Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Presence

Author:  Paul Black
Published by Novel Instincts Publishing, 2010
Review written by Jesse Howard
    Paul Black sets this, his fourth novel, in the near future, never leaving the twenty-first century.

    For insight in the setting we only need to look at Black’s acknowledgements in which he thanks websites such as Social (for future technologies and trends),
Nasa News and the Langly Research Center website for its papers on future technology. He has carefully woven futuristic technology into a believable world where people are connected both socially and physically to this new technology, much of which is based on genetics. The characters’ watch will tell not only blood pressure and heart rate, but also cholesterol and other information about the wearer’s health. 
    As you would expect, virtual reality plays an important part in this new world. Law enforcement uses computers for web presence and virtual reality to track and find criminals.
One of the main characters, Sonny Chaco is investigating criminal activity, bringing him into contact with Deja Morioraty, leading to one of the novel’s romances.
through Deja, Chaco meets Corizone Goya, the cloned wife of the main suspect in the investigation.

    Chaco also gradually becomes aware of another presence who seems to be living through computers. This character, Marl, claims to be trying to save the human race which has become withdrawn and careless.  Because most body parts may be repaired or replaced, humans take dangerous risks and no longer understand the importance of their bodies.  Chaco has other ideas about Marl, thinking perhaps he is a threat to the existence of humankind.
    In order to understand humankind, Marl befriends the clone, Corizone who, at only three years old looks at the world with a new perspective yet because she has the memories and experiences of her husband’s dead wife, Corizone also has the wisdom and maturity of an adult.
    Even though the theme is somewhat transparent, in The Presence, Paul Black has written a fast-paced and interesting novel with a new perspective on an age-old story.  
While it might help to be interested in science fiction to be drawn toward reading The Presence, but it is much more than mere science-fiction.  Anyone interested in studying the human condition would gain insight from this book.  Due to the many religious overtones, it would also be a good study book for churches or people interested in human origins and the presence of God in our world.  I think it would be interesting to attend a study group on The Presence.
    Paul Black’s The Presence, won the Writers’ Digest Award and is one of four books written in the same setting though this story is separate from the others which are a trilogy.  I haven’t yet read the others but based on this one, I plan on reading the other two.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture

Author: Alister McGrath
Published by Anchor Books, 2001

History, politics, theology; these three are intermingled resulting in a scholarly treatise on how the King James version of the Bible came to be written, as well as the effect it had on language and culture, not just of its time, but its continuing effect today. McGrath, who is an historical theology professor at Oxford University begins the history of the King James Bible with the printing of the first Bible in 1468 by Johannes Gutenberg.( Hark the Herald Angels Sing, tune written by Johannes Gutenberg ) and Martin Luthor's translation of the Bible into German
     From McGrath, we learn that the spread of ideas of the reformation owe much to the invention of the printing press. The Church (at the time Roman Catholic) had been selling "Indulgences," a printed paper which said that a person had been forgiven of all their sins. These papers were sold to sinners for a very high price, the money which was used to build and repair cathedrals all over Europe.  With the advent of the printing press, Indulgences were printed and sold much faster, creating a spreading uproar among Christian Church reformers.
     Gutenberg's Bible was printed in Latin, the language of the Church. The next step in its history was for the Bible to be printed in vernacular or native languages. This was a big deal, much bigger than it might seem to us in the twenty-first century with books in any language so readily available. At the time, a country's religion was controlled by whatever monarch was in power.  The Church and the ruling power were usually the same.  It was the government, in collusion with the Church that told people what the Bible said and interpreted its passages for them. If people could read the Bible for themselves, there could be all kinds of trouble.
   I won't be spoiling the ending by telling you that yes, the Bible was eventually written in English, culminating in the creation of the King James Bible in 1611.  It is the journey of this release that is so interestingly documented by McGrath his book.
   Don't think that this is just a book on Christianity because it definitely is not.  It deeply considers the evolution of language that affected and was affected by the  1611 translation of the Bible.  In In the Beginning we learn why archaic word were chosen, words that were already falling out of usage.  We learn that the now-common usage of a neutral possessive, "its" was not  commonly used at the time of writing the King James translation.  In its place was the word, "his" which, to us, means male possessive.  It caused lots of trouble to the translators of the time who  used many convoluted sentences in their attempt to avoid using the word, "his."  The result is that we see many items in the Bible as being male when they were originally neither male nor female.  This is one small translation issue that has affected our language and culture even today!
    I've read this book three times.  It is not easy reading. There is a horde of information given and it could use a bit more editing to tidy up the paragraphs.  I sometimes felt that I was reading in circles as sentences and phrases were repeated throughout a chapter.  But the reader shouldn't be intimidated by the scholarly nature of the book.  Even with just one reading I learned enough about the history of Bible translating and the political upheaval caused by the Reformation that I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in those subjects. I have re-read the book because my small mind could not grasp hold of all the information the first time through.  Each reading had taught me something new.
In the Beginning helps set in order some the political upheaval that occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Because I refer to the book from time to time, it is not a book I loan out. I, therefore, suggest that you buy your own and find out why Christians often say they belong to a "church" rather than a "congregation."

Friday, December 17, 2010

A World of Butterflies

Author: Brian Cassie; Photographs by Kjell Sandved
Published by Bulfinch Press 2004

A beautiful book. A perfect coffee table book without the coffee table size.  Measuring  about four and a half by three and a half inches this book is small enough to fit in a car glove compartment or a day-bag, though it is too nice to keep hidden.

Each page opens up to a description on the left page accompanied by a high-quality photograph on the right.

Robert Michael Pyle points out in the forward that butterflies may be found on every continent except antarctica and while tiny and very limited in their habitat, butterflies are easy to see and observe up close.

Species from all over the world may be found among Cassie & Sandved's pages from the orange and black Arctic Skipper to Southern Europe's striking Adonis Blue.

The pages are arranged by geographical area. Since the range of many butterflies overlaps several geographical area, this setup does not make for easy identification usage. (I tend to just flip through the book until I see something familiar if I am actually trying to identify a species.) While I have used the book for identification I think most people who buy this book will buy it because of its beauty - each photograph is suitable for framing - and a chance to learn a little bit about the habits and taxonomy of butterflies in general.

A World of Butterflies is a gorgeous book. It would make a perfect gift for anyone who loves nature or photography.  You can buy this beautiful book at the link below.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Death Instinct

A review by guest reviewer, Deb

Author: Jed Rubenfeld 
Published by Riverhead Books, 2010.

Detective James Littlemore and Doctor Stratham Younger return in this second book of historical fiction by Jed Rubenfeld. Based around the true life story of the terrorist attack on the financial district in New September 1920...the book takes you from the Sherlock Holmesian adventures of Littlemore and Stratham to the battlefields of World War I, the first medical uses of radium by Marie Curie, the horrific cosmetic uses of radium at the time, and on to Sigmund Freud who is just beginning to recognize the psychological condition known as shell shock. A delightful new character is introduced to the series as a romantic interest for Younger. She exemplifies the modern, capable women of the 1920's and comes into the storyline accompanied by her young brother who will not speak because of a shocking event which happened to him during the war. Rubenfeld writes fascinating historical fiction and should be at the top of the list for anyone who enjoys the genre. The first book in his Littlemore/Stratham series is "The Interpretation of Murder". It is available for sale at Amazon, and "The Death Instinct" is available for pre-order. (I was fortunate to receive an advance preview copy of the book.)
The Death Instinct     

100 Birds and How They Got Their Names

Written by Diana Wells, Illustated by Lauren Jarrett
Published byAlgonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2002

My daughter gave me this book for my birthday in early 2010.  It is a studious little book with black and white drawings at the beginning of each bird entry.
Diana Wells gives the history of the name of each bird and a few interesting facts about its naming.
An example is this excerpt from her entry on Jay.

          "The English name "jay" comes from the Old French jai and was probably first used in Britain after the Norman invasion.  The name more likely came from its "gay" (brightly colored) plumage than (as is sometimes suggested) the Roman name Gaius."

Besides the general etymology of each selected bird name, she gives us tidbits of information about the bird. The type of information given is inconsistent and seems to be based on what Diana Wells thought was interesting at the time she was writing.  I usually agree with her, but some birds come off as more interesting than others.

I usually only read a few entries of the book at a time and it lends itself well to bouncing around between its covers.  It is a great bathroom read and will give its reader fun trivia to use, sparingly, in conversation.
As I have a strong interest in the meaning of words and how they were formed, I like the book and will re-read much of it, one entry at a time.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Water for Elephants

By Sara Gruen
Published by Algonquin Books, 2006
Water for Elephants is a dark, yet beautifully written novel that takes place during the depression. Through a series of events that start with his parents' deaths, our hero, Jacob Jankowski finds himself working in a circus. Jacob has just completed his training to become a veterinarian but failed to take his finals.  Before long he has fallen in love with an elephant and a trapeze artist. I won't say more about his relationships with either because I don't want to ruin the plot evolvement for you.
The depression of the thirties in the United States is the stage for this novel that is very descriptive of a third-rate circus of the era. From the roadies to the performers, Gruen acquaints us with every detail of the traveling circus and not all of it is pretty.

While Water for Elephants is definitely dark, I did not feel overwhelmed by gloom throughout the book.  There are great scenes, some quite charming.  I don't like dark stories but I did like this book. When it was over, I wasn't sad. Gruen brought life to the characters and color to the circus which was a closed world deeply affected by, but not truly part of the regular world.

I recommend this book for anyone who will take the time to read it. It's great introductory reviews and the fact that the name includes, "Circus," led many readers to expect a good time. Some were disappointed that this wasn't a "fun" book.  It is a great story of a loss, A country that lost its confidence a young man who loses his sense of who he is and a circus that is losing its place in culture. All of the characters are lost in his or her own way, including Rosie the elephant who doesn't seem to know just what is expected of her.

Don't expect "The Greatest Show on Earth," but do expect to be drawn into the tents and wagons of the Benzini Brothers's Circus. Expect to stay and learn about what it actually means to draw "water for elephants."

(If you would like to become a reviewer on this blog, then click on the Page  "Become a Reviewer" and submit your review per the instructions on that Page.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blue Jacket

By Allan W. Eckert
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 1969

Blue Jacket is the true story of a white man, Marmaduke Van Swearingen, who was captured, and subsequently adopted by the Shawnee Indians. This is my favorite of Allan Eckert's historical fiction books. Though all have been good reads, Blue Jacket is a great character book as well as a novel that tells about historical events.  Though he was only seventeen when taken prisoner by the Shawnee, Swearingen quickly adapted to the Shawnee ways. It was easier for him because he had always been interested in Indian ways and had understood the westward expansion of white people from the Indian's point of view.
Though technically taken from his West Virginia home (then Virginia) as a prisoner, Sweringen went willingly. This was partly to secure the safety of his younger brother, but also because of the prospect of being adopted into the Shawnee tribe.
With his new Shawnee name of Weh-yah-ih-hr-sehn-wah, or Blue Jacket, the young man grew in stature among the Shawnee until eventually becoming a war chief  then a full chief.
The story of Blue Jacket is one that not only tells of the battle of the Shawnee to hold on to their ancestral land, but is also the story of a boy becoming a man who chooses his culture, chooses the way he will live and with whom he will live it.
in Blue Jacket, War Chief of the Shawnees, Allan W. Eckert has told a compelling story of a great nation.  For history buffs, this book should be read to know anything of the struggle for this American territory, a large part of which became the Northwest Territory.  It is a story mirrored throughout our American history.

The Lost Symbol

By Dan Brown
Published by  Anchor Books, 2009

Yes,  if you have read Dan Brown's other novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, this novel will be a bit predictable, but in this case that's not too bad.  There is Dan Brown's usual mysterious over-the-top villain and like Angels and Demons, all of the action takes place in about twenty-four hours. Most of the events take place in Washington, D.C. or the surrounding areas. We spend a lot of time in our Nation's capital but it is time well spent as we learn a bit of history along with some more Mason trivia.
The Lost Symbol keeps you reading. For many people it will be a one sitting read, the kind where you stop only to eat and pee then when you are finally finished, your neck is sore and you feel exhausted like you have actually worked all day.  While it has taken me several days to read, that is only because I've been very busy with all the Christmas stuff that must soon be completed.
I held myself back from starting The Lost Symbol because I needed to be sure I was ready for all the mind-boggling rush of clues, trivia and action.  It was worth the wait.  This  book has a few surprises but is never disappointing for Dan Brown fans.  I will gladly pass it on to my friends.


The Last Apocolypse

 By James Reston, Jr.
The Last Apocalypse, James Reston, Jr., published by Doubleday, 1998.

In The Last Apocalypse, James Reston, Jr wrote about the world at the turn of the millennium, that is, the turn to 1000 A.D.  This was a time of great transformation in much of the world, causing many Europeans to fear that the world was soon coming to an end.  Viking marauders were ransacking coastal Europe from the Shetland Islands to Ireland, England and the northern coast of France.
At this same time, Al Mansor  began, in his vanity, to bring about the death of Islam on the Iberian Peninsula.  Islam had been a great civilizing force, promoting education in the sciences, algebra and chemistry as well as encouraging literacy among the masses.  Before Al Mansor began investing all power of the Caliphate in himself, there was peace among the Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities. The ward that Al Mansor waged to make himself appear powerful brought distrust upon his rule and weakness to the Caliphate in general. He desecrated places and humiliated people  he conquered, resulting in the wrath of Rome which became set on destroying him and Islam.  With the death of Al Mansor, followed by the rule of his son, Islam weakened then withered away in Spain along with the civilization that accompanied it.
Christianity faces its own apocalyptic tendencies as popes ranged from weed to evil. Reston writes that the papal authority's "dignity and authority was at its lowest point since St. Peter first sat on the papal throne."  Many saw this corruption of he Church as fulfillment of Biblical prophesies  making ready for the Antichrist, the precursor of the end of days. This combined with many other "signs" lead many to view as eminent the Apocalypse of St. John 13.5.  Nations were at war all over the known world along with the great famine which begun in 970 A.D becoming desparate by the year 1000 A.D.
All these things brought a feeling of great pessimism  to people all over the European continent.
James Reston, Jr. covers these topics with intelligence and understanding, showing no prejudice in the way he deals with the events of the years leading up to the last millennium.
This is a book that is well worth reading for any history buff, student of religion and/or culture and anyone who needs to be reminded that history of the world is  often cyclical and that, as  a civilization, we humans we tend not to learn from our past mistakes