Thursday, December 25, 2003

Awake, O Sleeper: How I Rediscovered God Through Breast Cancer by Katherine Murphy

SunCreek Books, 1932057056, $12.95

On a personal note, I do find it difficult to read books on breast cancer and memoirs of those touched by the disease, be it directly or via a stricken loved one. Having lost my maternal grandmother and nearly my mother to this illness, there seems to be an invisible cloud hovering over my head, a constant reminder that the odds of my being diagnosed are significantly higher than other women. There is the onus on me to be ever vigilant - performing weekly (if not daily) checks - that becomes so consuming that I suddenly realize I might be in danger of not only driving myself to worry but jeopardizing my spiritual health. Such books by and for survivors, I realize, are not meant to discourage people like me who worry about inheriting something unwanted, though when handed a book on the subject, the cloud appears to darken. Reading Awake, O Sleeper: How I Rediscovered God Through Breast Cancer by 5-plus year survivor Katherine Murphy, is refreshing to read in that, though I am fortunate never to have been afflicted, I find I can identify with the author through personal experiences shared with loved one who have beaten the disease, and I can be assured that through the darkest moments in life one can find solace in the knowledge of God's love.

Katherine Murphy had a full life in 1988 with a loving husband and two children. Being in her late thirties, cancer was not a forethought but something that happened to old people, and other people. This is not to say that Murphy never believed the young were immune to death (she recalls, in Awake, O Sleeper the death of a college roommate which appeared to have just as significant an impact upon her during her illness than when the event happened), but it was not something upon which to dwell, considering her family and her teaching job required the lion's share of her attention. One day in August changed that for Murphy upon learning that what she thought was a benign tumor was actually cancer - a cancer that is the second leading cause of death for women in the US, a cancer that accounts for one-third of all the cancers diagnosed in this country. (Source: American Cancer Society)

Awake, O Sleeper is taken from the Book of Ephesians, and becomes a mantra of sorts for the author as she deals with cancer surgery, recovery, and all the struggles involved - coping with vanity during hair loss and feeling unattractive, worrying over how her young sons will react to her illness, etc. Though Murphy had never considered herself a lapsed Catholic (the family did attend church on a regular basis), it was not until her diagnosis that she realized she had been "asleep," going through the motions of being Christian without truly appreciating God's gifts and the power of prayer.

As a memoir, Sleeper is a poignant story of survival, physical and spiritual, with moments of levity and heartache with which even those who have not been stricken ill can identify. As an inspirational, Sleeper is uplifting, a reminder to call upon God in the darkest moments of life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Books Read, December 2003

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie

Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith

Awake, O Sleeper: How I Rediscovered God Through Breast Cancer - Katherine Murphy (reviewed for Catholic/Christian Book Reviews)

Ironweed - William Kennedy (Pulitzer)

Monday, December 1, 2003

Healing the Breach by Rosalind Stormer

Heavenly Bound Publishing Co., 0972084606, $16.95

At forty-two, Jana Harris has had it. A bad day at work is only the latest in a series of disappointments that have haunted her throughout her life. Bad relationships, bad decisions, and bad habits have forced Jana at this juncture in her life to take stock of the past, wallow in the misery of her present, and ponder the future. As she anguishes over whom to turn to in this time, she finds one name rises to the surface of her conciousness: Grace.

A former best friend, Grace was the zig to Jana's zag. She was the shoulder for crying and the ear for listening, yet for Grace, Jana became too much of a self-absorbed burden for her to bear. On this night, as Jana reflects upon their friendship and Grace's strong Christian beliefs, Jana wonders if the old adage holds true, if to forgive is indeed divine.

Healing the Breach is a "she said/she said" tale of a weathered friendship seen through the eyes of Jana and Grace. In these natually-written narratives and author Stormer emphasizes the responsibilities and merits of living as a Christian, yet reading of Grace it is obvious there are Jana-like traits present. Stormer's perception of relationships emphasizes that it takes more than two to heal a breach -- God must also be present.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Self-Inflicted Hunting Arguments: Biblical Responses to a Loaded Issue by Dr. Tom C. Rakow

Rock Dove Publications, 189114748X, $12.95

Would Jesus shoot Bambi? Would Jesus not only shoot Bambi, but field dress him and have him for supper?

Our Lord's earthly dietary habits have long been a sticking point between hunting advocates and animal rights activists. Indeed, if you check the Internet you will find claims that Jesus was a vegetarian, alongside opposing opinion that supports the theory that Jesus partook of meat and fish. As is expected, both sides back up their beliefs cherry-picking verses from the Bible. Jesus said, "Thou shalt not kill," that should apply to animals as well as people, correct?

Stepping into the fray is Dr. Tom C. Rakow, author of Self-Inflicted Hunting Arguments: Biblical Responses to a Loaded Issue, a title nearly as long as the entire book, which is small enough to fit neatly in any hunter's pack. Glancing at the publisher's website, the animal right activist might roll his/her eyes at the prospect of being beaten with Bible quotes supporting the right to hunt defenseless animals. Yet, Dr. Rakow in Self-Inflicted thoughtfully looks at both sides of the argument, showing how both sides use the Scriptures to their advantage, yet not necessarily use them in the proper context. Though his conclusions will likely not be welcomed by all readers, Rakow disparages neither side of the debate as he makes his support known.

Whether a die-hard hunter, a citizen concerned for animal welfare, or someone undecided on the issue, Self-Inflicted is worth the read if you are concerned about whether or not your stance on such issues will compromise your Christianity.

Books Read, November 2003

To the Nines - Janet Evanovich

Katalina - Carolyn Schiedes

Danger Crossed Moments - Britton and Jackson

Lucky - Alice Sebold

Becky's Rebel - Sherry Derr-Wille

Sweeter Than Wine - Michaela August

Windrusher - Victor DiGenti

Self-Inflicted Hunting Arguments: Biblicial Responses to a Loaded Issue - Dr. Tom C. Rakow

Island Games - Roger Helm

Healing the Breach - Rosalind Stormer

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

Thursday, October 9, 2003

Books Read, October 2003

The Hours - Michael Cunningham (Pulitzer)

True Blue Forever - Joyce Sterling Scarbrough (reviewed for Blether)

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

Empire Falls - Richard Russo (Pulitzer)

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A Child of the King by Joanne Blundell Marsh

Publish America, 1591298938, $16.95

Reading A Child of the King, one might easily conclude Joanne Marsh has had her share of hardships. Whether or not her personal triumphs and tragedies outweight those of anybody else is arguable, but what possibly sets first-time author Marsh apart from others is an unwavering faith in Christ that saw her through the darkest moments. King, in this respect, is part memoir, part testimony.

Marsh lets the reader know from the outset that she is not a professional writer -- King delves into passages concerning her realm of business -- but a sincere child of God passionate enough to share her story. Indeed, King reads as like a one-sided conversation, peppered with moments of anxiety and humor as Marsh bares her soul -- talking of illness, marital problems, and other crises.

Chapters bounce back and forward in time, which might cause a reader some confusion or frustration, but Marsh's optimism and obvious love for the Lord provides the thread which stitches everything together. A Child of the King is Marsh's gift to God and to readers in need of an inspirational boost, readers coping with their own problems who need to know that what seems like a challenge can be overcome with faith.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Books Read, September 2003

Finders Keepers by James Anderson (reviewed for Blether)

Total Depravity and Free Will by Ira Benjamin Hezekiah (reviewed for Catholic/Christian Book Reviews)

The Kennedy Curse by Edward Klein

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Books Read, August 2003

From Dust and Ashes - Tricia Goyer (Reviewed for Blether)

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (book club)

Full House - Janet Evanovich

Full Tilt - Janet Evanovich

Where the Heart Is - Billie Letts

The King of Torts - John Grisham

Monday, August 25, 2003

Total Depravity and Free Will by Ira Benjamin Hezekiah

King and Associates, 0974173002, $12.99

There is an old joke my father used to tell, that if you asked people of six different Christian denominations what one particular Bible passage meant, you would get seven different answers. Name a topic related to Christianity, and more than likely it has been supported and refuted in the same books, if not the same passages, of the Old or New Testaments.

No joke, Ira Benjamin Hezekiah of the non-denominational website tackles one such topic of debate - the question of depravity - in Total Depravity and Free Will; more specifically, is man doomed to be deprived of salvation because of the inability to come to God on his own? Did God create us specifically to have us come to Him at His leisure, as Hezekiah says is a belief held by many Christians?

Hezekiah, a supporter of the concept of free will, says no, turning directly to the Bible to support his thesis. In Total Depravity, the question of the existence of total depravity is dissected into four parts: man's nature after the Fall; man's role in his own salvation; God role in man's salvation; and man's will as it interacts with God's. Using examples from Genesis (in particular the stories of Abraham, Enoch, and the Great Flood), Hezekiah succintly illustrates the ability of man to control his own destiny with regards not only to sin, but to seeking God's mercy and love. New Testament passages cited serve to bolster Hezekiah's arguement for free will. In preparation for detractors, Hezekiah devotes a section of Total Depravity to refuting proponents of this theory, explaining in particular Paul's letter to the Ephesians (when he speaks of people "dead in their sins") in a chapter that may please those who do not hold belief in sola scriptura.

Regardless of your beliefs in total depravity, Hezekiah's work offers a thought-provoking, straightforward study of the subject, suitable for scholarly discussion or friendly Biblical debate.

Monday, August 18, 2003

From Dust and Ashes by Tricia Goyer

Moody Publishers, 0802415547, $12.99

For Europe, the war is over. Prison camps are being liberated, and SS guards are rounded up for punishment as their families are forced to leave their homes - a much lesser fate than was received by the people imprisoned. One such wife is Helene, heavily pregnant with her second child and coping with her husband Friedrich's abandonment, who faces her eviction alone.

An emotional reunion with her estranged father presents Helene with a new home, yet it is not enough to ease the guilt brought on from her years in a tense, perhaps abusive marriage. With no thought to her own welfare and the concern of her peers, Helene volunteers to take in two prisoners - Michaela, a Christian arrested for harboring Jews, and Lelia, a Jewish teenager barely clinging to life. The gesture indeed attracts attention, not the least from an American GI named Peter Scott.

Hoping to take advantage of his presence in the war to further the Word of God, Peter's own faith is shattered by the devestation encountered in its aftermath, particularly after the liberation of the concentration camps. He finds strength and solace in his visits to the three ladies harbored at Helene's father's house, feelings felt also by Helene as her charges gradually help to alleviate her guilt by association through their example of faith.

From Dust and Ashes is billed as "story of liberation," yet the meaning is twofold. There is the setting of the fallen camps, the fallen Third Reich, and the liberation of the Jewish people. Author Goyer, in a rich, engrossing narrative, offers the reader a view of characters set free of their emotional traumas by forgiveness, faith, and love. Dust is also a love story, not in the traditional romance novel sense (though elements are visible), as evidenced in the gentle tensions between Peter and Michaela, as well as Peter and Helene. Written with remarkable, thoughtful accuracy, From Dust and Ashes is a story of hope set in a time where such a thing appeared to be lacking, a story for the mainstream.

Friday, August 8, 2003


Due to medical concerns, there will be a delay in new reviews. Your patience is appreciated.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003


Adam's Stone, a work of Christian sci-fi from Kevin Paglia is now available for purchase in eBook and paperback formats from Creek Press. Because I served as editor for this title, a review cannot appear here, but I am happy to announce that if you are interested in Christian science fiction you will enjoy the story of Riley, Anthony, and Mark as they uncover the secrets of the mysterious obelisk believed to have been left by Adam as a warning to the world.

Adam's Stone is available via the publisher's website, and will be available on in the next few weeks.

The Choice by Marilyn Meredith

Page Free Publishing, 1930232250, $12.95

As the widowed mother of an oft-absent teenaged son, Jessica McGuire appears to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her job as deputy of the small town of Lawrenceville wins her little respect among the local barflies and her superior officers, and when Jessica discovers the desecration of an old grave she is further reprimanded. Just make sure the drunks get home safely and that the kids are not out late spraypainting buildings, is all she is told.

Jessica finds it difficult to ignore other strange thefts. Barnyard animals are missing, as is the large redwood cross at the local church. Pastor David Tanner, to Jessica's shock, suspects a force of evil is trying to take over the community, leading the deputy to fight an uphill battle with small-town bureaucracy which unfortunately does not prevent the loss of life. That Jessica's own faith in God is middling, it is the only weapon she has against the group of black-robed citizens who have made the fight too personal for her to ignore.

The Choice is a short novel of suspense, a tense and contemporary adaption of good versus evil. Though some of her actions may not appear professional, Jessica acts out of passion, and to watch her grow in faith is inspiring. Author Meredith's style is direct in her presentation where matters of faith are concerned, providing for a riveting climax.

Monday, July 7, 2003

Books Read, July 2003

Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Other Women by Evelyn Lau

Mystery in Mind by the Rhine Research Center, ed. (Reviewed for Blether.)

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy

Past Suspicion by Therese Heckenkamp (Reviewed for Blether)

Vittorio the Vampire by Anne Rice

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

The Choice by Marilyn Meredith (Reviewed for Catholic/Christian Book Reviews)

Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich

Values of the Wise by Jason Merchey, ed. (Reviewed for Blether)

Silent Honor by Danielle Steel

The Wonderful Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (Pulitzer)

Monday, June 30, 2003

Joseph and Mary: a Love Story by N. Ashton Walker

Fingerprint Press, 0971119929, $12.99

To review a fictional work based upon the life of Christ is always a tricky prospect, particularly when one must consider the audience to whom one is recommending the book. The premise of Joseph and Mary, a fictional account of the marriage of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, is intriguing, then again what Christian would not find the story of Holy Family so? It is a timeless tale, peppered with adventure and mystery, and ultimately leads to a happy ending for all.

Author Walker's account is somewhat modernized. Here Mary lives in an apartment and converses over the phone with her cousin Elizabeth, who calls her "girl." Mary's speech, too, is colloquial. She wears jeans and T-shirts and watches television, and she is in love with Joseph but afraid at first to tell him that she has conceived of the Holy Spirit. In keeping with the Gospel story, Joseph is taken aback, yet a Heavenly visit assures Joseph of his role in the Holy Family. He takes Mary as his wife and raises Jesus as his own, taking in stride "miracles" performed in the schoolyard and Jesus's blunt revelation of the end of Joseph's mortal life.

As a story taken out of its intended context, Joseph and Mary reads as a touching story of devotion between two people who love God and each other. As accurate biblical fiction...this is the tricky part. Some readers will find Joseph and Mary problematic, as Mary is portrayed as having more children (all of whom are practically surrendered to the background of the story). Catholics and Evangelicals have argued for centuries over whether or not Joseph and Mary ever consummated their earthly relationship and expanded the family. Being Catholic, I accept the doctrine of Mary's perputal virginity (see the article "Mary: Ever Virgin" by Catholic Answers), though I recognize that these reviews are often visited by those whose beliefs are not the same as mine. I don't fault others what they believe of Mary having other children, and it is my hope nobody faults mine, yet for me to recommend this book would be impossible.

Therefore, I leave the verdict of Joseph and Mary to the reading public. If you feel so inclined to explore the themes of this book, do so with a prayerful heart. The idea of fictionalizing the story of the Holy Family should not be discouraged, but like actual interpretation of the Bible itself not everybody is destined to agree.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Living Sacrifices by James Haywood Rolling, Jr.

Pleasant Word, 157921522X, $15.99

Is it possible to lead a successful, important life without feeling the need to shut out others, especially God? It is, so author James Rollings stresses in Living Sacrifices. Growing up in a self-imposed isolated state, Rolling recalls the folly of his youth and the ensuing emptiness he experienced and realized as a result. His story is not unique.

A life centered in self is doomed to wither and perish, while a life centered in others can only grow in strength and foundation, Rollings writes in this short (just over 200 pages) book, which reads more like a series of mini-books. Some sections dissect what Rollings calls the lies of self-importance, self-indulgence, and self-reliance, proposing that success in any aspect of life is not possible while these are observed. Later parts of the book are steeped heavily in biblical passages and Christian testimony. All chapters are tied together with eloquent poetry and spiritual reflection.

Rollings writes with an enthusiasm for the Lord borne of many years suffering from the same self-imposed afflictions he discourages in Living Sacrifices. A worthwhile read, Living Sacrifices is good therapy for the isolated soul.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Jonah Christopher and the Last Chance Mass by William Ferguson

Writers Club Press, 0595258794, $11.95

Like his Bibilical namesake, Jonah Christopher has seen his share of adventure. Now settled contentedly into the life of a middle-school teacher, Jonah's only concern is a relaxing Spring Break away from his troubles. He wants to take his girlfriend Catherine fishing, and forget for a moment her free-thinking father and his fundamentalist neighbor, both of whom have proven to be constant thorns in his sides.

The Blessed Virgin, to whom Jonah is very much devoted, has other plans. One night after falling asleep in the garage, resting in the wooden boat he made especially for his vacation, Jonah awakes to find himself in "aeviternity," in a timeless state where snow is warm and a mysterious priest/guide is popping through a new hatch at the bottom of Jonah's boat. Jonah learns Mary has chosen him for a special mission - to battle the ultimate evil. Jonah isn't entirely certain what to look for, but knows at least that the red-haired girl with the eerie blue eyes following him throughout this strange journey in one harbringer of doom. Luckily, for this adventure Jonah has the ultimate weapon - prayer.

Catholic journalist Ferguson's first novel-length foray into fiction is an adventure for the soul. Moments of good humor, coupled with orthodox Catholic sentiment that is neither preachy nor stiff, make Jonah Christopher a good summer read.

The Valley of Childhood by Linda Whalen

Bright Books, 0961731729, $14.95

Often the journey towards contentment with Christ is presented in allegory - a winding road leading to the gates of Heaven, the calm eye of a hurricane wherein one can find brief solace with the Lord in the midst of a tempestuous life. For Linda Whalen, the journey is likened to a hike through a valley through which childhood memories are stirred, lessons are learned, and healing begins. The Valley of Childhood, part memoir and part devotional, offers such a raw, emotional testimony, as seen through the eyes of a child struggling to come to Christ.

Each chapter of Childhood presents a different level of the valley, from rocky terrains to sharp dips and hazy floors. Whalen reveals hardships endured throughout her childhood, the film of dust on her skin and mud caked to her shoes representative of past sins and transgressions, the opportunity for refreshment at the valley spring thwarted when the water is discovered to be too salty to drink - alluding to deceptions one often faces in life. A brief respite in a valley garden provides an oasis from hardship as Whalen recalls more pleasant memories of childhood and comes to appreciate the beauty in nature and life God offers us. "The first thing I understand is the need all people have to be in a still, quiet place with the Lord," writes Whalen as the garden dissolves into a desert of uncertainty. Wherever we are in our own personal valleys, be it lost in a maze of trees or threatened by tumbling rocks overhead, Whalen stresses, one need not be afraid if one lets Jesus lead the way home.

Whalen nicely ties each chapter, each leg of the journey with a Scriptural quote, prayer, and reflection. At times very personal, and often a simple book to which anyone can relate, The Valley of Childhood is a unique, vivid devotional.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Spider in the Well by Lee Ann Ward

Publish America, 1592865992, $14.95

On the outset, it appears Paul Ford has everything. He is the star player on his college football team with a chance at the pros, is dating the prettiest girl on campus, and has a loving, faith-filled family. It stands to reason Paul should feel quite happy about his good fortune, yet he continues to be haunted by an accident involving his kid brother for which, despite everybody's objections, he feels responsible.

Worry about football, worry about the future, don't dwell on the past, he is told time and again. Paul certainly does his share of that, and when the final home game ends with a tragedy that seals Paul's fate, he is left to do more serious thinking, and praying. All at once everything falls away: career, love, security, and even his family is threatened by the course of events. Being reminded of the one certainty in his life - God's love - helps him to better examine God's will for his life, and like the spider in the wall he once tried to protect as a child Paul comes to trust in the Lord's protection and guidance in the challenges that face him during his recovery.

A short yet uplifting novel, The Spider in the Well is a novel suitable for young and older readers alike, a fable emphasizing how one can turn tragedy into glory, and how material success does not necessarily yield the treasure God wants for us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Books Read, June 2003

Last Call by Diane Dean-Epps; mystery, McKenna Publishing Group; a regular bar patron witnesses a murder in a parking lot and is soon targeted.

Reviewed for Blether, at the request of the author.

Tahitian Destiny by Julie Eberhart Painter; romantic suspense, Xlibris; a woman in search of her genealogical ties in Tahiti learns she is descended from a legendary princess.

Reviewed for the Florida Writers Association, at the request of the FWA review coordinator.

The Spider in the Well by Lee Ann Ward; inspirational, Publish America; a college football player must reevaluate his life when his promising career is taken away by an accident.

Reviewed for Catholic/Christian Reviews, at the request of the author. This was an eBook galley, and will not be release via BC.

Winning Without Losing Your Way by Rebecca Barnett; non-fiction business, Winning Your Way, Inc.; a former corporate executive examines values and character in the workplace and offers advice on how to maintain a proper balance in work and family lives.

Reviewed for Blether Book Reviews, at the request of the author. Signed copy - not for BC release.

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts; fiction, Warner Books; a year in the life of regular patrons and new employees of a rural Oklahoma diner.

From my BC journal: "I read this in two days; it is a quick, enjoyable read that left me a bit wanting, I have to admit. Though the ending was upbeat and positive, it left open the fates of the other characters I had come to like. I'm wondering now if Molly O and Life get together, if Bui's wife will ever come to the US from Vietnam, and if Brenda will ever shape up and stop being such a brat. Lett's style reminds me a lot of Fannie Flagg, whose books I adore. I might just pick up her other book."

I was a stop on a bookray for this title, and it has been released to the next person in line.

* Dirty Jokes and Beer by Drew Carey; non-fiction/humor, Hyperion; the wit and wisdom of Drew Carey, title is pretty much self-explanatory.

Yes, I watch The Drew Carey Show. At least I did until recently, the show shifted time slots and I got out of the habit when I got satellite television. However, when a Bookcrossing started this bookray I signed up anyway. The title is, as I mention, self-explanatory. Almost every chapter begins with a joke (granted, not all are dirty), followed by at times funny, at times raw, observations by Mr. Carey. The last third of the book is comprised by a number of semi-autobiographical stories, which I enjoyed more. The book has been mailed to the next person in line.

The Valley of Childhood by Linda Whalen; non-fiction/inspirational, Bright Books; a woman's spiritual journey to Christ is compared to a walk through the valley.

Reviewed for Catholic/Christian Reviews, at the request of the author. This book is signed and will not be released.

Jonah Christopher and the Last Chance Mass by William Ferguson; fiction, Writer's Club Press; a middle school teacher is charged by the Blessed Virgin to complete a dangerous mission.

This book was a gift from the author, who was kind to interview me for the now defunct CatholicNewsDaily website. Though it was not requested, I completed a review for Catholic/Christian Reviews and added the title to an article on summer reading, which will hopefully be posted to

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling; fiction, Scholastic Press; the fifth Harry Potter adventure has Harry, Ron, and Hermione operating a clandestine Defense Against the Dark Arts class under the nose of a humorless bureaucrat intent on taking over Hogwarts.

Received on Saturday, finished on Monday. The book dragged a bit for me through the first third; it didn't really pick up until everybody got to Hogwarts. I won't give much away, but Fred and George Weasley steal the show, and this whole Harry/Cho thing is starting to aggravate me.

Peacetalk 101 by Suzette Haden Elgin; fiction, Lethe Press; a man intent on killing himself and his family receives some valuable lessons from a homeless man.

Reviewed for Blether Book Reviews at the request of the author.

Living Sacrifices by James Rollings, Jr.; non-fiction, Pleasant Word; a semi-autobiographical testimony on the falsehood of self-reliance.

Reviewed for Catholic/Christian Book Reviews at the request of the author.

Joseph and Mary: a Love Story by N. Ashton Walker; inspirational fiction, Fingerprint Press; a fictional account of the life of Joseph and Mary, set in contemporary time.

This was sent by the author for review, review is pending due to some problematic themes.

Monday, June 2, 2003

The Cult Around the Corner by Nancy O'Meara and Stan Koehler

Foundation for Religious Freedom International, 1928575102, $7.95

"Calm not panic." These are the first words of advice authors O'Meara and Koehler offer to anyone concerned about a relative or loved one who has strayed from the relative security of an acceptable faith into something perceived as dubious. Granted, it would not be surprising for one to fly off the handle upon learning his/her child has decided to leave the Baptist/Methodist/Catholic Church for (insert a splinter cult or community here). Uncharted territory is often met with suspicions, and as both authors emphasize in The Cult Around the Corner, the obvious reaction is to become defensive. It is not always the right reaction, as it can lead to alienation.

Research and rationalism are the keys to maintaining good relationships with those fallen away. Counsel with a trusted minister or mediator provides a firm foundation for communication with loved ones. To the authors' credit, no one faith or organization is endorsed or maligned, and belief in God is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Readers are not chastised for being judgmental or critical of other faiths; while the right to hold one's beliefs is recognized, O'Meara and Koehler also stress the need to recognize the rights and beliefs of your loved ones, even if they do not align with yours.

The Cult Around the Corner is a short book, but straight to the point with excerpts of actual case studies handled by the Foundation for Religious Freedom. Its purpose is not to list cults or cultish faiths as a guide for the vigilant, but to help repair the relationships broken by divisive opinions. In this time of uncertainly about particular faiths as they relate to the war, it is an important book to read.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Books Read, May 2003

Out of the Shadows by Kay Hooper; mystery, Bantam; a law enforcement officer with a supernatural gift teams up with a federal agent and former lover to find a serial killer of teenagers.

Given to me in a Bookcrossing trade. I had not heard of Kay Hooper until now, but have since received a number of recommendations. The paranormal angle in this book provides a nice backdrop for what would otherwise be a standard police procedural. It has an X-Files quality, with good dialogue and characterization.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; fiction, Picador; a Jewish refugee and his American cousin team up to create a popular comic book series, but personal problems force the duo apart.

Pulitzer winner; overall, I liked it, though I thought it was a bit too long. Samual Klayman and Josef Kavalier try to escape their mundane lives through The Escapist, a comic hero creation who takes on the Nazis and their allies in every issue (until after the war, when the focus is shifted to the Communists), yet find trouble has a way of finding them. For Josef, it is the pain of losing his family in Europe; for Sam, it is dealing with his sexuality and the responsibilities of others that he feels obligated to handle.

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington; fiction; the Adams family matron is obsessed with keeping up appearances for the sake of her daughter, that she may be able to win the heart of a suitor.

Pulitzer winner; a simple story told in a rather difficult way, I think. The premise is by no means gripping, but likely a suitable plot for the day. Alice's family is not rich, her father has been working for the same rich schmuck for years, and when he makes an attempt to strike on his own said schumuck foils him. Alice is looked down up by her peers, and her mother fears she won't get a man. Alice, however, has ideas of her own, and is truly the most admirable character in the book, though she comes off at times as flighty.

A Buried Lie by Roberta Isleib; mystery, Berkeley; the second installment in the Cassie Burdette mystery series, where a golfer and her friend are murdered at a pro-am tournament in Atlantic City.

Reviewed at Blether at the request of the author. This is a great series for cozy lovers.

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg; fiction, Random House; vignettes about the people of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, from "Neighbor Dorothy," the radio personality, to sly Hamm Sparks, enterprising salesman-cum-governor.

I adore Fannie Flagg. Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my all-favorite books, and I only watch Match Game when she's a panelist. Though I admit I wasn't too keen on Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, I did enjoy this book, which centers around the town in which Baby Girl is partly set. There's only a brief reference to Baby Girl in Rainbow; mainly the book is a series of short chapter vignettes of the townsfolks, moving through four decades of gentle, small-town humor. An enjoyable read for fans of southern fiction.

The Bitterest Pill by Howard Robinson; fiction, Booklocker; a young man discovers he is adopted and flies into a rage, which turns deadly. A grieving widower is left to cope with the results, which are made increasingly painful as new secrets are revealed in the aftermath.

Reviewed for Blether at the request of the author.

Violin by Anne Rice; fiction, Ballantine; a widow is tormented by a violin-playing ghost.

I haven't enjoyed Anne Rice since The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned, one of the last books by her that I've read. That said, I did like Violin somewhat. From my Bookcrossing journal: "I found it difficult to like Triana Becker, the recent widow haunted and tormented by Stefan, the violin-playing spirit who takes her back to the time of Beethoven to witness his own pains. I don't know, there was a pompous sense about this duo I just didn't like."

Claws and Effect by Rita Mae Brown; mystery, Bantam; Harry and Mrs. Murphy investigate deaths connected to a local hospital.

This was one of the weaker efforts in the Mrs. Murphy series. Returning characters are as charming as ever, and the reconciliation of Fair and Harry is progressing slowly but nicely. However, it seemed the answers to the crime were given away much too soon; I had an idea of what was going to happen at the end. Also, a recurring character is murdered (not Miranda), and that just brought me down.

Bad Boy by Olivia Goldsmith; fiction, Signet; a computer geek, upset that he's not "getting any," turns to his friend for a personality makeover. When he successfully transforms into a man-slut, she realizes she's loved him all along.

Sometimes you need a nice piece of cheese to in between the glasses of Pinot Noir. This is good for the beach, but the story is just predictable and at times grating. That the heroine's last name is Higgins (as in Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady) was not lost on me, and personally I did not find her very likeable. The notion that women want to be treated poorly, one theme of the book, is appalling, and in the end when Bad Boy and Dirty Girl unite you're almost happy because they deserve each other.

Hollywood Must Be Destroyed! by Daniel Wade Schroder; fiction, 1stBooks; an investment banker is sent to LA to investigate the dealings of a client (a movie studio), only to find himself in a very foreign environment.

A gift from the author, and I reviewed it for Catholic/Christian reviews.

The Cult Around the Corner by Nancy O'Meara and Stan Koehler; non-fiction/sociology, Foundation for Religious Freedom International; a brief guidebook targeted toward people concerned about relatives and loved ones who have become involved in questionable communities.

To be reviewed for Catholic/Christian Reviews.

Alma Mater by Rita Mae Brown; fiction, Ballantine; William and Mary coed linked to BMOC discovers an attraction for female neighbor.

I'll be honest, I haven't enjoyed a non-Mrs. Murphy novel since Riding Shotgun. I lie, I liked Outfoxed, when the animals didn't get in the way, and I picked up Alma Mater mainly because: 1) it was at a library sale for a buck; and 2) it's set in nearby Williamsburg and Surry, so there's local interest. If you've never read Rita Mae before, you really only need to know a few things:

  • All of her young heriones are incredibly beautiful, and everybody else in the book makes mention of it at one time or another

  • Mothers and aunts like to carp at each other, and are often portrayed as having certain habits (usually smoking or drinking or high-falutin' Virginia pride, or all three)

  • There is always at least one really bizarre supporting player, and there is always at least one person who is described as being "two days older than God"

  • Catholic and/or the Church are often the victims of cheap shots

That said, Alma Mater was a disappointment. There are moments of levity, which I enjoyed (I won't spoil Aunt Bunny's driving adventures for you), but the book just read kind of blah to me, like Brown had padded a short story.

Hollywood Must Be Destroyed! by Daniel Wade Schroder

1stBooks, 1588204510, $12.95

Once upon a time, Tom Brantley and Michael Lewis were two investment bankers happily muddling through life in a tony New York firm. While they enjoyed their work and a never-ending game of guessing the artists of bad 80s pop tunes, their boss assigns them to investigate the books of an important client, a movie production company based in Hollywood. What sounds like a routine job to both men is quickly likened to a trip through Wonderland, where everybody is a Mad Hatter.

Classic Pictures, producer of soon-to-be epics like Natural Born Idiot and Teen Sexpots in Seattle, has been consistently losing money on its recent releases, and is spending too much for films that otherwise could be made on small budgets. Tom and Mike set out to learn where the firm's money is going, uncovering a scheme more outlandish than any movie plot - Hollywood funding of political agendas and twisting of morals. Hooking up with Classic executive Linda Wilson, Tom discovers Hollywood itself is more outrageous than any movie Classic could fund. Spiritual guides, actors parading around nude in public, and a general anti-Christian sentiment create an atmosphere more tempestuous than anything the Georgia-bred Tom has experienced, so much that he risks his job to see to it that Hollywood is destroyed before it destroys everybody else.

Though a short tale overrun with typographical errors (a problem 1stBooks truly needs to solve), Hollywood Must Be Destroyed! has its moments of wit and absurdity that will leave any reader who has never been to LA nodding in agreement ("I went to Harvard," responds Linda after being asked if she believes in God.). Though this story would not be normally classified as "Christian" literature in the sense that other titles reviewed here are, Hollywood deserves a mention for its finale, a bold statement alluding to the Culture of Death, as coined by Pope John Paul II, one that deserves some attention. Author Schroder shows a talent for satirical prose, which he will hopefully continue to hone.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Books Read, April 2003

White Oleander by Janet Fitch; fiction, Back Bay Books; a young girl whose mother is sent to prison for murder bounces around a variety of foster homes, always haunted by her prideful mother.

Well, this book just seemed to go on and on, didn't it? I can't remember if this is an Oprah-approved book or not, but it was unceremoniously handed to me at a Bookcrossing meeting - its previous owner didn't much care for it - so I read it on the plane to San Juan. I find it difficult to enjoy a book full of characters to whom I'm not endeared, and that was the case here.

Dark Debts by Karen Hall; horror, Ivy Books; a Jesuit priest and a writer from California explore their connections to a "cursed" family, all the while battling their own demons.

I used to read Karen Hall's blog before she retired it, and thus I was prompted to read her novel. As far as horror goes (not my favorite genre), I think it is a good effort, and Hall allows for enough curve balls in the action to keep the plot from being predictable. I read this one on the flight back from San Juan.

The Patriote Proposition by Thomas Thorpe; historical fiction, Port Town Publishing; a young wife in 19th century Canada becomes involved in a political struggle as she searches for her husband.

Reviewed for Blether at the request of the author. If you enjoy political thrillers and/or historical novels, you'll like this one.

The Color of Water by James McBride; non-fiction memoir, Riverhead Books ; a combination memoir/biography about a white, Jewish girl growing up in poverty who marries two black men and has twelve children, all of whom she puts through college by her own sheer will.

I had wanted to read this book for years. I caught an interview with McBride when the hardcover came out; I was working for the UGA library when it arrived, so I set is aside. I never got the opportunity to read it, however, and had to send it along. Years later, I find the paperback. This is a very good, very fascinating story; chapters alterate from McBride's point of view to his mother's, and I found it especially interesting since much of McBride's mother's childhood was spent in Suffolk, which isn't far from here.

Journey by Danielle Steel; fiction, Dell; a woman with a history of being in abusive relationship soon discovers her picture-perfect marriage isn't all that.

Oh, but this book was terrible! I picked it up at the monthly Portsmouth Friends of the Library sale - it was on the free table. I figured, what the hell. This being a more recent book, I can tell Steel is starting to slip. My review on Amazon reads in part: Steel glosses over some scenes which would have been more interesting had she written them as they happened - like Maddy's encounters with the abuse counselor. The constant POV switching and repetitive exposition was also a headache - Steel tends to explain things she had told us in earlier chapters as if she had never written about them before. This is a shame, since abuse against woman is sort of a cause of mine. It could have been handled much better.

Gabriel's Magic Ornament by Randall Bush; children's fiction, Pristine Publishing; two children anticipating a Christmas adventure get their wishes when a magic ornament takes them to the land of the Orna folk.

Reviewed at the request of the author; it will be up on later. This is a cute chapter book for middle readers, combining Biblical allegory and secular history of the holiday to form a nice adventure.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin; fiction, Hyperion; a bored retail clerk and a rich, older man have a brief fling.

I really wanted to like this book. I love Steve Martin. He could film a 90-minute movie where he just reads the back of a cereal box, and I'll still pay seven bucks to see it. This There are moments of enjoyable, dry Martin wit, but overall I just didn't find anything endearing about the book. I wasn't too crazy about the main characters, who came off as superficial an unsympathetic. Of course, that might have been the point Martin was trying to make. Maybe the movie will be better.

Books Read, March 2003

Battle Cry by Glenda Finkelstein; science fiction, IUniverse; a futuristic tale involving a civilization unable to die seeking the release of death, torturing another race of people until they are satisfied.

I reviewed this title for the Florida Writers Association newsletter. The premise of the book is intriguing, yet I had difficulty getting through the book. It read to me as if it needed another round of editing. Anyway, full review is available at the FWA site.

The Shattering Sword by Forrest Taylor; fantasy, Xlibris; a crumbling civilization, awaiting a prophecy to be fulfilled, prepares to revolt against a corrupt ruler.

This is another FWA review, available on their site. This one I found more interesting and better paces than Battle Cry; it is darker and the author does a good job of setting the mood through the action and characters.

Wicked Stop, Georgia by Zane Smith; thriller, publisher unknown; an unsuspecting family on vacation is directed to an out of the way hotel in Georgia and abducted, to be sold through an international slavery ring.

This book, I believe, is not yet published. An advance review was done by request. The premise was interesting, though some parts of the book tended to linger too much on expository information that didn't necessarily move the action. A few characters came off as irritating, but I can't imagine anybody who runs a sex slave ring wouldn't be at one time or another.

Books Read, February 2003

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow; science fiction, free eBook download; in the future, death is obsolete and people are classified according to the amount of "whuffie" they can obtain; one man's dream life living at Disney World is threatened when various factions conspired to take over his beloved Haunted Mansion.

Who can resist the temptation of a free book, electronic or otherwise? I offer one myself for your reading pleasure. Being that I am ready to dabble in composing science fiction, it makes sense to read more, so when I heard Doctorow had released a free version of his book to coincide with the print release I took him up on the offer. My full review is available via Blether.

Leah's Way by Richard Botelho; inspirational fiction; the story of a young woman from Tennessee who marries a promising athlete, only to see her life spiral downward into poverty and self-hatred.

I read this book at the request of the author, for the purpose of supplying a back cover quote. I don't know if the book has been published yet; last I heard it was under contract.

Niamh and the Hermit by Emily Snyder; fantasy, Arx Publishing; a princess so beautiful men cannot look upon her and live is betrothed to marry a mysterious hermit whose looks are the complete opposite; the union is threatened, however, when one of the king's most trusted men plots against the kingdom.

I supplied a back cover quote for this one, too. A full review is available from Catholic/Christian Book Reviews.

Books Read, January 2003

Coming Home to Mercy Street by Nancy Arant Williams; inspirational fiction, Wings ePress; a young woman takes a break from her job and apartment to help a relative establish a halfway home for teen girls, and along the way finds the experience helps her more than it does the charges.

This book was read for an advanced author review.

The Island by Andrea Crisp; thriller, Wings ePress; a futuristic story in which people with terminal illnesses are sent to a remote island for care; one patient discovers upon arrival that the situation on the island is very dire, and a power struggle among the inhabitants ensues.

A Room With a View by EM Forster. This book is listed among Modern Library's 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century. I had seen the movie many years ago and enjoyed it, and the memories of the film helped my enjoyment of the book, made it that more vivid. Not that Forster does not evoke those kinds of feelings anyway. It had been a while since I had read Howard's End, and I admit I enjoyed this book more; the action moved at a more suitable pace for me.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Books Read, 1999

  • Imzadi II: Triangle - Peter David

  • Stealing Jesus - Bruce Bawer

  • Edith Stein: A Biography - Waltraud Herbstrith

  • You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again - Julia Phillips

  • Lewis and Me and Skipper Makes Three - Ludlow Porch

  • Death of an Angel - Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

  • N is for Noose - Sue Grafton

  • How to Tame a Wild Bore - Kathy Grizzard Schmook

  • MASH Goes to Hollywood - Richard Hooker

  • House of Gold - Bud MacFarlane, Jr.

  • A Sudden Death at the Norfolk Cafe - Winona Sullivan

  • Cat on the Scent - Rita Mae Brown

  • Dead South - Winona Sullivan

  • Where We Got the Bible - Henry Graham

  • A Catholic Guide to the Bible - Oscar Lukefahr

  • Questionable Remains - Beverly Connor

  • La Popessa - Paul I. Murphy

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - JK Rowling

  • Loose Lips - Rita Mae Brown

  • The Catechism Handbook - Oscar Lukefahr

  • A Vow of Sanctity - Veronica Black

  • Copy Kat - Karen Kijewski

  • Death's a Beath - Winona Sullivan

  • Wild Kat - Karen Kijewski

  • Malice in Maggody - Joan Hess

  • Still Hungry After All These Years - Richard Simmons

  • Play it Again, Spam - Tamar Myers

  • Beowulf

  • Skeleton Crew - Beverly Connor

Books Read, 2000

  • Big Trouble - Dave Barry

  • Hollywood Anecdotes - Paul F. Boller

  • I Just Kept Hoping - Gloria Stuart

  • *The Devil's Rood - The US Five

  • Outfoxed - Rita Mae Brown

  • Going Nowhere Fast - Gar Haywood

  • Dead on My Feet - Lynn Wingert

  • At Home in Mitford - Jan Karon

  • A Light in the Window - Jan Karon

  • These High Green Hills - Jan Karon

  • Permed to Death - Nancy J. Cohen

  • Out Caanan - Jan Karon

  • A New Song - Jan Karon

  • A Pedigree to Die For - Laurien Berenson

  • Footprints in the Butter - Denise Dietz

  • Hot Toddy - Andy Edmonds

  • - Joan Hess

  • Cover-Up Story - Marian Babson

  • Sick Puppy - Carl Hiaasen

  • Pawing Through the Past - Rita Mae Brown

  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

  • Bad News Travels Fast - Gar Haywood

  • *The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love - Oscar Hijuelos (Pulitzer)

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling

  • Dog Eat Dog - Laurien Berenson

  • Hair of the Dog - Laurien Berenson

  • Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis

  • *BJ - Kimile Aczon

  • Saving Death - Winona Sullivan

  • Soul of the Vampire - Minda Samiels

  • *Flowers in the Attic - VC Andrews

  • One for the Money - Janet Evanovich

  • Petals on the Wind - VC Andrews

  • Death on a Silver Tray - Rosemary Stevens

  • If There Be Thorns - VC Andrews

  • Chutes and Adders - Barbara Block

  • Surprised by Truth 2 - Patrick Madrid

  • Watchdog - Laurien Berenson

  • Blessed Miguel Pro - Ann Ball

  • Unleashed - Laurien Berenson

  • Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century - Robert Royal

  • A Philadelphia Catholic in King James's Court - Martin Kennedy

  • Two for the Dough - Janet Evanovich

  • Three to Get Deady - Janet Evanovich

  • Seeds of Yesterday - VC Andrews

  • Seven Sisters - Earlene Fowler

  • Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie

  • Four to Score - Janet Evanovich

  • The Shipping News - E. Annie Proulx (Pulitzer)

  • Hot Six - Janet Evanovich

  • Going Out in Style - Chloe Green

  • The Usual Suspects - Karl Keating

  • Airtight Case - Beverly Connor

Books Read, 2001

  • High Five - Janet Evanovich

  • The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields (Pulitzer)

  • Hannibal - Thomas Harris

  • Hair Raiser - Nancy J. Cohen

  • Behold, a Mystery! - Joan Smith

  • There We Stood, Here We Stand - Tim Drake

  • Family Skeletons - Rett MacPherson

  • The Last Suppers - Diane Mott Davidson

  • The Outlier - RJ Stanton

  • Being There - Jerzy Kosinski

  • A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (Pulitzer)

  • Sophie's Choice - William Styron (100 Books)

  • Toujours Dead - Susan Kiernan-Lewis

  • Pope Fiction - Patrick Madrid

  • Altar Music - Christin Loreweber

  • Prodigal Daughters - Donna Steichen

  • Fear of Frying - Jill Churchill

  • The Deadly Habit - Mike Manno

  • Shattered - Dick Francis

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller

  • P is for Peril - Sue Grafton

  • Love Sick - Sue William Silverman

  • Secret Ties - SJ Graves

  • Spittin' Image - Margaret and Lee

  • Leap of Faith - Danielle Steel

  • Designed to Die - Chloe Green

  • The Redemption of Sarah Cain - Beverly Lewis

  • Fabric of Faith - Nancy Brandt

  • After She's Gone - Bill Hartzell

  • Blood on the Moon - James Ellroy

  • A Common Life - Jan Karon

  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles - Agatha Christie

  • White Death - Tony B Burch

  • In St. Patrick's Custody - Janet Elaine Smith

  • Recipe for Murder - Janet Elaine Smith

  • Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie

  • Another Chance in Time - Tiedra Lee

  • Once Bitten - Laurien Berenson

  • The Bonesetter's Daughter - Amy Tan

  • Aunt Dimity's Death - Nancy Atherton

  • A Season for Love - Lauralee Bliss

  • Sea of Hope - Penelope Marzec

  • Seven Up - Janet Evanovich

  • The Powder Monkey - George Galloway

  • Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion - Dr. Theresa Burke

  • Twice Dead - Elizabeth Dearl

  • Privacy - Gini Wilson

  • Storms of the Heart - Cheryl Norman

  • Graverobbers Wanted: No Experience Necessary - Jeff Strand

  • Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser (100 Books)

Books Read, 2002

  • Washed Up - Lynn Wingert

  • To Live Again - Lauralee Bliss

  • Fellowship of the Ring - JRR Tolkien

  • Dream of Fire - Nicholas Prata

  • Suspicious Minds - Kim Cox

  • Change of Heart - Jack Allen

  • Exile - Kevin Paglia

  • The Chocolate Cat Caper - JoAnna Carl

  • Six Strokes Under - Roberta Isleib

  • The View from the Grass Roots - Greg Rummo

  • More Than a Garden - Dorothy Compton

  • Journey Into Terror - Anne K. Edwards

  • Death Comes Knocking - Anne K. Edwards

  • The Mask of Ollock - Robert Kaufman

  • Eternity - Staci Stallings

  • The Two Towers - JRR Tolkien

  • Love Thy Sister - Maria Swan

  • Father's Touch - Donald D'Haene

  • Radiant Sword - Lee Boschen

  • Rogue's Hostage - Linda McLaughlin

  • The Quest for Gillian's Heart - Catherine Snodgrass

  • Blood in My Hairspray - Steven Schriebman

  • An Undeniable Rogue - Annette Blair

  • The Passionate Steward - Michael O'Hurley Pitts

  • Dangerous Attraction - Susan Vaughn

  • Trapdoor - Ariana Overton

  • A Trade Wind Season - Kathleen Mix

  • The Marshall's Destiny - CH Admirand (signed copy)

  • The Anonymous Amanuensis - Judith Glad

  • Exiled Treasure - Belinda Palmer

  • Beguiling Dreams - Fred Stemme

  • Whiteout - JL Abbot

  • Selena's Seduction - Jewelann Butler

  • Tangled Passion - Jewelann Butler

  • Shadows of the Eclipse - Bonnie Napoli

  • The $1100 Treasure - Hank Valon

  • Godcountry - Colleen Drippe

  • Net Crimes and Misdemeanors - JA Hitchcock

  • Seed of the Dogwood Tree - Greg Cicio

  • The Fractal Murders - Mark Cohen

  • Dice Angel - Brian Rouff

  • Sonnets From Matthew - David Craig

  • Collateral Damage - Austin S. Camacho

  • The Bride's Rescuer - Charlotte Douglas

  • Memories of Megan - Rita Herron

  • My Name is Mary - Denise Sawyer

Books Read, 1998

  • *The Last Party - Anthony Haden-Guest

  • First Love and Look For My Obituary - Elena Garro

  • Nun-Plussed - Monica Quill

  • *Eat Me - Linda Jaivin

  • The Gift of Stern Angels - Michael Moriarty

  • The Uniformity of God's Will - St. Alphonsus de Ligouri

  • No Greater Love - Danielle Steel

  • How Could You Do That? - Dr. Laura Schlessinger

  • Malice - Danielle Steel

  • Charleston Ghosts - Margaret Rhett Martin

  • Kaleidoscope - Danielle Steel

  • Nerve - Dick Francis

  • Flying Finish - Dick Francis

  • Murder on the Prowl - Rita Mae Brown

  • Moses Unchained - Marilyn Moriarty

  • Rat Race - Dick Francis

  • Living at Night - Mariana Romo-Carmona

  • The Book of Mormon (year-round reading project)

  • The Runaway Jury - John Grisham

  • Catholic Answers to Fundamentalist Questions - Phillip St. Romain

  • Memnoch the Devil - Anne Rice

  • The Mummy - Anne Rice

  • For Kicks - Dick Francis

  • *Southern Discomfort - Rita Mae Brown

  • Pierced By a Sword - Bud MacFarlane, Jr.

  • Sweet Secrets: Stories of Menstruation - Kath O'Grady and Paula Wansbrough

  • The Story of a Soul - St. Therese of Lisieux

  • Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot - Al Franken

  • Listening With My Heart - Heather Whitestone

  • Conceived Without Sin - Bud MacFarlane, Jr.

  • The Hot Zone - Richard Preston

  • Dr. Atkins's Diet Revolution - Dr. Robert Atkins

  • Strong Women Stay Slim - Miriam Nelson

  • Secret Formula - Rick Allen (signed copy)

  • What Falls Away - Mia Farrow

  • Not a Blessed Thing - Monica Quill

  • Into the Forest - Jean Hegland

  • Now and Forever - Danielle Steel

  • The Ghost - Danielle Steel

  • Lucky You - Carl Hiaasen

  • What Catholics Really Believe - Karl Keating

  • The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy (signed copy)

  • My Dark Places - James Ellroy (signed copy)

  • Edith the Good - Spencer Marsh

  • Rebuking the New World Order - Roger Thibault (signed copy)

  • Rome Sweet Rome - Scott and Kimberly Hahn

  • Practicing Catholic - Penelope Ryan

  • Man of the Century: Life and Times of Pope John Paul II - Jonathan Kwitny

  • Dorothy Dandridge - Donald Bogle

Books Read, 1997

  • The Hundred Secret Senses - Amy Tan

  • Shattered: in the Eye of the Storm - Faye Resnick

  • Evita: First Lady - John Barnes

  • Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

  • Catholicism and Fundamentalism - Karl Keating

  • Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

  • Saved By the Light - Dannion Brinkley

  • Still Can't Keep a Straight Face - Ellen Orleans

  • Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

  • Nearly Roadkill - Caitlin Sullivan and Kate Bornstein

  • The Awakening Heart - Betty J. Eadie

  • Deadline for Murder - Val McDermid

  • Worlds of Women anthology

  • Hunger's Table - Margaret Randall

  • Secret Ceremonies - Deborah Laake

  • - Gary Gach

  • Voyeur - Michael Moriarty (signed copy)

  • Judy - Frank Gerold

  • Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach - Albert Menendez

  • Threads of Experience - Deidre Scherer and Sandra Martz

  • Interior Castle - St. Teresa of Avila

  • Crossing the Threshhold of Hope - Pope John Paul II

  • Sandy Dennis: a Personal Memoir - Sandy Dennis

  • Angry Catholic Women - Andrew Greeley and Mary Durkin

  • Who in Hell? A Guide to the Whole Damned Bunch - Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers

  • *Forbidden Lovers - Axel Madsen

  • The Bible (year-round reading project)

  • Enter Whining - Fran Drescher

  • If You Had a Family - Barbara Wilson

  • The Stars, The Earth, The River - Le Minh Khue

  • Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism - John Shelby Spong

  • Full Christianity - Richard Chilson

  • The Activist's Daughter - Ellen Bache

  • The Life of Teresa of Jesus - St. Teresa of Avila

  • Wired Women - Lynn Chern and Elizabeth R. Weise

  • The Way of Perfection - St. Teresa of Avila

  • The Incorruptibles - Joan Carroll Cruz

  • Ascent of Mt. Carmel - St. John of the Cross

  • Making Saints - Kennth L. Woodward

  • There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays - Sandra Haldeman Martz

  • Shattered Faith - Sheila Rauch Kennedy

  • My Story - Sarah, Duchess of York

  • Beat Up a Cookie - Denise Dietz

  • A Rumor of Bones - Beverly Connor

  • An Ugly Little Secret - Anti-Catholicism in North America - Andrew Greeley

  • Seven Years in Tibet - Heinrich Harrer

  • Ivory Tower - Elliott Pearson

  • The Eros of Everyday Life - Susan Griffin

  • Giving Away Simone - Jan L. Waldron

  • Bogart - Ann Sperber and Eric Lax

  • Ungodly Rage - Donna Steichen

  • Contact - Carl Sagan

  • Rita Will - Rita Mae Brown

  • 10lb Penalty - Dick Francis

Books Read, 1996

  • Eating Our Hearts Out - Leslea Newman

  • The Princes in the Tower - Alison Weir

  • Riding Shotgun - Rita Mae Brown (signed copy)

  • Torment - JA Hitchcock and Clyde Rathbone

  • Pay Dirt - Rita Mae Brown

  • Time Will Tell - Jamina Marcus

  • Agamenon - Aeschylus

  • Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus

  • Oedipus the King - Sophocles

  • Antigone - Sophocles

  • Neanderthal - John Darnton

  • Ordeal - Linda Lovelace

  • Out of Bondage - Linda Lovelace

  • Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls

  • Windswept - Magdalena Zschokke

  • Stormy Weather - Carl Hiaasen

  • The Butches of Madison County - Ellen Orleans

  • The Ghosts of Okinawa - JA Hitchcock (signed copy)

  • Over My Dead Body! - Freda Carley

  • Herotica 4 Anthology

  • Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You - Sue William Silverman

  • Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives - Dr. Laura Schlessinger

  • The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin

  • Murder, She Meowed - Rita Mae Brown

  • Angel Country - Ria Biley

  • Fatima: the Great Sign - Francis Johnston

  • The Well-Heeled Murders - Cherry Hartman

  • To the Hilt - Dick Francis

  • M is for Malice - Sue Grafton

Books Read, 1995

  • In Her Day - Rita Mae Brown

  • The Liar - Stephen Fry

  • Accident - Danielle Steel

  • Food - Susan Powter

  • Vanished - Danielle Steel

  • Forrest Gump - Winston Groom

  • Embraced by the Light - Betty J. Eadie

  • Rest in Pieces - Rita Mae Brown

  • Beyond the Darkness - Angie Fenimore

  • Lessons from the Light - Sandi Rogers

  • Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin

  • Star - Danielle Steel

  • More Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin

  • Banker - Dick Francis

  • Further Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin

  • Babycakes - Armistead Maupin

  • Significant Others - Armistead Maupin

  • Sure of You - Armistead Maupin

  • High Stakes - Dick Francis

  • Every Woman's Dream - Leslea Newman

  • Beyond All Reason - My Life with Susan Smith - David Smith

  • Stone Butch Blues - Leslie Feinberg

  • Politically Correct Bedtime Stories - James Finn Garner

  • Wish You Were Here - Rita Mae Brown

  • Knockdown - Dick Francis

  • L is for Lawless - Sue Grafton (signed copy)

  • Beginnings - Kenneth Branagh

  • My Life in High Heels - Loni Anderson

  • Murder at Monticello - Rita Mae Brown (signed copy)

  • Daddy - Danielle Steel

  • Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

  • Nicole Brown Simpson - Faye Resnick

  • The Country Waif - George Sand

  • Let Me Call You Sweetheart - Mary Higgins Clark

  • The Gift - Danielle Steel

  • Come to Grief - Dick Francis

Books Read, 1994

  • I Took a Lickin' and Kept on Tickin' - Lewis Grizzard

  • Decider - Dick Francis

  • Driving Force - Dick Francis

  • The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

  • Proof - Dick Francis

  • The Feast of All Saints - Anne Rice

  • *The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty - Anne Rice

  • Whip Hand - Dick Francis

  • *Beauty's Punishment - Anne Rice

  • Tourist Season - Carl Hiaasen

  • Double Whammy - Carl Hiaasen

  • Delusions of Grandma - Carrie Fisher

  • Stop the Insanity! - Susan Powter

  • The Tao of Pooh - Benjamin Hoff

  • K is for Killer - Sue Grafton

  • Strip Tease- Carl Hiaasen

  • Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia - Dave Wolverton

  • Native Tongue - Carl Hiaasen

  • Q-Squared - Peter David

  • The First Wives Club - Olivia Goldsmith

  • Cruel Sacrifice - Aphrodite Jones

  • The Color Purple - Alice Walker (Pulitzer)

  • Zoya - Danielle Steel

  • Mixed Blessings - Danielle Steel

  • Claire of the Moon - Nicole Conn

  • After All These Years - Susan Isaacs

  • Flavor of the Month - Olivia Goldsmith

  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt (signed copy)

  • Trial Run - Dick Francis

  • All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek - David Marinaccio

  • The Last Bus to Albuquerque - Lewis Grizzard

  • Wild Horses - Dick Francis

  • Venus Envy - Rita Mae Brown

  • Mythology - Edith Hamilton

  • Six of One - Rita Mae Brown

  • Bingo - Rita Mae Brown

  • Sudden Death - Rita Mae Brown

  • Rubyfruit Jungle - Rita Mae Brown

Books Read, 1993

  • Tales From Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffett

  • The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • The Power of Judyism - Judy Tenuta (signed copy)

  • Dave Barry Slept Here - Dave Barry

  • Music for Chamaleons - Truman Capote

  • The Enchanted April - Elizabeth von Arnim

  • Loves Music, Loves to Dance - Mary Higgins Clark

  • The Danger - Dick Francis

  • The Client - John Grisham

  • Howard's End - EM Forster (100 Books)

  • Q-in-Law - Peter David

  • A Time to Kill - John Grisham

  • Othello - William Shakespeare

  • Lucy & Desi - Warren G. Harris

  • Quantum Leap: Too Close for Comfort - Ashley McConnell

  • J is for Judgment - Sue Grafton

  • Star Wars: Heir to the Empire - Timothy Zahn

  • Star Wars: Dark Force Rising - Timothy Zahn

  • Star Wars: The Last Command - Timothy Zahn

  • The Edge - Dick Francis

  • Imzadi - Peter David

  • Bolt - Dick Francis

  • Hot Money - Dick Francis

  • Break In - Dick Francis

  • The Bridges of Madison County - Robert James Waller

  • Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? - Marion Meade

  • Starfleet Academy #1: Worf's First Adventure - Peter David

  • Straight - Dick Francis

  • Belinda - Anne Rice

  • Cry to Heaven - Anne Rice

  • The Witching Hour - Anne Rice

  • Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel

  • ...And Ladies of the Club - Helen Hooven Santmyer

  • Seinlanguage - Jerry Seinfeld

  • Live from Golgotha - Gore Vidal

  • All Around the Town - Mary Higgins Clark

  • Longshot - Dick Francis

  • How Right You Are, Jeeves - PG Wodehouse

  • Twice Shy - Dick Francis

  • Comeback - Dick Francis

  • Wanderlust - Danielle Steel

  • Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves - PG Wodehouse

  • Jeeves and the Tie That Binds - PG Wodehouse

  • The Mating Season - PG Wodehouse

  • The Sport of Queens - Dick Francis

Books Read, 1992

  • Needful Things - Stephen King

  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe - Fannie Flagg

  • Once is Not Enough - Jacqueline Susann

  • The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan

  • Lovely Me - Barbara Seaman

  • The Love Machine - Jacqueline Susann

  • Red Dragon - Thomas Harris

  • The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris

  • Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man - Fannie Flagg

  • The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (Pulitzer)

  • When My Love Returns from the Ladies' Room, Will I be Too Old to Care? - Lewis Grizzard

  • Dance with the Devil - Kirk Douglas

  • Audrey Rose - Frank DeFillita

  • Growing Up Brady - Barry Williams

  • The Pelican Brief - John Grisham

  • Yargo - Jacqueline Susann

  • The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan

  • The Firm - John Grisham

  • Where is Joe Merchant? - Jimmy Buffett

  • Jazz - Toni Morrison

  • The Tale of the Body Thief - Anne Rice

  • I Haven't Understood Anything Since 1962 - Lewis Grizzard (signed copy)

  • Quantum Leap: the Novel - Ashley McConnell

  • The Visit - Friedrich Durrenmatt

  • The Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean Auel

  • The Valley of Horses - Jean Auel

  • The Mammoth Hunters - Jean Auel

  • A is for Alibi - Sue Grafton

  • B is for Burglar - Sue Grafton

  • C is for Corpse - Sue Grafton

  • D is for Deadbeat - Sue Grafton

  • E is for Evidence - Sue Grafton

  • F is for Fugitive - Sue Grafton

  • G is for Gumshoe - Sue Grafton

  • H is for Homicide - Sue Grafton

  • I is for Innocent - Sue Grafton

Books Read, 1991

  • Firestarter - Stephen King

  • Carrie - Stephen King

  • The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike

  • Chaos Clear as Glass - Ann Hyman (signed copy)

  • Texasville - Larry McMurtry

  • What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! - Agatha Christie

  • Fiction Writer's Handbook - H&W Burnett

  • Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann

  • Surrender the Pink - Carrie Fisher

  • The Alfred Hitchcock Album - M. Haley

  • By the Pricking of My Thumbs - Agatha Christie

  • If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I'm Going to Nail My Feet to the Ground - Lewis Grizzard

  • Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (Pulitzer)

  • You Can't Put No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll - Lewis Grizzard (signed copy)

  • Dolores - Jacqueline Susann

  • Scarlett - Alexandra Ripley

Monday, April 14, 2003

Gabriel's Magic Ornament by Randall Bush

Pristine Publishers, Inc., 0971663300, $11.95

In this delightful chapter book for middle readers, siblings Chris and Laura are feeling pre-Christmas cabin fever. A yard of snow beckons to them for a day of fun, yet they are told to stay inside lest they catch a cold. The children grumble complacently, desiring adventure, unaware that their father is about to bring it to them in the form of a new Christmas ornament for their tree.

A fanciful tale of Gabriel's Christmas ornament, where the person who hangs it experiences an incredible holiday dream, intrigues Chris and Laura enough to share the honor. Suddenly both children are transported to the land of Arboria, where the Orna folk dwell in anticipation of Christmas. As Chris and Laura soon discover, however, the Orna vision of the holiday is not as it should be - an atmosphere of greed and ill-will has cast a pallor over the land. "Maids a Milking" are actually "milking" people of their money, a sweets shop owner has a devious method of obtaining raw materials for her goods, and a convention of Santas is anything but jolly. Guided through each "branch" of Arboria by a mysterious, blue-robed woman, Chris and Laura come to understand the true spirit of Christmas.

Gabriel's Magic Ornament is an enjoyable tale appropriate for the Christmas season, a story alive with Biblical allegory that does not talk down to its young readers (a helpful glossary of terms is included to boost a child's understanding of the Biblical references within the story). Blending Biblical and secular history with a style reminiscent of CS Lewis's Narnia tales, author Bush offers an imaginitive alternative to secularized holiday stories and television specials.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Buttercups for Jesus: Reflecting His Light in Your Life by Nancy Marie

Booklocker, 1591132991, $11.95

Perhaps you did it once as a child. You and a friend romped in the backyard or through a grassy spot at a neighboring park and came across a patch of bright yellow flowers. Your friend plucks a buttercup from the ground and holds it under your tilted chin, looking for the yellow reflection that indicates your fondness of butter. An innocent scene, yet one powerful enough to inspire Christian author Nancy Marie to create an allegory between these fields of flowers and her desire to better serve the Lord. In her devotional Buttercups for Jesus, Marie touches upon various points in her Christian life and how she struggles to reflect Christ's love, thereby making the proverbial buttercup something more than the weed most perceive it to be.

Buttercups is not a long book, clocking in around 100 pages, yet in this case brevity is most certainly an asset. Marie comes directly to the point in the dozen vignettes used to illustrate her ongoing walk with Christ, from the personal (including one personal story concerning Marie's prideful, unChristian confrontation with another writer) to the parable. As with other devotionals, each chapter concludes with a relevant prayer called for the Lord's guidance in daily life.

In one favorite passage of Buttercups, the author compares herself to a cracked pot, imperfect yet able to serve God's purpose. This image best serves to describe what Marie hopes to relay, that despite our flaws our actions can produce the perfect reflection of Christ in our lives. Anybody doubting this will want to pick up Marie's inspirational Buttercups for Jesus.

Friday, March 7, 2003

Niamh and the Hermit by Emily Snyder

Arx Publishing, 1889758361, $14.95

Princess Niamh (pronounced Nee-EHV) is perhaps the greatest beauty of the Twelve Kingdoms, one whose loveliness radiates within and without so strongly that nobody in Castell Gwyr is able to appreciate it. Potential suitors have either died or gone mad at the slightest exposure to Niamh, leaving everyone in the kingdom of Maelgwynn, including King Gavron, to wonder how Niamh will be able to take a husband and keep alive the line of Siawn Shieldbearer.

The most logical solution to this problem comes to prove that opposites do indeed attract when it is suggested that Niamh be betrothed to a mysterious healer. Known only as Duncan, the bridegroom is a hermit with the head and tail of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. How or when Duncan came to be so enchanted (hexed?) is a mystery, though Gavron and the kingdom are relieved when Duncan accepts the offer of marriage. That there is true love evident between Niamh and her Hermit during a clandestine meeting should have bolstered the pending celebration, were it not for the presence of evil lurking about the kingdom.

Still nursing the loss of his son to Niamh's beauty, an avenging Count steals into the bride's chamber and convinces Niamh of a method to lessen her beauty in order to allow others to tolerate her presence. What happens instead is a physical transformation so radical that Niamh's parents mistakenly cast the horrid creature they discover out of the castle, unaware that they have expelled Niamh. No thanks to the Count's interference, Niamh's inner beauty is also deeply scarred, leaving fear and shame to take her on a journey through the far realms of the Twelve Kingdoms. Search parties are dispatched, and along with them goes Duncan to reclaim the bride who, having lost all happier memories, is reduced to being an "ashputtle girl," surviving by what wits are left.

Niamh and the Hermit is a rich narrative of various subplots which intertwine together to offer the reader a vivid look at author Snyder's gift for world-building: there are the courageous guards of Castell Gwyr, whose adventures beyond Maelgwynn are reminiscent of Tolkien's stories; loyal handmaid Elowen, who prizes Niamh's life above her own, and the troubled Hermit, whose inner demons prove to be more of a challenge than those preventing his destiny. The interworkings of fantasy and faith seamed nicely into the story.

The influences of Eddings, Lewis, and other writers of the genre are evident in Snyder's style, though Niamh is uniquely her own, an ambitious debut and highly recommended to fans of fanciful tales.

Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Fulton J. Sheen by Michael Dubruiel

OSV Press, 0879737158, $8.95

One might hear the name Fulton Sheen and think, assuming the person knows of Sheen, that his words and works are no longer relevant. True, the archbishop has been dead for over twenty years, and original episodes of his inspirational television show, Life is Worth Living, aired in the 1950s on a network that no longer exists, but one must consider also that the Bible is and always will be relevant. So it is with Sheen's wisdom, as a young Army solider on a tour of duty in Turkey learned once when presented with a taped series of Sheen's inspirational talks. Indeed, as this solder-turned-author Michael Dubruiel stresses, Sheen's writings on faith are timeless, as was his devotion to Christ and to spreading his Good News.

Dubruiel offers in Praying in the Presence of the Lord with Fulton J. Sheen the opportunity to reacquaint the Sheen reader with some of the bishop's more memorable reflections. For the Sheen beginner, Presence is a welcome primer of over thirty sermonettes on redemption and reperation, having a relationship with Christ, and imitating His holiness. Each is concluded with Dubruiel's own reflections on Sheen's writing, along with suggested meditations and prayers.

That Presence concludes with Sheen's reflections on war and peace make this book especially valuable for the Christian reader. "In exiling God from our national life, our politics, oue economics, and our education, it was not His Heart we pierced - it was America we slew!" he writes of another war, yet these words are still applicable, and no doubt if Sheen live today he would encourage us to heed them.

Friday, January 31, 2003

The Powder Monkey by George Galloway

1stBooks Library, 0759604770, $28.04

Every time young Michael Dooley gazes out from the family cooperage in Baltimore he witnesses history in the making; in 1812, Michael's home country has no time to relish the fruits of its independence as it teeters on the brink of another war with Britain. Between shifts at work and the hours put in at St. Patrick's Free School under the stern Father John Moranville, Michael absorbs the tension of the time generated by heated conversations of the cooperage's patrons - Federalists debate with Republicans and vice-versa, while Michael's Uncle Bob expends his energy ducking the watchful eye of the parish


For all the excitement, Michael maintains a strong focus on his father's pending homecoming from a cruise, longing for the day his father will reveal to him the treasured family code followed by generations of Dooleys, words of wisdom design to shape his moral character and future. When Michael's father is instead pressed into service by the British navy to fight against America, Michael's focus shifts to the sea as he signs up to work as a "powder monkey" on the next cruise out of Baltimore. Here the treasured family code is applied to his daily life, as Michael's adventures take him halfway across the world to aid others in the fight for personal and religious freedom.

Galloway's enthusiasm for early American history is infectious, and with The Powder Monkey he offers a meticulously-researched story that captures beautifully the growing pains of a young country as seen through the eyes of powder monkey Michael Dooley. Don't let the title and subject of the book fool you into thinking this book is solely targeted toward male readers, either, for Michael's interaction with his classmate Jessica (a girl after every modern woman's heart) make for some of the best scenes in The Powder Monkey. Any parent seeking an alternative to Harry Potter mania should consider this title for their young adult readers, as well as for themselves.