. A group that is supposed to be a perfect picture of the Father—but instead just acts like a bunch of bastards.

And we wonder why no one wants to be a Christian.

We’ve got to do some serious redefining of what that word means.

I am in the same boat. I am guilty as charged for all these crimes. I look back on my life and I see more times than not that I wish someone did not know I was a Christian. Why? Because my unkind words and bad behavior probably did more damage than good to the reputation of Jesus. Yes, this is spilled milk—but the longer we resist cleaning it up, the more sour it will smell.

The root, of course, comes down to the why.

Why do we as Christians strive for extremely temporal things and call them Jesus? As a people group, we are currently defined by the modern world as unloving and unwilling to gain a better understanding of any individual who is not already a Christian. These characteristics have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. They are petty and selfish. They are Christianish. And yet, they are our very own bad habits. Why? Don’t we mean well? Don’t we want to live for Christ—to share His love with those around us? Don’t our mistakes stem from our frustration with the state of society? With what we perceive as the rebellion of modern mankind against the ideology of God?

Actually—that is the core of the problem. The world is broken. Completely broken. What we neglect to accept is that we are broken also.

We each come from damaged goods and scandalous histories and then pretend those negatives have no effect on us. The result equals a sea of followers of Jesus who can’t properly see or hear Him beyond the chaos of our own lives. So, instead of following Him, we say we are following Him while actually following a combination of Him and our own chaos. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but most of the time it is a mixture of the two. Just enough of God to make a difference. Just enough of ourselves to leave a questionable aftertaste.

So, the world sees that God is real—but at the same time, something doesn’t quite set well with them about Him. What is the negative common denominator?

The navel-gazing.

We are supposed to act as if everything is perfect, but deep down, we know nothing quite is. So, our silent desperate prayer is also a stare. A constant internal eyeball on the broken shards of ourselves. Deep down, most of us feel unglued—in pieces—longing for our Christian zealousness to turn to superglue. We feel that if we just do enough, act out the right formula, all the pieces will melt and coagulate like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. That we will not only become whole, but indestructible. So, we wall up our compassion and act shatter-proof to a world at large while inside we are falling to pieces.

And we believe this reveals Jesus.

The great news is that Jesus looks down on us with the same tender compassion that He has for the rest of the world. He sees our pain. He sees our scandal. He knows what we are desperately trying to do, and He wants us to succeed.

But there is a realization that we must first accept.

We will never become indestructible by staring at our pieces.

We are not supposed to become indestructible. Untouchable. Safe.

And we aren’t supposed to be staring at our own pieces at all.

Because when we stare at our own pieces, we cannot see the solution.

We only find the solution when we stare instead into the eyes of Christ—and in those eyes, see the reflection of the hurting world.

We know this, but every gut instinct tells us to shout out, “I CAN’T! How can I help a hurting world, when I can’t even figure out how to glue back the broken pieces that make up my life?!” This is when Jesus changes our perspective. This is when He says softly…

You are not pieces.

You are my piece.

The Christianish approach is to see our lives as irreparable shards—always striving for the glue. But that pursuit is fruitless. Because God did not put your glue in you. He did, however, make you the glue for someone else.

Our lives are not shattered pieces. This whole world is a broken puzzle—and each of us fits next to those around us.


My favorite television show is ABC’s Lost. The masterminds of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have constructed a vast mythology where none of the bamboo strands make any sense until the day they eventually become a basket. Yes, I adore the convoluted structure and the peel-back-the-layers mystery of it all, but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that the strands in that basket --are people.

The beauty of Lost is that these characters were marooned on an island with no foreknowledge of any of the others. They each carry their own bruises, scandal, and broken pieces onto this island. What they do not know is that each is the glue for someone else’s piece. Sawyer has the information Jack needs from his dead father. Locke knows where Sayid’s long-lost love lives. Eko knows that Claire’s psychic was a phony. Each one is the ghostbuster to what haunts the other—but some never discover this. Some in this story are never healed. Why? Because the answers do not exist? No.

Because the characters neglect to connect.

When Jesus came to this earth, He was bold about His own scandalous history and He was born under tabloid circumstances. Why? Simple.

Because He knew that His rough stuff was the answer to someone else’s—and He did not want to keep it quiet. He knew that the only path to healing was to connect His glue to someone else’s pieces.

In God’s great plan, He created us each the same way. We each have our own brokenness and we each have a God-given strength. However, we continue to sit in confusion because we feel like a life following Jesus should feel less disjointed and make more—well, sense.

And that is exactly the problem.

Our lives don’t make sense because our lives were not intended to stand alone.

Our lives were each made by God as pieces. Pieces of the eternal puzzle.

We are made to fit our lives into one another’s. Our entire lives.

The good. The bad. The strength. And the rough stuff.

As hopeful as we are that our strength will heal someone else, it is far more likely that our rough stuff will. Because, not only does our rough stuff hit another life where it most matters—the acknowledgement of our own rough stuff communicates that we understand this life we live and this world we live it in. Embracing the reality of our rough stuff communicates truth. Truth that the world is able to identify. Truth that will become the glue to their pieces.

This is the profound orchestration of how God intended to use imperfect people to represent a perfect God. It is not in each of us faking our way to an appearance of flawlessness. It is in each of us being true and vulnerable in our pursuit of Christ and taking the glue of His power (even amidst the frailty of our humanness) and connecting with the broken around us. It is this weave—this interlocked puzzle—this merging of shrapnel and adhesive into a beautiful picture—it is this that reveals the real truth of Jesus Christ. If we are ever to escape the Christianish and truly become little Christs, it will only be in this merging—acknowledging that our strengths are from God and not our own, while allowing that strength to mend the broken. But it does not stop there. We also have to be willing to reveal our pieces so that others’ strengths can heal our own pain.

This is the perfect earthly picture of Christ. It requires a new sort of church culture: a culture that no longer positions itself at the prettiest angle, but rather gets down to the scandalous histories for the sake of revealing to a world at large that Christ not only understands, but can transform our pieces through the power of other broken people.

Just like the rest of the world, my sons Jackson and Charlie fit together. They are simultaneously each other’s antithesis and each other’s antidote. Each other’s miracle or each other’s foil. It all depends upon whether or not they are each willing to fit together and allow the collision of their rough stuff and strength—their scandals and successes— to make the sum of both entirely complete.


Can you relate to the flawed thinking that positioning and decorating ourselves— pretending the rough stuff doesn’t exist—ministers most?

Do you come from something scandalous? Do you experience the rough stuff? Have you hidden from this? Is that hiding drawing you closer to Christ or driving a wedge between you? Is it drawing you closer to others?

Consider the statement: “We have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.” Do you agree or disagree? What are the detriments to hiding our struggle? What are the benefits of allowing it to be seen?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “The lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy. Because lousy is life. And lousy is important.” Why or why not?

Have you considered your life “in pieces?” Have you attempted to put yourself together on your own?

What do you think of the philosophy that you are actually a “piece”—that the solution to your life lies in the way you fit together with the other people who make up the community of this world?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

TSI: The Gabon Virus by McCusker and Larimore (review)

TSI: The Gabon Virus
By Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore, M.D.
Copyright 2009
Howard Books - Fiction/Thriller/Christian
431 pages - includes afterword, interview with authors and reading group guide
Paul McCusker's Website
Walt Larimore, info at Simon & Schuster

This may very well end up being Bookfool's best reading month, ever. TSI: The Gabon Virus is such a fun read that I was a worthless lump, yesterday. I started the book two weeks ago, but the tour was delayed after I'd already sat down and read the first 100 pages in a single sitting. Argh! Disappointment!! Knowing I tell myself I'll pre-post reviews and then never do, I went ahead and set the book aside, fearing that I'd forget everything if I finished the book and then waited two weeks to post. I was a little worried that I'd have to reread that first 100 pages (even though I liked them enough to find the book worth starting over).

Boy, was I wrong. When I picked the book back up the characters, setting, and plot were still firmly entrenched in my memory. This is one grabber of a story.

TSI stands for "Time Scene Investigators"--basically, a team of scientists who research historical outbreaks of certain diseases in order to stop or prevent modern plagues. In TSI: The Gabon Virus there is a ruthless pharmaceutical company, a band of radical environmentalists called Return to Earth, the science team, their cohorts in various health- and crime-investigating organizations and a military presence. The cast is huge, but the bulk of the book focuses on the science team.

In 1666, a devastating plague hit Eyam, England and the selfless decision to quarantine the town led to the death of nearly all of its citizens; yet, their sacrifice kept the disease from spreading throughout England. The mysterious Blue Monk, who comforted and aided those who were suffering from the plague but did not contract it himself, along with the descendants of the villagers who survived, may hold the key to stopping a new plague.

In Gabon, Africa, a cultish religious group has committed mass suicide after the test of a vaccine for a strain of ebola has gone horribly wrong, infecting everyone. One boy, however, chose not to drink the poison and escaped -- only to see his village blown up by the military and then to end up carrying the now-airborne disease with him, infecting everyone he encounters as he runs for his life, convinced the end of the world has begun.

The TSI team is called in to investigate and search for a solution to prevent a major pandemic. They arrive in Eyam, England with the hope of discovering some sort of genetic key to what makes some people survive by acquiring DNA samples from living descendants and original survivors. But, there are complications. Members of the radical group Return to Earth believe humans are destroying the earth and, therefore, need to die in order to restore the planet. A pandemic would suit their purposes and they're willing to kill to stop progress in the search for a cure.

Meanwhile, history plays an interesting role as it turns out bodies aren't necessarily buried beneath their tombstones and the mysterious Blue Monk's burial site is unknown. When the Blue Monk appears in ghostly form to drop hints, those who see him are a little nervous about sharing their information; and, they're not exactly certain what the ghost is trying to tell them. But, the clock is ticking. The young boy in Africa is headed toward Libreville, a city with a population close to 500,000. If he makes it to Libreville, the end of humanity is almost certain.

There are a few historical scenes from Eyams to help fill out the historical perspective. The authors also describe the historical basis for their story, distinguishing which parts are real (based on actual history or current medical science) from the entirely or partially imaginary aspects in the extra material at the end of the book.

My thoughts: Wow. What a breathless, exciting, thrilling ride. I absolutely loved this book and truly was a worthless bum, yesterday. While I wouldn't call it a perfect book because there were a few too many coincidences in the plot (none of which I can share because they're spoilers), I was willing to dismiss those moments when suspension of disbelief got a knock on the head because I was having too much fun reading to let a few little things bother me. I could not put the book down.

Preachy or not? Not really preachy, but the Christian element can't be overlooked. Mark Carlson, one of the doctors who has joined the TSI team, is a wounded soul and has not yet learned to carry on despite his losses. The answer to his pain comes to him in a way I can't share (another spoiler) but it's definitely Bible-based. There are Christian and non-Christian characters. Those who are Christian pray or reflect on Bible passages. The young boy has been reared with a group that can only be called a cult, although they base their beliefs on the Bible. So, there's plenty of mention of Christianity and there are quotes from the Bible, but there's also a realistically diverse cast.

4.5/5 - Excellent story, with a few "coincidences", but they're worth ignoring because the story is too fun to abandon. A fast-paced, deliciously thrilling, well-written, plot-driven story. Where necessary, the authors did a great job of explaining motivation and filling in necessary backstory for characterization.

This is my third book written (co-written, in this case) by Paul McCusker -- the other two were Young Adult books that my son and I enjoyed. McCusker is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. The TSI team will be returning in future novels and I can't wait to read more. But, I guess I have to. You know how that goes.

Since part of the book takes place in Africa and gorillas come from Africa, you get a gorilla pic. Lucky you.

Happy Sunday!

Bookfool, who really needs to accomplish something, today