Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, My Darling Tom

Chocoholic Tom surprised me this year by selecting a Lemon Cake. That is not a photo of my cake but it represents fairly closely how it will look by this afternoon. Yellow cake layers, lemon curd filling (homemade ...), and Lemon Butter Icing. Mmmmm ... delicately tangy and springlike.

Happy Birthday to my dear and darling husband!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In which Davies tells all and plans are made.

Yep, we're back with Episode of 118 of Forgotten Classics ... more of The Riddle of the Sands. Plus a storytelling podcast highlight.

Assam and Darjeeling in Print!

Some of you may recall my extreme enjoyment of Assam and Darjeeling by T.M. Camp. In fact, it became an SFFaudio Essential with my review, which is a rarely bestowed accolade.

The only thing missing was a print copy for those of my acquaintance who I knew would love the story but who, stubbornly, will not listen to podcasts. Let's face it, on occasion I would like to read it myself when a podcast just isn't going to work.

At last, we have the hardback which you see above and the paperback ...

One of the things I knew I would miss in a book was the sense of whimsy which T.M. Camp included in some of the standard statements accompanying each podcast. Looking through the previews you can imagine my delight at finding the whimsy intact beginning with the copyright page, some of which I transcribe below to give you a sample
Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be used, transmitted, broadcast, or otherwise reproduced in any manner or medium without receiving prior, written permission from the author. Failure to comply is a violation of international copyright law and will incite the fury of the sea to rise up against the nations of the earth, wiping away innocent and villain alike. So don't say we didn't warn you.
Duly noted!

Go read the review and then get yourself a copy. It will be coming to Amazon and Barnes and Noble soon, but if you don't want to wait then just click through on the links above. (Oh, and I meant to mention, it is available on Kindle now.)

Barkeep, I'll Have Another Shrub


Isn't that a bush?

Not necessarily. Find out how to sip a delicious Raspberry Rum Shrub at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Are What You See

I was privileged to read the galley for this book by Scott Nehring and can honestly say that I can't wait for it to come out so I can begin pushing it on everyone. He opens people's eyes to the power of film as a cultural force and unlocks the "key" of story so that you really understand what you are watching (well, ok, I already watched that way ... but I still was riveted by this book).

It is simply fantastic. You will never watch movies the same way again ... click the image to enlarge for readability.

Book Review: Dimiter by William Peter Blatty

Written for SFFaudio, book provided by publisher.

In 1973 a nameless prisoner is being tortured in an Albanian prison, where "grace and hope had never touched." Colonel Vlora, known as "The Interrogator," is frustrated and mystified by a man they have come to call The Prisoner because they cannot even make him speak. Is he an American spy? The solution to this stalemate while expected on one level is a complete surprise on another. This turns out to be emblematic of William Blatty's book. Part 1 is an appropriate foretaste of this complex, suspenseful, and fast paced thriller, which does not shy away from the problem of evil contrasted with the mystery of faith.

The scene shifts to Jerusalem where we meet Moses Mayo, a neurologist, who is investigating a series of seemingly natural deaths that are nevertheless linked. He also is plagued by a gruesome murder, reports of apparitions and mysterious miraculous healings. We also meet Mayo's life-long friend, Peter Meral, an Arab Christian, who is a police detective. Among other things, Meral is investigating a strange car explosion and the mysterious disappearance of the men involved, a CIA cover-up, and a body found at the Tomb of Christ.

The body count climbs and complications arise from the interweaving of all the events. This sounds somewhat like a standard thriller, however, it is anything but. We know the deaths are real but what about the reported miracles? Is everything really connected and, if so, what could possibly be the logical link? The solution is not only surprising but also provides an extremely moving moment of redemption.

Dimiter's suspense keeps the listener fascinated while also raising it above the ordinary by not being afraid to have characters who care about spiritual searching, loss, redemption, and love. The spiritual element will make this work especially interesting to those who are drawn to themes that investigate good versus evil. This is not an element that should surprise those who remember that Blatty is the author of the justly famous horror novel The Exorcist. Although this novel is strictly in the thriller vein, I must admit that I did find the torture scenes rather horrific and did fast forward through a few of them.

The author narrates his work and does such an effective job that I often forgot I was not listening to a professional voice talent. The only downfall was that during fast-paced scenes with more than two male characters, such as CIA interrogations, there was not enough differentiation between all the voices to make it easy to tell when dialogue shifted from one person to another. This was not a huge problem but it did require me to back up a couple of times until I figured out the tempo. Otherwise, William Blatty's reading was a sheer pleasure, especially in voicing his more eccentric characters who he brought to life in a most vivid fashion.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oh, the books I've read ... Part II

Continuing yesterday's book catch up ...

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
Another favorite for rereading featuring my favorite Lancre witches. I'd almost forgotten this book which is one of the most solid. When crop circles show up everywhere, the witches know that an evil force is once again trying to enter the world and dominate mankind. Problem is that this evil force is one which has a legend ensuring that no one believes they are evil. (#35)

The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley
Read this for SFFaudio's read-along. It is available free via Project Gutenberg. It is an interesting and definitely a quick read with short chapters. A man awakens in a small sterile room with no memory of his name, his past, or even of planet Earth. Thinking he is in a hospital after an accident, he discovers quickly that he is on a prison ship and it will be landing soon. He doesn't even know what crime he committed. And "landing?" What does that mean? He discovers soon enough.

I must say that as soon as the book seems to dwell too long on a point it is making and I begin to become restless, it suddenly changes up and interests me again. It remained interesting until the end and will provide much food for thought (and conversation at SFFaudio). (#36)

The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by Herman Wouk
Proper review coming ...
Back of the book description:"More years ago than I care to reckon up, I met Richard Feynman." So begins THE LANGUAGE GOD TALKS, Herman Wouk's gem on navigating the divide between science and religion. In one rich, compact volume, Wouk draws on stories from his life as well as on key events from the 20th century to address the eternal questions of why we are here, what purpose faith serves, and how scientific fact fits into the picture. He relates wonderful conversations he's had with scientists such as Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Freeman Dyson, and Steven Weinberg, and brings to life such pivotal moments as the 1969 moon landing and the Challenger disaster. (#37)

Talents, Incorporated by Murray Leinster
Listened to this on SciPodBooks and really enjoyed the concept. Kandar is going to be invaded by the cruel Mekin empire. Captain Bors is helpless to do anything to save the planet until he is approached with amazingly accurate information gathered by Talents, Incorporated. Using his strategic knowledge and their information he works his way toward keeping Kandar free. Watching Bors struggle with his incredulity as the Talents Inc. group's precognitions (and other amazing ways to gather info) prove right each time is fun. Also interesting is the fact that the king constantly wants to surrender to the Mekins, despite winning encounter after encounter with them. Certainly this says something as a commentary about political realities when this book was written. Classic Leinster and a great reading by Mark Nelson, as always. (#38)

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
A brother and sister buy a house together in the English countryside right around WWII and embark on an exploration of sinister hauntings and uncovering the mystery of why the ghosts appear at all. Read aloud on my podcast. (#39)

Doors Open by Ian Rankin
Read a review saying that this is not as gritty as Rankin's usual. I've tried Rankin several times and his grittiness overcame me every time. It was not riveting but this crime caper was entertaining enough and had a twist at the end that I didn't expect. (#40)

Dimiter by William Peter Blatty
Review copy for SFFaudio. Read by William Blatty himself. Blatty is an excellent narrator, which is not always the case for authors. I thoroughly enjoyed this book (well, except for the torture scenes in the beginning). My review will go up at SFFaudio and I will link to it then. (#41)

Finding Martha's Place: My Journey Through Sin, Salvation, and Lots of Soul Food by Martha Hawkins
Full review here. (#42)

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Happens When Two Great Philosophic Minds Meet?

I believe that the one who can convince the other to read Gene Wolfe wins.

Read about John C. Wright's encounter with Peter Kreeft.

I feel a little faint just thinking of it. Two of my favorite modern day philosophers in one room discussing science fiction. Surely there is a God in Heaven. (Now if only I had been a fly on the wall...)

Oh, the books I've read ... Part I

I can't believe it's been since St. Patrick's Day since I've written about books. No wonder there are so many to share. And no wonder this will be in two parts.

March to the Sea by David Weber and John Ringo
A favorite of mine, this continues to follow Bravo Company and the royal heir they are charged to protect, Prince Roger MacClintock, as they battle their way around Marduk where they were marooned. Hostile natives and planetary conditions add to the interest in this retelling of Xenophon's journey as they gradually work their way through the increasingly sophisticated sorts of government and warfare as they go. Additionally, Prince Roger is now shaking off his former spoiled brat attitude and becoming a true leader. Second of a series of four books, this might be my favorite. Might. It's a coin toss between that and the first one, March Upcountry. (#27)

My Love Affair with England: A Traveler's Memoir by Susan Allen Toth
Rather a "forgotten classic" on my own shelves. Casting around for something light to read I came across this book which is truly a love letter to England. A very enjoyable travelogue/memoir, although I do wonder how she manages to find the money, not to mention the time, to do so much traveling abroad. Must be nice. (#28)

The Fathers of the Church by Mike Aquilina
My second time through this fantastic book which makes the Church Fathers so accessible and understandable. Our Catholic women's book club read it and this was one of the most eagerly anticipated books of recent months. Having now finished rereading I can say that twice through is probably not enough. Highly recommended. (#29)

Decider by Dick Francis
I love Dick Francis and picked this up from the library, realizing that I hadn't read anything by him in a while. Although his protagonist's character is always the same as is some proximity to horse racing, despite the many different jobs these plots always remain enjoyable. In this one, as of the first few chapters, the protagonist is emotionally estranged from his wife (although they live under the same roof), has six young sons (five of which seem to be on this adventure with him as of this moment), and holds a few shares in a racetrack that is the center of an entitled family's infighting after the patriarch has died. (#30)

Wild Horses by Dick Francis
Interesting profession this time for the protagonist as a movie maker who is, of course, making a film about horse racing. It opens intriguingly with him visiting a dying friend who was long associated with horseracing (what else?) and who mistakes him for a priest. Wanting to give his last confession, surprising in someone who isn't Catholic, he admits to a terrible crime that is not really able to be understood at the time. Of course they do intertwine very interestingly. (#31)

Murder in the Marais by Cara Black
First in a series about French-American Aimee Leduc who is a private investigator in Paris. Specializing in computer investigation she is displeased to be asked by a local synagogue's representative to investigate something from the ancient Nazi years in Paris. It quickly turns into a murder investigation and then the dead bodies begin to pile up.

This is an interesting first novel. It has realistic views of living in Paris and the Parisians' view of politics (for all I know) while the story takes on different points of view as key players are introduced. However, we mainly see Aimee who must look into a 50-year-old mystery while simultaneously investigating the mayhem it has generated in the present day. All this while dealing with neo-Nazis and occasionally agonizing over her dead father and mother who went AWOL. Rather gritty but interesting enough that I stuck with it, despite the Nazis (which I find tiring), and wound up as a page turner late into the night.

The Forest of Time and Other Stories by Michael F. Flynn
Needed some relief from all that gritty mystery reading I've been doing. Flynn is one of my favorite science fiction writers, using hard science fiction (generally) while exploring the human element. Recently heard a story of his on StarShipSofa and it made me realize that I was missing a big element of his work by never reading any of his short stories. Most of these I found very interesting and well written. There were a few (the Western, the butterfly wings) where they went on too long. I'd gotten the point. However overall very pleasing. (#33)

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
Reread and thoroughly enjoyed this romp with my favorite witches through the world of opera. Anyone who likes Pratchett will like this. (#34)

This Hurt My Head ... and Made Me Laugh Out Loud

If you've ever wondered how someone like Bonaventure could preserve the eschatological edge of Franciscanism by correcting the excesses of Joachim of Fiore and his early receptors, and by making a subtle Christological shift of Christ from eschatological end to center of creation, then this is the book for you.
Ummm ... yeah, haven't we all wondered that? (Wait, I think reading the wrong blog. I'm getting out my dictionary.)

However, a minor friar actually made sense of it with the very next paragraph and made it apply to every day life. Good on ya, Brother Charles!

Just keep this in mind when you're reading, courtesy of Merriam Webster Dictionary:
Main Entry: es·cha·tol·o·gy
Pronunciation: \ˌes-kə-ˈtä-lə-jē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural es·cha·tol·o·gies
Etymology: Greek eschatos last, farthest
Date: 1844

1 : a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind
2 : a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment

The Status Civilization Read-Along on SFFaudio

We all read and we all talked about it ... thanks to SFFaudio who had the idea, set up the conversation, recorded it, and made a podcast (some spoilers).

I had a blast although thanks to our conversation I have begun reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. Gee, it's only close to 1,000 pages. Why? You'll just have to listen and find out.

Reviewing Pirate Radio: Somewhere There's a Movie Reviewer Who Owes Me Two Hours

Yes, I'm lookin' at you Joe Morgenstern.

This movie has a glorious soundtrack of classic rock and roll.

This movie has top notch actors, all giving their best.

Too bad they forgot to throw in a plot or character development beyond something a first grader might provide. (The mean old man doesn't like music or fun. He's mad at the happy people who like music.)

There are a few amusing scenes and the ambiance works but that is hardly enough to justify the movie.

Wait, did I mention that it was a failed movie in the U.K. that was renamed and marketed in the U.S. with a lie? It is not based on fact, although if they had based it on Radio Luxembourg (on a boat) then they might have a leg to stand on. I did find it amusing that the original pirate radio stations on boats were angling for credibility so they might be able to operate on land and sell advertising. Just about opposite from the point made in the movie.

Also, it would have been nice since this is about rock and roll in 1966 if they had actually only had the DJs play songs from that time period and not later. This drove Tom crazy.

It was especially painful to see Kenneth Branaugh stuck with playing the one-note up-tight British government official. It made me want to send him a donation. Surely poverty was the only reason he took such a thankless part.

I am not opposed to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in a movie depending on the context, but please believe me when I say that what is seen in this movie is about as gratuitous and pointless as it gets.

Not worth your time. Buy the sound track and dance with some friends. It is time better spent.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Following Isaiah to a Better Place: Reviewing "Finding Martha's Place"

I first found this through The Good Cook book club. Based on their description I thought there would be much more about food in it. However this book was so astonishing that I forgot all that early on. Any descriptions you read that are longer than one sentence make you think that Martha was a hard-driving, determined woman who pushed her way to success despite long odds. It is true that Martha did succeed and that she persevered, however, one does not get the feeling that she did it through sheer force of personality. Martha gives the impression of being a gentle, loving person who nevertheless kept doggedly marching in the direction she thought she should go.

For a lot of her life Martha was just doing what most of us do when we are little ... living and trying to make sense of the world. The turns her life took and the way she pushed everything bad way down inside left Martha with mental illness. Her determination is seen in her desire to not leave her four children without a mother so she fights her way back to equilibrium. Along the way, she clings to the verse (Isaiah 61:1) that haunts her after flipping through a Bible one day and having it fall open at that spot.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound
This sets her not only on the right path to her place but serves as a beacon to the place where she can help others. Martha is matter of fact and tells the story just as if you were sitting at her restaurant having some tea. (Yes, food does come into the picture eventually.)

Extremely inspirational and moved me deeply but not sugary at all. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Perfect Shoes for Every Occasion: Earth Day

In which we practice sailing and find out about the missing log page.

Doesn't that sound something like a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery? The Mystery of the Missing Log Page ... with a picture of Nancy in a murky ship's cabin with a flashlight, leafing through a book.

However, in our case, this is leading to something of much more import: The Riddle of the Sands. You can get it in Episode 117 at Forgotten Classics.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tarsus to Redemption ... I Can Not Wait to Get My Hands on These

St. Paul's story ... manga-style.

What could be more perfect? I mean.  Just look at that cover!

Well, ok. There could be one thing more perfect. If St. Paul cried, so we could have those fantastic manga-tears shooting out of his eyes.

But we all know St. Paul never cried. NEVER. (sigh)

I'll be getting at least one of these (c'mon, send me more ...) to review and will tell y'all all about it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

All Hail Flannery O'Connor ... Our Book Club Tentatively Approaches Her Short Stories

Wow, what a great meeting! The meeting time is from 7 - 9 p.m., but didn't stop talking until around 10:30. That is how much Flannery O'Connor's five short stories engaged us.
  • Revelation
  • The Artificial Nigger
  • A Temple of the Holy Ghost
  • Good Country People
  • The Enduring Chill
Amazing. Especially since I'd always been rather frightened of them because I'd heard they dwelt on the grotesque. Naturally no one ever bothered mentioning that each story has a moment of grace and at least a signpost toward redemption, if not the actual moment itself.

Also, no one ever mentioned how very real the characters were in her stories. I felt I knew people just like them. Sometimes, if we were honest, we could see reflections of ourselves in some facets of those characters as well. I did discover that her stories are perhaps best when shared. Things I had pondered alone became clearer when discussed and some things became downright hilarious when read aloud, which we did a lot of. (I am now wondering if I have to read some of a certain story to Tom, because I am very much afraid that "If Jesus made me choose between ... " is now a part of my short-hand code for hilarious. Honestly, y'all, please do read Revelation, if you don't ever read another Flannery O'Connor story.

Long story short, I put a book of her short stories on my Amazon wish list. A thing I never thought I'd do. Never.

Next month — on Flannery's Trail
We will be reading The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O'Connor's Spiritual Journey by Lorraine V. Murray (my review here). The stories we read are specifically discussed in this biography of her life and faith, so there will be a dove-tailing of what we discussed last night with next month's discussions. (We couldn't find the sixth story, mostly because I now realize I had thought it was called The Misfit, when actually he is a character in A Good Man is Hard to Find. Oh well.) I am really looking forward to rereading how the author connects the stories with Flannery's life. It will surely bring new facets to light of her fascinating writing.

Just a note if you live in Dallas ... this is a Catholic women's book club and we have a relaxed attitude toward the whole thing. You don't have to have read the book, as long as you don't mind if the rest of us talk about spoilers, and we welcome drop-ins. The link has the scoop and if you are interested and have questions my email is julie [@] glyphnet [dot] com.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I'm Thankful ... for Martha's story ... and a lot more

So I'm reading this book, Finding Martha's Place, and it is not at all what I expected. Partly that is because it is a true story about a woman finding her way out of poverty and mental illness to have a famous soul food restaurant. Finding her soul, so I thought before I began reading it, through the restorative power of cooking.

That's there. But that's somehow almost incidental to what I'm finding. I have to admit that I am not reading this book the right way. Or maybe I need to say, I'm not reading it in order. I was so astounded by the forward, the Overture it is called, with it's strong and natural praise of God and prayer that I began flipping around in it. Saw glimpses of Martha's mental illness and the voices in her head (called The Company ... which puts me in mind of Legion from the Bible), saw glimpses of her poverty-filled childhood, her later mental anguish and desire to be able to take care of and mother her four boys, glimpses of her home again and cooking and caring for those boys, and glimpses of earlier when, most astounding of all, she picked up a Bible one day when in a mental institution and God began connecting with her through the words inside. I love the straight forward way she reads the stories and puts Jesus in His most human context, which is why He came in the first place to show us that love in person. I love the fact that when she went home the voice in her head was love and speaking to her in a way that any Christ follower can recognize. She calls it the voice of love. And I relate absolutely to the way she is astounded when the Bible continually flips open to the same passage for her, even when it is a completely different Bible. Been there myself. Not much, but when it counted.

She writes about this so naturally. Or actually, Marcus Brotherton does. But I believe he is giving us Martha's story in her words. That's why it is real. You can feel the truth.

Obviously, I can. And I really need to go back to chapter three or so and take up the story in order. By this time you can tell that I also am resolved to get my Catholic women's book club to read this book. But in my flipping I came to the acknowledgments page which, for some reason, made me think of all that I am thankful for ...

So much to be thankful for and all of it people really ... and I wanted to sit down and get it down while I was thinking about it. And that's why we have this stream-of-consciousness mid-book review. Also, my list...which is so random in some ways, though not in others clearly.
  • For our FedEx lady, who is always smiling because, "you don't know when your smile makes a big difference in someone's day, maybe the most important difference." And, who when I said, "That's right" looked me in the eye and nodded and said, "I'm a Christian too ..."
  • For Joanette, my sister. But not my sister really ... she's a soul sister. We're connected somehow and when she talks, God uses her on me. So I listen.
  • For good friends like Lizzie, Heather O., and Dr. Gemma ... who have become more than just blogging or podcasting pals. They've gotten under my skin.
  • For Heather and for Susan ... who are going through those hard times with serious illnesses of a parent, and the final goodbye in one case ... for their friendship and for their reminder of those hard moments of grace when we need it most.
  • For Dr. France (or was it French? I wasn't in the best circumstances to remember ...) who astounded me by smiling at my father in the hospital and saying, "I guess Jesus isn't ready to take you home just yet." I didn't know that a doctor in a hospital would dare say such a thing, but it was a little sign for us.
  • For the anonymous lady in the hospital cafe who stopped at our table and, on one of our worst days ever, smiled and wished us a good day. Simple act. God's timing.
  • For Dad, when we were sitting on the side of his hospice bed when I was saying goodbye really, but actually we were saying, "Until we meet again" as I begged him to take God's hand when he died so that he could finally be truly happy. And for the tears in his eyes as he cried out, "I will, I will!"
  • For Mom, who began praying during that whole experience of Dad's final illness and death. Who, when I asked her if I could send her a Bible with commentary I thought she'd like, said, "Well, maybe after I get over all this [current illness] and then I can think about it." I paused, "Well ..." thinking of how to say what I was thinking without sounding pushy. Into the silence, she said slowly, "or I guess that these times are when we need it too." Amen.
  • For Lisa, who inspired me with her spiritual growth and wisdom when she said about Dad's death, "What did I learn? That we must take care of these bodies God has given us and that the devil is real and we have to keep our eyes open."
  • For my brother who is just about the only person I know who will talk about God the way I do. And believes and steps out in faith every day. (And for his wife, Jackie, whose hard-edged Christian reality is an inspiration.)
  • For Tom who gives me movie moments (and you can interpret that however you want)
  • For Hannah and Rose ... who have given me so much more than the gift of their selves in my life. They have brought along their friends and taught me that I love teenagers.
That's not all ... but it's some. God is good. Thanks Martha for making me think about it.

And now I'm terribly embarrassed and must hit publish post and go away before I erase all of this.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Speaking of Good Links, The Anchoress, and John Allen

The Anchoress has three get-'em-while-they're-hot links and excerpts from John Allen's latest writing. (I had merely printed them out to read in the time it took her to put together her comments and post.)

But, wait, that's not all!

She ties in with two articles from America magazine, touches on a press conference in Tennessee, and winds up with a pithy look at Peggy Noonan's latest.

Go get it.

A Few Good Sources When Looking for Truth About the Media and the Pope

I realized recently that although there are a lot of good sources out there, pointing out inaccuracies and misstatements by both the media and the Church, many Catholics never see them.

In fact, many Catholics never see them because they don't want to think about the crisis, they don't want to click through and take the time to read everything, and they (kind of) know what they think already. They are left without arguments and, worse, even vaguely feeling as if there is no defense because they've never seen a headline that says otherwise.

Hey, I hear ya. I'm the same way about any kind of financial crisis news.

However, I'm rarely called upon to defend my financial status to anyone except possibly our accountant. Catholics of all sorts are called upon these days to know the basics so they may defend the faith. At the very least, they should be able to say calmly when pressed for specifics, "You know, that's a good question. I am going to look into that and get right back to you." (Which is the attitude I strive for myself. I have a reasonable grasp of the basics but attackers want specifics.)

Then one must Google like the wind to get the salient points. Problem is, how do you know if the results of your search are trustworthy or just happen to support what you already think? Let's face it, on both sides, one is more likely to find an impassioned supporter who damns the facts and goes full steam ahead, with lots of passion.

One of the good things about having so many blogs in my RSS reader is that I at least have an overview of how the wind blows on both sides. I put many links in my Google feed in the sidebar, yet even when I feature links in posts people don't click through.

Here are a few sources I trust to be even handed, honest, and unbiased. Below those, I will put a few links to stories that I think help set out important basics to grasp in the big picture of what's going on. (Some of the story links will be included as examples in the sources below.)


Get Religion
"The press ... just doesn't get religion." William Schneider
This is one of the best blogs out there for the skinny on religion. They have a unique beat because they are examining how the media covers religion. They are experienced religion writers who examine religion news in the mainstream pages of news, entertainment, business and even sports. They highlight the good as well as raise some questions about coverage that they believe has some holes in it. Sadly, they usually find more holes than good but you never know what angles you will find in discussion at their site. They encourage you to follow links to original stories and also to raise questions in their comments boxes.

Reading this blog not only enlightens you, it is like a class in how to examine a media story for accuracy or problems. For a sample, check out this story: Lost in Translation, Vatican Edition which follows the trail to the story the general media hasn't covered about how an inaccurate computer generated translation fueled an accusation about Pope Benedict covering up sexual abuse.

Ross Douthat
New York Times columnist on politics and culture
Ross Douthat writes clearly and sanely about a lot of issues. His columns about the sexual abuse scandals have been a breath of fresh air in clearing away misinformation. He'll take on anyone, including his own paper, in search of the truth. I particularly appreciated his pieces correcting Christopher Hitchins' attacks on Pope Benedict (on his blog ... I and II) and, I must confess, this piece which points out something I have thought for a while now ... that Pope Benedict has had to clean up messes left by Pope John Paul II in this situation (because nobody's perfect).

John L. Allen, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent
I believe that John Allen is the only reporter whose sole beat is the Vatican. He's usually got the scoop, whatever it is. He is fair and even handed as only someone can be who once was not and now has seen the light. This is saying something as Allen's employer is seen in some circles as being more likely to attack the Vatican than to defend it. (I don't know this personally, having never really read it.) Allen will give his opinion but you are never in doubt that it has been carefully considered and that it is his opinion and not fact. That is a rarity these days. Be sure to read his articles featured below to see what I'm talking about.

Chiesa Press
News, analysis, and documents on the Catholic Church, by Sandro Magister, Rome.
Sandro Magister is very good at examining arguments from both sides, often simply by virtue of presenting full texts of what both sides say. He may or may not draw conclusions but the reader can judge for himself the substance of one set of conclusions versus the other. That was definitely the case when Archbishop Chaput made a speech accusing former president Kennedy of banishing religion from the public stage. Magister presented Chaput's speech and then a rebuttal from Professor Diotallevi. As well, there were links at the end to other pertinent links, such as Kennedy's original speech and other writings by both Chaput and Diotallevi.

Magister also writes thoughtful editorial-style articles which may examine issues from angles I hadn't thought of before. The Passion of Pope Benedict. Six Accusations, One Question definitely supports Pope Benedict, which I'm not averse to at all, but served the purpose of reminding me of just how many controversies have been raised against Pope Benedict throughout his five year papacy.

The Anchoress
If you want up-to-date and lots of links to what everyone is saying, then go to The Anchoress. A devout Catholic who loves the Pope, she is nonetheless fully invested in truth above all. From time to time she may get a bit too passionate, but I have never seen her fail to acknowledge it either. What is more, she writes with a believer's eye which means that she is going to understand and comment upon points that the faithful should be taking away from the news, such as when Pope Benedict talks about our need as a Church for penance.

Rev. James Martin, S.J.
Father Martin is culture editor of America magazine (which has enjoyed a Vatican-attacking reputation similar to National Catholic Reporter in some circles) and also writes for The Huffington Post. Honestly, I am clueless as to The Huffington Post's rep. Father Martin's are the only articles I read there. I have not necessarily always agreed with his conclusions in other pieces, but there is no doubt that he has written intelligently and thoroughly to help clear up finger pointing during these scandals. Most notably he wrote saying both that celibacy is not the cause and homosexuality is not the cause. I believe he has effectively annoyed both sides of the "cause" arguments with those two pieces. How's that for even-handed? Honestly, I liked both pieces and found them very fair and informative.

The more I see in current and developing stories, the more I keep thinking back to these as fundamental to having a good grasp of the big picture of the sexual abuse scandals.
Commentary from those of other faiths which I include not only because these writers make cogent points about the scandal, the Pope, and the Church ... but because it says something when these people come forward in the face of opposition.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Raise an Entire Generation of People Who Hate Vacations

For most people, a resort vacation means lounging on the beach and sipping tropical drinks by the pool. For Jillian Haversat, a recent trip to Florida also included biology lessons, pop quizzes and "no-talking-without-raising-your-hand" rules.

That's because Jillian, an 11-year-old from Guilford, Conn., was taking part in the Ritz-Carlton, Naples kids' program. In the program, "Nature's Wonders," participants wear mini-lab coats and peer under microscopes to examine the cell structure of plants. Another activity teaches kids about the feeding habits of red-footed tortoises (Their favorite meal: cat food and worms.) Kids also play a a version of "bingo" with words like "conifers" and "ornithology."
Or maybe they'll just hate their parents.

Who I notice are not taking any business classes or quizzes and are, in fact, talking and lounging on the beach and (probably) sipping exotic drinks with those little umbrellas in them.

Whatever happened to everyone taking a bucket and shovel and going for a family walk on the beach?

Oh, right. I forgot. That is an awful lot of trouble for those parents. They can't put their kids in the kennel with the pets, but have found the next best thing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Kind of Broadway ... Swingin' Hard!

I never heard of Woody Herman (which probably shows great ignorance). I sure am glad that Kelly's Lounge Soundz did though.

This album takes a lot of Broadway tunes that I am not even that fond of and swings 'em out the window and back in again. Seriously, who cares if the original tune floats your boat? When these guys are done each song is an original arrangement that has you snapping your fingers, tapping your feet, and thrilling to the originality.

This is going to be a regular on my iPod and played a lot at our weekend cocktail hours.

Go to Kelly's Lounge Soundz to get the link for the free download. Yep. Free. And worth twice that!

Monday, April 12, 2010

That's Good; That's Bad

That's Good ... Hannah
She'll graduate this summer as a Wildlife Biologist but has been troubled about how to work with animals while remaining close to her other love ... urban life. (She's not fond of country life.) Her Urban Wildlife class gave her hope of a career combining both. This week 911 Wildlife made a recruitment presentation and she's over the moon. They're the only urban wildlife specialists who have built their business based on The Humane Society's plan for solving pest problems in a way that is good for the people and the animals. And then she could stay in Texas. That's good for us too!

That's Bad ... Newsweek and Shirley Jackson
In this Newsweek review of LOA books (via Books Inq) the writer derides LOA for producing a complete volume of Shirley Jackson's writing, "A writer mostly famous for one short story, "The Lottery." Is LOA about to jump the shark?"
Steven Riddle decrys reviewers who are ignorant of their subjects and I agree. Check his additional comments and my expansion on this topic in his comments box.

That's Good ... Rose
She's getting along swimmingly in her screenwriting class where they must produce a full length script. I have been having a grand time talking with her as her idea is developed. Naturally, as I am her mother, I am a fan. However, I like her idea so much that I want to see the movie it would make! Luckily, I am not the only fan Rose has. This teacher is making good comparisons to some famous writers who share Rose's gift for subtlety, irony, and unique presentation. Who knows how it will all wind up but it does give her hope that she might be able to write in addition to (or instead of) her planned editing career. Which she is brilliant at, I might add, as editing is story telling and that is her talent.

That's Bad ... WSJ and "And Then There Were None"

I am not even going to put the link to their travesty in describing Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" in the weekly column, "Five Best: Books on Guilt." I wonder if the guest author has even read the book since he misrepresented the point of why the nursery rhyme was in the bedrooms, in addition to revealing a point that is meant to dawn on the reader slowly. A more heinous crime is that the brief summary contains half of the solution to the entire mystery. In fact, what is revealed in that summary destroys most of the point of the afterward wherein the mystery is revealed as well as the sex of the murderer. For shame.

Also, if you haven't read (or reread) that book in a while, go get it. There is an excellent reason it is a mystery classic.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekend Joke

I've run this before, at least some incarnation of it, but it always makes me laugh so here we go again!
How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb?

Border Collie: Just one. Then I'll replace any wiring that's not up to code.

Rottweiler: Make me!

Lab: Oh, me, me! Pleeease let me change the light bulb! Can I? Huh? Huh?

Dachshund: You know I can't reach that stupid lamp!

Malamute: Let the Border Collie do it. You can feed me while he's busy.

Jack Russell Terrier: I'll just pop it in while I'm bouncing off the walls.

Greyhound: It isn't moving. Who cares?

Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.

Mastiff: Do it yourself! I'm not afraid of the dark...

Doberman: While it's out, I'll just take a nap on the couch.

Boxer: Who needs light? I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.

Pointer: I see it, there it is, there it is, right there!

Australian Shepherd: First, I'll put all the light bulbs in a little circle...

Old English Sheep dog: Light bulb? That thing I just ate was a light bulb?

Basset Hound: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Westie: Dogs do not change light bulbs -- people change light bulbs. I am not one of THEM so the question is, how long before I can expect my light again?

Golden Retriever: The sun is shining, the day is young, we've got our whole lives ahead of us, and you're inside worrying about a stupid burned-out bulb?
The Boxer answer is exactly the reason we often have to get up in the night and grope around to remove a much loved toy. While the dog joyously bounces around, "We're gonna play now? Yay!"

On the other hand, we have learned to sleep through rawhide chewing noises tolerably well.

Friday, April 9, 2010

iPad becoming more attractive ... will power waning ... help!

First Walt Mossberg, whom Tom holds in very high regard (a coveted and difficult to win regard, I might add), called it a laptop killer.

Hmm, I'm impressed by his accolades but still not that interested. However, the iPad has now gained respectability in my mind.

Then I read an impassioned love letter from someone who had absolutely no initial interest (of course) about how the iPad is fantastic for reading not only books but long posts (on a blog which I found via a couple of links and now seems to be lost to me). Long posts. The kind that I copy and dump into a document to print out and take home because I too dislike reading long pieces on the computer. Also I was swayed by her point that she wasn't tempted to stop and multi-task or email ... because those things weren't available. One of my problems, identified right there. Just trust me when I say it was persuasively written.

It almost made me want an iPad.


Now I read an equally persuasive piece from The Curt Jester. Who I respect technologically. Who reads a lot ... like I do. Who knows the tests to give a computer before he praises it. He does admit that he is less than objective: To put it simply I have become an Apple fanboy and not only do I drink the Apple Kool-Aid I have it intravenously fed to me. I'm not quite that bad, but I do know the song he's singing.

And that he thought a tablet computer was a dumb concept right up front: I wished Apple would release one just to shut those people up. Preach it!

But then he fell, and fell hard.

I can feel my steely will power weakening. Waning. I am slipping toward that black hole. Help me before its too late ...

My only hope. It looks like a money pit. And that's a pit I've got nothing to toss in.

This is when poverty is a good thing. Believe me.

In which we meet Carruthers ...

... and decide to join an old acquaintance for a jolly yachting holiday on the Dulcibella. We begin The Riddle of the Sands, the first espionage novel and one that changed England's defense policy before the Great War.

We also go Behind the Bar. All on Forgotten Classics episode 115. Get it while it's hot!

The Octave of Easter is a Feast and Celebration

Which means Friday penance does not apply ... unless I misunderstand how things work.

And if it isn't ...don't tell me until I've had a cheeseburger today! Woohoo!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New York's Legendary Former Mayor Ed Koch Tells the Media to Lay Off the Catholic Church

Holy Moly, he's not kidding around and he's talking horse sense. Here's some ... then go read it all for yourself (especially if you are leaving a comment).  Thank you, Mr. ex-Mayor! (Via Catholic Key blog.)
He that is without sin, let him cast the next stone - enough already
Posted by Ed Koch

I believe the continuing attacks by the media on the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI have become manifestations of anti-Catholicism. The procession of articles on the same events are, in my opinion, no longer intended to inform, but simply to castigate.


Many of those in the media who are pounding on the Church and the pope today clearly do it with delight, and some with malice. The reason, I believe, for the constant assaults is that there are many in the media, and some Catholics as well as many in the public, who object to and are incensed by positions the Church holds, including opposition to all abortions, opposition to gay sex and same-sex marriage, retention of celibacy rules for priests, exclusion of women from the clergy, opposition to birth control measures involving condoms and prescription drugs and opposition to civil divorce. My good friend, John Cardinal O'Connor, once said, "The Church is not a salad bar, from which to pick and choose what pleases you." The Church has the right to demand fulfillment of all of its religious obligations by its parishioners, and indeed a right to espouse its beliefs generally.

I disagree with the Church on all of these positions. Nevertheless, it has a right to hold these views in accordance with its religious beliefs. I disagree with many tenets of Orthodox Judaism - the religion of my birth - and have chosen to follow the tenets of Conservative Judaism, while I attend an Orthodox synagogue. Orthodox Jews, like the Roman Catholic Church, can demand absolute obedience to religious rules. Those declining to adhere are free to leave.

I believe the Roman Catholic Church is a force for good in the world, not evil. Moreover, the existence of one billion, 130 million Catholics worldwide is important to the peace and prosperity of the planet. ...

It's All Downhill from Here

A little midweek (more or less) humor from Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jimmy Akin Has New Translation of "Smoking Gun" Memo

The following is an English translation of a memo written in Italian that is a key document in the Fr. Murphy/Wisconsin paedophilia case that the media attempted to connect to Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.


Prior to this point this memo was only known in English via a deeply flawed machine translation produced in 1998. The flawed translation contributed significantly to the media storm.

Its correct translation shows what a "smoking gun" the memo is with regard to exposing just how badly the mainstream media covered the story.
I, myself, haven't read any of this. Yet. However, I do trust Jimmy Akin to be honest and give full commentary.

He's got links to the Italian original, to the flawed English translation, to the new translation (where the translator has her own commentary.

If you are interested, clearly that is the place to be. Much thanks to The Anchoress for the heads up on this.

Congratulations to Tony C. Smith and StarShipSofa

This weekend the Hugo nominations came out. For the first time, a podcast was nominated for a Hugo ... StarShipSofa in the Fanzine category.

The Hugo Awards are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. The Fanzine category wording was reworded this year in such a way that more than print media was allowed consideration. I must say that it never occurred to me to think of the Sofa as a fanzine but it only took two seconds to realize that such is its true nature. Tony is the host and facilitator but there are contributions from tons of people who simply love science fiction. It is a fantastic audio science fiction magazine and the contributions are from fans. I'm a fan as a listener and also have been lucky enough to do a bit of narrating which was a very enjoyable experience indeed.

Congratulations Tony and here's hoping the Sofa wins!

Divine Mercy Novena: Day 4

Easter Monday

"Today bring to Me
those who do not believe in God
and those who do not know Me...
...I was thinking also of them during My bitter Passion, and their future zeal comforted My Heart. Immerse them in the ocean of My mercy."
Most compassionate Jesus, You are the Light of the whole world. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who do not believe in God and of those who as yet do not know You. Let the rays of Your grace enlighten them that they, too, together with us, may extol Your wonderful mercy; and do not let them escape from the abode which is Your Most Compassionate Heart.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls of those who do not believe in You, and of those who as yet do not know You, but who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Draw them to the light of the Gospel. These souls do not know what great happiness it is to love You. Grant that they, too, may extol the generosity of Your mercy for endless ages. Amen.
Source: EWTN
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy may also be offered each day
for the day's intention, but is not strictly necessary to the Novena.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Some Silence for the Triduum

Circumstances won't allow my attending Holy Thursday and Good Friday Masses this year. I find that I am lucky that I've attended enough in the recent past that my memory stays hauntingly fresh. I was mentally taken there when I saw the palms on Palm Sunday and when looking ahead through the Magnificat readings this morning.

I'm going to duck out of the blog until after Easter, although I have prepared some items to take us through that most holy day of the year. I wish for all of you a very blessed Triduum, a celebratory and jubilant Easter.

See you Monday!

(This post will be "stuck" at the top of the blog until then. Just scroll down for the day's posts.)

Divine Mercy Novena: Day 3

Easter Sunday

"Today bring to Me
all Devout and Faithful Souls...
...and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. These souls brought me consolation on the Way of the Cross. They were a drop of consolation in the midst of an ocean of bitterness."
Most Merciful Jesus, from the treasury of Your mercy, You impart Your graces in great abundance to each and all. Receive us into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart and never let us escape from It. We beg this grace of You by that most wondrous love for the heavenly Father with which Your Heart burns so fiercely.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon faithful souls, as upon the inheritance of Your Son. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, grant them Your blessing and surround them with Your constant protection. Thus may they never fail in love or lose the treasure of the holy faith, but rather, with all the hosts of Angels and Saints, may they glorify Your boundless mercy for endless ages. Amen.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy may also be offered each day
for the day's intention, but is not strictly necessary to the Novena.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Divine Mercy Novena: Day 2

Holy Saturday

"Today bring to Me the Souls of
Priests and Religious...
...and immerse them in My unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave me strength to endure My bitter Passion. Through them as through channels My mercy flows out upon mankind."
Most Merciful Jesus, from whom comes all that is good, increase Your grace in men and women consecrated to Your service,* that they may perform worthy works of mercy; and that all who see them may glorify the Father of Mercy who is in heaven.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the company of chosen ones in Your vineyard -- upon the souls of priests and religious; and endow them with the strength of Your blessing. For the love of the Heart of Your Son in which they are enfolded, impart to them Your power and light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation and with one voice sing praise to Your boundless mercy for ages without end. Amen.
Source: EWTN
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy may also be offered each day
for the day's intention, but is not strictly necessary to the Novena.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Divine Mercy Novena: Day 1

Good Friday
"Today bring to Me all mankind,
especially all sinners...
...and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me."
Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy may also be offered each day
for the day's intention, but is not strictly necessary to the Novena.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

This Was Unexpected ... and as Far as I Can Tell, It Isn't an April Fool's Joke

I have been asked to be one of three Catholics appearing tomorrow morning on The Takeaway, a live national radio show. We'll be discussing the current scandals in relation to how it has affected my faith, etc.

It will at 5 in the morning (Dallas time, CST) for the first 15 minutes. (What I suffer for the faith, right? ha!)

It will be two "ordinary people" ... one of whom is me, natch ... and a Catholic journalist.

Well, that was an interesting experience. I'm glad that Tom taped it on a computer in the other room because I finished thinking that a headline would read something like, "Local Oaf on Radio Show." Upon listening, however, I was not quite as off target as memory showed. Though I believe I proved that one can still ramble even within two sentences. There is a definite talent to putting out those concise, targeted news-byte answers and I now have a new respect for those who do it.

You can listen here or at the embedded audio below. My press agent (a.k.a. Tom) went back to the page later and saw the pull quote for the story. So I guess it wasn't a total train wreck!
People are people are people throughout time. So once the first horror of what's happened is over, you kind of have to get a grip, and if you're going to remain Catholic you have to look at the bigger picture.
— Julie Davis

Divine Mercy Novena

Jesus asked that the Feast of the Divine Mercy be preceded by a Novena to the Divine Mercy which would begin on Good Friday. He gave St. Faustina an intention to pray for on each day of the Novena, saving for the last day the most difficult intention of all, the lukewarm and indifferent of whom He said:

"These souls cause Me more suffering than any others; it was from such souls that My soul felt the most revulsion in the Garden of Olives. It was on their account that I said: 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass Me by.' The last hope of salvation for them is to flee to My Mercy."

In her diary, St. Faustina wrote that Jesus told her:

"On each day of the novena you will bring to My heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy ... On each day you will beg My Father, on the strength of My passion, for the graces for these souls."
This novena begins on Good Friday and ends on Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the Sunday after Easter.

I really like this simple but somehow all-encompassing prayer. The more prayer requests I see from people in my own life and around the blogosphere, the more I understand those saints who were moved to pray for the sins and troubles of mankind in general.

I'll be posting the prayers daily.

In which we observe a pair of adventurers in 1880's New Orleans ...

... in the Saratoga Trunk sampler at Forgotten Classics.

As well as find out about a nifty blog that reviews audio dramas.

Now with more dogs than ever! You don't want to miss this one!

Get it while it's hot!