28 February 2011

Book reviews: 3 mysteries and 1 self help

Recently I was reading about doing synopsi (is that the plural of synopsis?) for books and they said it is good practice to take books you've read and do a synopsis as a practice exercise. Since I thought I'd try to blog reviews of books I'm reading this year, I will try a few abbreviated synopsi with my two cents at the end.

Desert Lost, by Betty Webb
Private detective Lena Jones is at a trailer park trying to catch some graffiti artists when she discovers the body of a woman who appears to be from one of the polygamist compounds, but those are a couple hours away. It's not Lena's case but she gets pulled in when she goes to help her best friend pick up some escapees from the northern Arizona polygamist camp, but it's a trap. They escape but with more questions than answers. Lena wants to know why threats are escalating and who killed the dead woman before things turn deadly.

DG: While this was a pretty standard detective story, I was intrigued to learn about the atmosphere of the polygamist world. Lena is a detective with some unusual flaws and a childhood shooting which has left her with memory gaps. It will be interesting to see how this personal side of her unfolds in the books to come.

The Rosewood Casket, Sharyn McCrumb.
The four distant and very different Stargill brothers are called back to their mountain farm home in Appalachia to see to their dying father. He was a hard unemotional man, but they obey his wishes to build him a casket. The men awaken to their mountain roots and skeletons start tumbling out of their father's closet. It's time for the ghosts of the past to come to light, so they can rest.

DG: This book is high on atmosphere of the Appalachia mountain living and including a couple characters who have the "sight" for things unseen. It is strong on character development and an intriguing family mystery to be solved. For me, maybe too much history as the author couches the atmosphere around Daniel Boone. My significant other read this and liked that aspect of the book, so that is about taste not about the writing.

Whose Body? Dorothy L. Sayers
Lord Peter Whimsey is summoned by his mother the Duchess to help the architect who is working on the church. Apparently, a dead man has turned up in the little architect's bath. Whimsey is delighted by such an intriguing set of events and involves his valet, and his friend from Scotland Yard in discovering who this dead body is and how it came to be in a stranger's bathtub.

DG: This is a great light read. Sayers was a contemporary and friend of CS Lewis, an Oxford graduate, a believer and scholar. She's had a lot of influence in the mystery realm even though that wasn't her first calling. This story is from the 1920s and you do have to work a little to get into the language and slang of the day, but if you can do it, you'll enjoy Lord Peter. I don't know how many books she wrote of Lord Peter as a rich, idle, amateur sleuth, but there are a great number.

Murder at the National Cathedral, Margaret Truman
Mackenzie Smith marries his long time sweetheart Annabell in Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral, but the priest that conducts the ceremony ends up murdered a short time later. Mac steps out of teaching law to advise the Cathedral on legal matters around the murder, but he soon finds himself caught up in the investigation as much more than an advisor. Threats on he and Annabel on their honeymoon in London eventually lead to clues much closer to home.

DG: While I enjoyed this story, I was somewhat distracted by the lag in technology. It was published in 1990, so there are no mentions of cellphones (it would have been early days in that,) there are answering machines, etc. I felt that Mac and Annabell were a little passive in discovering the mystery, even though they do indeed get it sorted out. It made me worried that my own WIP (work in progress) is too passive which just leads to another re-write and I don't really want to go there right now.

12 'Christian' Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy: Relief From False Assumptions
by Henry Cloud, and John Townsend
Christian advice sometimes well meaning leads to a trail of hurt and failure. This book debunks some phrases and jargon that gets thrown around in Christian circles that often harms the hearer more than it helps.

DG: This book takes some common phrases we throw around and examines them a little more closely and provides scripture to back up their expanded or opposed views. It's a book for people who are within in the church or who have left after feeling harmed by the church, but at it's heart it is just solid advice for those who haven't found help in catch phrases.

21 February 2011

Global Media Culture Phenomena started by Rock and Roll?

I heard a description of new international youth culture around the world at a media conference. The speaker described the phenomena of young people in say China or Asia somewhere having a more sense of commonality with someone half way around the world, maybe in the United States or South America, than perhaps they do with super traditional family members living in the same house. It's the new global culture. The media culture.

Maybe these people from different lands became friends in an online gaming environ, a virtual world, maybe they met in a chat or on a site that allows chatting from fans. Maybe it's a site to practice a language they have in common. I've read of hispanic and arabic soap opera type programs having an on going friendship with others who are followers of the show. So you can see how this phenomena is occurring.

I've watched a few rock and roll concert dvds or documentaries in the past year and I wondered did Rock and Roll create the base for this? I watched as people on five continents could scream the lyrics of an English band. They have tattoos, and t-shirts that look the same as the people in the last country that the documentary featured. So I started wondering if the rock culture that has spread since the 1960s, the shared musical tunes, created the base for this global media culture. Pure speculation on my part, but the music whether you like the bands that are famous or not, created a common language for people. How many of you have traveled somewhere and soemone who can't speak English says, "Michael Jackson?!" Was the rock and roll invasion the basis for the internet global world?

I don't suppose I'll go do a thesis on it and have any proof, but it's interesting to speculate about. Another question that I've heard bandied about: do these people who have these intercultural communications or those who connect on facebook -- do they have "real" relationships? The media conference I was at said they had done studies and absolutely these young people consider these real relationships and friendships. I heard some, friends, uh, older than me discussing it, they said, no those aren't "real" relationships. A discussion that's only beginning I suspect.

14 February 2011

Lessons not learned

I guess there are things that are going to be a challenge all my days. I look back at things I blogged about last year that still haunt me. Or something I'll read in a book or the Bible one day that seems so apropos and so applicable and then I can't seem to make it work in my soul the very next day. Apparently "getting it right" (is that a perfectionist voice sticking out?) isn't goine to be a one time project but an ongoing life long process. I remember as a teenager recognizing that I am overly self-sufficient (self dependent?) and have struggled to put things in God's hands. So what do I struggle with when I'm ahem, 40-something? I'm self-sufficient and don't trust.

Last year I blogged in "I'm damaging my calm" about knowing God's love is unconditional and yet finding myself straining and thinking well, if I tried harder at this or that....maybe I'd get better results. I blame myself for the results rather than trusting in a loving God who cares about me and living whole in that, end of sentence, nothing to do with what I DO.

One thing that I know that is a constant challenge for me is not knowing when enough is enough. In the fund raising process, as I've complained a few times in the last year, it is slow and there is very little feedback on whether things are working or not. So that "getting it right" voice, says, "well, maybe if you....fill in the blank." I have over the last year or maybe always not known when I've done my best and when I've crossed the line into striving. This has come at the price of a deep exhaustion this year. Do you have any tricks for knowing when enough is enough?

The odd thing is I still know and believe but somehow don't know how to function in the fact that I am God's precious child. I do not need to earn his acceptance or approval but simply accept that love. But I am the child on the swings, sure of the Father's love, yet calling out to him, "Do you see me? See how high I swing? Is it good?" And I think all the time, He may be trying to get me to go inside and have a nap.

07 February 2011

January's Fiction

I read the second book in a series first. I try not to do that, but in spite of it, I really enjoyed the story.  It was recommended to me by a friend at Sisters In Crime. (http://www.sistersincrime.org/)

A Monstrous Regiment of Women, by Laurie B. King was set in Oxford, London, and the countryside town where the main character Mary Russell has rooms or homes. It is just after World War I and young men have become scarce and those who made it back ravaged by the war. Mary becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding a charismatic feminist mystic. I enjoyed the depictions of a "church" that is obviously something more, a movement. It's interesting to see what church metaphors carry over for people. I enjoyed the historical time period and love things set in London in that era. One of the more original hooks for this series of books is that Mary's good friend is a mostly retired Sherlock Holmes who befriended her after her parent's were killed. The author has worked hard and seems to get Holmes exactly right even though he is a more peripheral character.

The Art of Deception by Ridley Pearson was a suspense book with some of his main characters that appear in many books - various players in a detective squad in Seattle. I have not followed this series in order at all and just seem to randomly stumble on these books, but always enjoy them. The characters are well rounded and Pearson seems in just a paragraph sketch here and there to add depth without ever drawing you away from the plot. The plots involved missing or killed women and lead to a former Seattle that has been buried since 100 years ago when the city was raised up higher. A whole network of neighborhoods still exist underground and vagrants and a criminal have found them. It's a good setting to add to what is a police procedural book with added suspense. I'm considering trying to break this book down. A local Sisters In Crime chapter has been doing a book clinic where they analyze parts of a book and what the pieces do. I have not gotten to attend one of these but I'm intrigued. I so enjoy Pearson's style and his turns of phrase or an upended noun that becomes a verb that I think this would be a good book to analyze. I need to figure out how to go about that analysis.

PS For those who read this on my blog rather than facebook, I decided to put the url so that the other readers could see it when it moves to facebook rather than a direct link.

02 February 2011

Review: 3 Self Help Type Books

I was reading a writing ezine recently and they put out the challenge to review all the books you read. I have thought of this but have never set out to do it. I don't know that my "readership" is really that interested in my book choices but I figured why not? In order to sort of facilitate this and catch up to 2011, I am combining several books here.

January for some reason was a month of mostly nonfiction, personal improvement, self help books. Any of you who've been reading know I prefer fiction and slow down immensely when I read nonfiction. Two of these books were started last year and finished in January. These books had been recommended by various sources so I wanted see what I could glean from them.

Telling Yourself the Truth by Backus and Champion
This was recommending to me by a professional in the self help industry as well as a friend who had read it. This is my second reading and I started it in 2010 and finished it in January. It is written from a completely Christian view, yet it does not give in to trite answer to serious challenges. It does use scripture to augment what is essentially cognitive therapy boiled down (from a nonprofessional perspective). I can recommend this book and will probably revisit it from time to time during hard phases of life.

Expectations and Burnout, Women Surviving the Great Commission, by Eenigenburg & Bliss
Obviously this book has a more narrow audience in mind. It was expensive to buy as it is more of an academic book. I think it was based partly on someone's thesis where research questionnaires were filled out and collated into statistics. However if you are a missionary I could recommend it because between the sometimes surprising responses to the study questionnaire is enough personal experience of burnout and missions agency challenges to be very worthwhile. It has really challenged me to try to get away and spend some time in deep reflection and evaluation. I hope to schedule that sometime soon.

Thrilled to Death, How the Endless Pursuit of Pleasure is Leaving us Numb, by Hart
I set out to find another book by this author that someone recommended but this was the one the library had and it sounded interesting. It was. It is both a psychological explanation of studies of something called anhedonia. This is when things that once brought pleasure do not or it takes more and more extreme things to enjoy ourselves. This is a symptom seen in many mental illnesses today and can also not accompany any illness other than not really enjoying oneself anymore. I skimmed several chapters that did not apply to me (kids and anhedonia etc) but found the second half of the book very interesting as a 7 step process to overcome this and learn to enjoy life and small things as well as big ones again. The writer is a Christian but unlike the first book I described he isn't speaking to Christians except in a couple places in the book where he specifically says so. There's a great description on meditative prayer as well as simple sound advice that pulls you back from the brink of overstimulation.

That's 3 out of 5 books for January. I'll do the fiction books I've read separately and then try to keep up more as the year progresses.