Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Answering Aunt Bertha by J.A. Steiner

Answering Aunt Bertha...Regarding Her God and Faith, J.A. Steiner. self-published, 2010. ebook, 441 pps.

     J.A. Steiner had an elderly aunt named Bertha [she passed away before he finished the book] who was a sincere Christian woman. He wrote Answering Aunt Bertha in response to her beliefs without any intention of sharing his writing with her. Although my own relatives-- including the elderly ones-- know about my own atheism, I strive to respect my older relatives in particular by not arguing with them. I suspect that perhaps J.A. Steiner is of similar mind.

     The most valuable point that J.A. Steiner made in the e-book is one about control or self-control. From page 219: "Religion imposes rules that may enable you to overcome personal weaknesses and encourage self-control."  I have certainly witnessed evidence of this with people in the throes of active addiction who find peace and a new way of being via a set of ideas related to spiritual practices [including but not limited to the twelve steps as originally written for Alcoholics Anonymous and subsequently altered for other X.A. programs] as well as those who never come to meeting rooms but who seek through their churches or other religious bodies to quit doing what they've been doing. This is the primary reason why I do not seek to argue people out of their belief systems. [There are other reasons also which involve how belief operates as well as basic human respect for others].

     J.A. Steiner goes on to almost condemn this sort of thing by calling those who utilize this tool as weak or lacking willpower or intellectually lazy or suffering from not enough self-determination. That is what I find to be the greatest weakness in Answering Aunt Bertha. Religion has provided many people an impetus to change. While some of those changes may be lethal, other changes are not. To decide that all of the folks who know that they need social supports and find it in religion are somehow lacking is an error in cognitive thinking. Because not all of them are. I suspect that most of them are not lacking.

     While it is true that many horrid acts have been perpetrated in the name of religion, it is also true that religion also motivates people to compassionate and altruistic acts. It is unfortunate that Muslims tend to rely on the "no true Muslim" fallacy when noting that extremists perpetrate acts of terror and also unfortunate that Christians do not recognize folks in the Westboro Baptist Church as being part of what religion can also birth. Although we know today the Vatican's part in covering for the religious who were actively involved in the genocide in Rwanda, the Vatican is reluctant to admit to any wrong-doings on the part of Mother Church [in my opinion] in general until almost forced to.

     No true Scotman or Muslim or Christian or any other word designating a person belonging to a religious sect fails in terms of recognizing the part that religion has played in some of the worst disasters the world has seen. And yet, religion has also done much good. Nothing is all good or all bad. People too. Not one of us is all good or all bad. Even Hitler loved his dog.

sapphoq reviews says: I do applaud the efforts of J.A. Steiner to put forth his thoughts on atheism versus Christianity. Answering Aunt Bertha is not scholarly, thus it is accessible to the average reader. Even so, I hesitate to fully endorse this book. Christians may find it rambling. Atheists will be familiar with much of what it contains. Yet, we need more books for and by the common atheist. Recommended for atheists who are not wanting to be persuaded by the standard attempts to "debunk" Christianity.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God by Greta Christina

Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Greta Christina. San Francisco: Dirty Heathen Publishing, 2014. ebook, 60 pps.

     My father is dead. He died on Christmas Eve holding my hand. He had a long struggle with Lewy Body Dementia, succeeding in living with it for more than a decade. Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God arrived around December 14th or so without any fanfare that I was aware of. I bought it several days ago, after my week-long vigil keeping my dad company.

     I know my dad is dead. There are other things that I do not know but doubt-- stuff that my Christian friends all say they are quite sure of-- such as the absence of the ghosts of my dearly departed grandparents. Yeah, Dad had a few quiet conversations with them during the death watch. Or, his failing brain hallucinated them. I'm not sure that people of the Book should be believing in talking with dead loved ones. I remember something about a chasm that the departed faithful cannot cross over in order to warn the living about rejecting Jesus. And then that whole Judgement Day scene. Isn't that supposed to happen before the opening of the gates of heaven? 

     The other thing that my believing friends take stock in is prayer. "We're praying for you," was routinely offered as solace. I finally offered the names of other family members for them to pray over. I've had enough of that. I'd rather have Spanish rice casseroles or muffins or chocolates by way of comfort. Prayer doesn't seem to work for me. I think of myself as the anti-prayer. Oh, not because I am against it. Rather because at one time I was diligent in my praying and could find no evidence of any deities attending to my earnest petitions during that time or any other.

     But I am not unkind. I thank people for their prayers and I acknowledge their beliefs in talking dead people. After all, they are not telling me that I am a filthy atheist condemned to the salt pits or anything of that nature. Like many atheists, I prefer to deal with the here and now rather than any promised reunion in some unnamed future [pre-rapture or post-rapture, it matters not to me] date. Advising me that "He's in a better place," or "Someday you'll see him again," feels like a denial of the totality of the loss of my father even though people don't mean to discount my grief. And no, there is no wailing and gnashing of teeth for this atheist. Death is a part of life. My dad's organs failed. That's all.

sapphoq reviews says: I was delighted to read Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. I like Greta Christina's writing style and I like that she included her wife Ingrid and late cat Lydia in the book. I like the straightforward acknowledgement that often what serves as comfort to believers doesn't feel the same to us non-theists. I like the idea that we get to create our own meaning. [I've been doing that for years now]. I like the book. It is a short book but worth the read nonetheless. Those who identify as people of faith will find much to argue with in this book. I hasten to gently point out that this book was not written for believers. Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God was written for the rest of us-- the atheists, agnostics, agnostic atheists, non-theists, free-thinkers, nones, brights. And so yes, I highly recommend Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God to those of us for whom traditional messages of comfort during grief do not work.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin

Playing Dead: A Novel, Julia Heaberlin. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2012. ebook, 293 pps.

     Playing Dead is for those travel buffs who enjoy a good fiction read with some mystery and intrigue thrown in. The setting for this one travels from Ponder Texas to ChiTown flawlessly. There is a mafia dude in it, a crazy dead mother, some other dead relatives, a stud, and some horses to boot. I was hooked from the first page.

     The narrator Tommie McCloud like me "learned early that nothing is what it seems." (page 9). The voice is both folksy and serious at the same time. I related to Tommie and her sister Sadie. I couldn't help but like them.

     The description of Ponder, Texas reminded me of several little sleepy Texan towns I spent some time in years ago [but I won't tell you what I was doing in them] complete with horses, a downtown, and pick-up trucks. And Chicago was very much the Chicago that I visited several years ago. 

     I've only seen wind farms in Maine but it was quite easy for me to transpose them into a Texan landscape. Bits of Texan history fleshed out Ponder for me, a place I could live in if I ever want to.

     Tommie's mother is certifiably crazy. Her dad and granddad are both dead. A brother was killed years ago. Some of her dad's friends are still in the background [and sometimes the foreground] watching over Tommie and defending her welfare. Being Texas, there were guns. I like guns.

sapphoq reviews says: Julia Heaberlin has written an intriguing book in Playing Dead. This is chick lit at its finest. Highly recommended.

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, Version 2.0, Christopher Moore. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. eBook, 194 pps.

     I was on a week-long death vigil for my dad when I thumbed through my e-reader and decided to read a Christmas-y novel written by the great Christopher Moore. I was glad that this one-- featuring the angel Raziel-- was the one I settled on.

     Some characters featured in other Christopher Moore books are also in The Stupidest Angel. Raziel screwed up the last search for El Nino royally because the kid was found at age ten instead of at level zero or below [about to be birthed or not quite ready to be birthed]. A bunch of other folks in The Stupidest Angel also screw things up.

     The most endearing character in this one was Roberto, the talking fruit bat. He is awesome and clever, personable and non-ass-kissing. Definitely my kind of guy. The least endearing-- perhaps-- was the ex hubby Dale Pearson with whom a certain Sally Army bell-ringer has a run-in with. Let us just say that the one man police force is a bit incompetent, his wife is a bit nuts, the Lonesome Christmas party is something I wish there was in my community although perhaps without the dead spooks arguing about Christmas songs and who's getting it on with who on whose grave. Uh, yeah. You get the picture. Throw in some zombies and a cool earthy sort of little boy.

sapphoq reviews says: Hey, I love Christopher Moore stuff [but not Michael Moore stuff-- just saying] and this one ought to be on the reading list of any adult with a sense of humor. Highly recommended.

The Christian Delusion ed. by John W. Loftus

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, edited by John W. Loftus. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2010. eBook, 453 pps.

     The Christian Delusion is a collection of essays spanning neuroscience, culture, astronomy, morality, historical research, history of the Holocaust, scientific philosophies, and more. Of the listed authors, I've read stuff by Dan Barker, Valerie Tarico, John W. Loftus, Edward T. Babinski, Paul Tobin, and Hector Avalos. I didn't recognize the other authors but it seems like they are well-established in their fields. The authors are all scholars and experts thus The Christian Delusion is not an easy read. Of all of the essays, the one that I got the most value out of was Chapter 15: Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science by Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier made some excellent points in respect to the history of the persecution of scientists throughout the ages and how scientific progress was often held back by Christian leadership.

     Chapter 4: The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited by John W. Loftus peaked my interest enough to read the book by Loftus. A review of that book is in the offing. Some of the other ideas were familiar to me. I've heard before the expression "Yahweh is a moral monster." I also know that Adolph Hitler was a faithful Roman Catholic and that the "solution to the Jewish problem" that he established and carried out was previously expressed in the writing of none other than Martin Luther. Luther learned this prejudice at the knees of Mother Church which did not treat Jews kindly throughout the ages. [excerpts from his writing may be found at: ]. That belief in the tenets of any religion is not required to live a moral life seems to me to be a given. I understand morality and societal laws both as being generated from groups of humans bound together by their culture rather than from divine edict. I am also familiar with the problems involved in a literal interpretation of the Bible and some of the doctrines therein. Even so, The Christian Delusion got me thinking and that in itself is good.

sapphoq reviews says: Although the blurbs about The Christian Delusion indicate that this book may find its way into the hands of Christians who wish to study the arguments of atheists in order to understand us better, I cannot imagine that too many Christians will choose to read this book. The title itself is probably off-putting to the majority of people of faith. As an atheist, I liked this book although I found that parts of it required re-reading and further study. For atheists, highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Dog, Melody Carlson.  Ada, Mich: Baker Publishing Group, 2009. eBook, 131 pps.

     Betty lives in a small town away from her children. Her husband has been dead. She is a faithful Christian and church attendee. Her newest neighbor, a young man by the name of Jack, is weird and she struggles to respond to him with love. Betty is troubled because the pastor has preached on loving thy neighbor and she is too afraid of Jack to do that. What if he is a serial killer or something? She is aware that sociopaths can possess a sort of slick, sick charm. But Jack is anything but charming. For one thing, he seems to be tearing apart the insides of his home and leaving the debris all over his lawn-- the house used to belong to Betty's two close friends but they are gone now. And to top it off, Jack has a rather bedraggled looking dog that has learned how to come into her yard via a hole in the fence. 

     The dog's name is Ralph (or Ralphie) and he keeps peeing on her dogwood tree. Betty is peeved that Jack would allow his mutt to run loose. Throughout the book, the mutt keeps running loose. Betty wants to report Jack to the local animal control authorities for neglecting the dog. 

     A [step-]granddaughter drops in just before Christmas. Avery is Betty's son's step-daughter. Although Avery is not her son's biological daughter, Avery and Betty have been close since they first met. Avery's mum is peeved that Avery is at Betty's house and not at her own house. She keeps telephoning and demanding that Avery come back in time for Christmas.

     And there is also a fiftieth wedding anniversary party of two friends. Betty is in charge of decorations. 

sapphoq reviews says: Melody Carlson is a prolific writer and her book The Christmas Dog reflects her talent. Being a book geared for Christian readership, there are bits of prayer and church-going in it as would be expected. 
     What I didn't expect what how several situations were resolved in the book. The Christmas Dog was not predictable and I like that. Highly recommended to Christian women (and safe for Christian teens).


Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks. London: HarperCollins, 2011. eBook, 408 pps.

     A young adult chronophiliac who goes by the name of Kid or The Kid in Lost Memory of Skin lives under a causeway with other convicted sexual offenders in this novel. He has a pet iguana who suffers from hyperactive cops, a job busing tables at a restaurant, and not much more. He encounters a professor who is doing a sociological study and agrees to talk with him. Stuff happens.

sapphoq reviews says: Clues to The Kid's specific sex crime are presented early in Lost Memory of Skin but they are easy to miss. I liked this book because it made me think. The sex offenders are just as integral to the novel as the swamp and the hurricane are. Highly recommended for those who enjoy unique coming-of-age stories.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cult by Michelle Hand

Cult, Michelle Hand. self-published via Smashwords, 2013. 268 pps.

     The novel Cult starts off with an interesting premise. Katelyn lives in a village. She is meeting with the elders who are chiding her for being seen with a a specific boy in the woods. They don't care that there is a good reason for her apparent disobedience. As a female, she is expected to be subservient, more so than the males of the village.

     There is no privacy in the village. Everyone lives in tents. Everything is done in the open. Since Katelyn's father had died, her family did not have enough food to eat. Cult is a full novel and goes into depth of detail about the lives of people who live in the tents and are subjected to the whims of their elders.

 sapphoq reviews says: I found Cult to be a very interesting read. The description of the events kept me reading until the end. Some of the issues identified in the novel are very similar to the things that we citizens of the United States are dealing with in respect to our government, such as the frontal assault on our privacy by the N.S.A. and other three-letter agencies. The characters were individualized. I could understand their motives and their reactions to situations. For fans of dystopian literature, recommended.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

High Price by Carl Hart

High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know about Drugs and Society. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. eBook, 299 pps. on Twitter (tm)

     Carl Hart is a black man whose life could have wound up very differently than it had. He was well-acquainted with guns, drugs, and crime as a young man. But things happened and instead of winding up incarcerated or worse, he became a noted neuro-scientist. Even so, his status and N.I.H. identification card did not save him from having to participate in a one person line-up. The cops suspected him of being a bank robber even though he had just come out of the bank with his statement in hand. They didn't care that he was a top neuro-scientist or anything. They only cared that he was black and the bank robber was black too. After twenty minutes, he was allowed to go.

     In High Price, Carl Hart recounts his story along with the research that he has done concerning the nature of addiction and of addicts. I learned from this book that Desoxyn (tm), Ritalin (tm) and Adderall (tm)  are prescribed for people with A.D.H.D.yet people who take Adderall for treatment of A.D.H.D. are actually at lower risk for addiction than those whose A.D.H.D. is left untreated. All three agents release dopamine which was at one time implicated in the development of addiction. The development of "meth-mouth," i.e. rotting teeth is actually not from the intake of street meth-- which is what the hyped up media and alarmist addictions workers would have us believe-- but rather from poor hygiene and lack of dental care. People do not develop meth-mouth from ingesting the drugs which are prescribed for their A.D.H.D.  These three drugs are the same ones available to addicts in the streets and are indicted as being responsible for rotting teeth. Hmmm.

     We were also taught that crack is different from cocaine. The only difference is the way in which the high is delivered. Thus, the old saw about crack being "instantly addictive" is crap. The research also does not bear out the idea that an active drug addict cannot prevent himself from using when he is offered the choice of a hit or some money for not taking the hit.

     Carl Hart gives ample evidence of why the drug laws are the way they are in the United States, citing racism as being responsible for us having laws that science does not support. His definition of racism is found on page 20: "Racism is the belief that social and cultural differences between groups are inherited and immutable, making some groups inalterably superior to others." He goes on in that paragraph to describe institutional racism that is present in education, the criminal justice system, and other places. That definition alone was worth the price of this book.

sapphoq reviews says: Carl Hart turned much of what I thought I knew about addiction on its head. He does not address treatment for addiction in High Price other than citing the research showing that addicts benefit more and longer from exposure to contingency motivation therapy (and the use of monetary rewards specifically) than from traditional counseling associated with funneling addicts into twelve step rooms. The percentage of addicts who stayed with the treatment until the end and the percentage of addicts who remained clean for a period of time or longer afterwards was significantly higher in the first group of research subjects than in the second group. There were many many other things that I thought I knew which turn out not to be supported by neuro-scientific research. High Price left me a bit pissed off at the media too, more than I already was. I am following up with reading a book that Carl Hart referenced dealing with the history of our draconian drug laws and how racism impacted their formation. High Price is absolutely highly recommended, especially to those who are not afraid of having what they've been told about addiction to be roundly challenged.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Sherwood Nation by Benjamin Parzybok

Sherwood Nation, Benjamin Parzybok.  Easthampton Mass.: Small Beer Press, 2014. eBook 444 pps.  Benjamin Parzybok on Twitter (tm)  on reddit (tm)

     Benjamin Parzybok has also written the book Couch which I read and reviewed some time ago.

     Portland, Oregon is hit with a drought. Corrupted politics separates the haves from the have nots. A young woman inadvertently sets up a micro-nation. She earns the nickname Maid Marian.

sapphoq reviews says: I am a fan of Benjamin Parzybok. I found Sherwood Nation to be an excellent depiction of what could be, especially in regards to the droughts that the western part of the United States experiences with regularity. The characters were vibrant and leapt off the pages, demanding to be heard. Yeah, highly recommended.

Dear Nobody by Mary Rose

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose, Mary Rose; edited by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil. Naperville ILL.: Sourcebooks Fire, 2013.

     Mary Rose was a teen who had cystic fibrosis and died from complications. Dear Nobody is her diary. Unlike Go Ask Alice by Anonymous, Dear Nobody is a true diary with no particular premise [I found out after my teen years that Go Ask Alice was written partly with the idea that teens from divorced families are more likely to do drugs]. Mary Rose wrote about her experiences with partying and drug rehab, being terminally ill and knowing it, family relationships, boys, and friendship.

sapphoq reviews says: I found myself liking Mary Rose. Her drawings are quite good. Her writing is poignant. I am sorry she is gone. Her words still survive. 
     I found especially interesting her point of view as a teen in an adolescent program of a drug rehab. I worked in such a place for three miserable years of my life. [I prefer teens in groups of one]. I suspect that many people who work in the addictions field will sign and say, "Oh she was in denial." I think there was a bit more going on than denial. Sometimes what we refer to as denial is actually ambivalence. 
     I think we lost someone great when Mary Rose died. Highly recommended. [And probably okay for most teens to read].

Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra

Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island, Regina Calcaterra. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. ebook, 240 pps.

     Regina was one of five siblings who grew up in (most of the time) poverty and (pretty near all of the time) extreme abuse imposed by her mother and the foster care system. Her mother was indiscriminately abusive towards all of her children and some of her male lovers as well. Eventually, Regina and three of her sisters got out. One sister wasn't able to get out until legal age due to total and abject system failure. A brother-- the apparent favored child-- may not have wanted to get out.

sapphoq reviews says: Regina Calcaterra recounts an appalling and heart-wrenching story of what happened to her and her siblings at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them. I thought that this book was genuine and brutally honest and ought to be required reading by all people who work in the foster care system and maybe some parents as well. Highly recommended.

Pieces of Me by Rebecca Brown

Pieces of Me, Rebecca Brown. self-published via, 2014. eBook, 32 pps.

     There is a Rebecca Brown who is one of Jack Chick's associates [who may help him write his Christian tracts], however I don't know if the Rebecca Brown who wrote Pieces of Me is the same Rebecca Brown who helped Jack Chick.

     Pieces of Me is a small sampling of poetry that Rebecca Brown has written through the years. The earlier poems are titled with red. There are bits of rhyme throughout and a few drawings and pictures interspersed throughout. The topics range from sentiments concerning a classmate who died too young to lost love and to the love between a mother and child.

sapphoq reviews says: I found the poetry in this currently free e-book to be honest and touching. I enjoyed the elegance of the pencil drawings and the photographs. I'd love to see more poetry written by Rebecca Brown. My only disappointment is that I wished for more visual art included with the words. For those who don't hate bits of rhyme, recommended.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Passport through Darkness by Kimberly L. Smith

Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances, Kimberly L. Smith.  Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011. eBook, 204 pps.

     I was pleasantly surprised by Passport through Darkness. Some percentage of books by Christian authors I have read-- in my opinion-- suffer from less than adequate writing skills. Although Smith insists that she is not a natural writer and that she had to be taught how to tell a story, she excels at writing now.

     Kimberly and her husband Milton from Birmingham, Alabama felt something missing from their lives and Christian walk. They were accepted by a missionary agency, sold everything, and went to minister in Salamanca, Spain. While there, they happened upon a house in nearby Portugal where orphans were being held in a bad situation. This changed things up a bit. It was a longer than it ought to be process to get the kids to safety.

     Some other stuff happened. Kimberly and Milton started their own agency. Milton's diabetes got worse and Kimberly started spending months at a time in the Congo apart from her husband. They remained faithful to each other. 

     The Congo is not such a great place to live. There is lots of poverty, war, sickness, and other stuff. But Kimberly did live there and also helped some kids out. You will have to read the book if you want the rest of it.

sapphoqreviews says: Kimberly L. Smith has written an excellent book about her life-changing experiences in the Congo. Christians will enjoy this book immensely. Atheists who object to any sort of religious stuff will not be interested. Some Muslims may be insulted because of events described in the book that happened in the Congo.  At any rate, for Christians, highly recommended. For Christian teens not so much, unless parents or legal guardians review the book first due to some of the subject matter.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Gabriella Coleman. London: Verso Books, 2014. eBook, 416 pps.

     I have oodles of respect for Gabriella Coleman. She is an anthropologist, and she works at McGill which is one of my favorite universities. She writes about things that I am interested in. It was with great anticipation that I waited for the release of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy. I did something that I almost never do-- I pre-ordered the book. I knew that I would love the book. And yes, I love this book.

     Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy gives much insight into some of the personalities behind the idea Anonymous. I enjoyed her re-counting of the emergence of some of the Secs. I was infuriated all over again with the treachery of he-who-must-not-be-named (and that isn't a reference to Voldemort). I was tickled by her descriptions of the I.R.C. chat-rooms. Talk of o-days and LOIC are things that hold my interest.

sapphoq reviews says: Gabriella Coleman has written a wonderful book. Anyone the least bit interested in Interwebz culture ought to find and read this book. Those who are not technically savvy will find the material presented to be readable. Those of us who are will relish the stories and the LULZ. Absolutely highly recommended. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Another Atheist in Recovery by SpikedUp Frog

Another Atheist in Recovery, SpikedUp Frog. self-published, 2014. eBook, 107 pps.

@SpikedUpFrog on Twitter (tm)

     Yes, this one is also mine, written under my Twitter (tm) alias. Unlike Up the Rebels!, this one is not fiction. It is about my experiences as a recovering non-theist addict in 12 step programs and also how I had to re-write the steps in order to remain clean. 

     Many people "in the rooms" object to changing the literature in any way. Bill Wilson was actually the first one to give approval to modifying the steps to the first A.A. group of atheist Buddhists in New York City. Some deaf folks years ago modified the twelve steps into a form that they related to better-- these were the twelve ideas of A.A. Charlotte Kasl, in her book Many Roads, One Journey presents several ways in which the steps have been modified for groups of people. And I've been reading books put out by AA Agnostica up in Toronto that illustrate how other atheists and agnostics work the steps, complete with their revisions.

     Another Atheist in Recovery presents the steps in the way that I work them. If you don't like that sort of thing, then stay away from this book. Ditto if you are not interested in addiction matters.

     The deal is that for me to use again is to die. I have done and will continue to do whatever I have to in order to stay abstinent. I don't have an ax to grind with believers. I respect that other people have religious practices. If you are an atheist with sincerely held non-beliefs and you are in recovery-- especially if you are new-- then yeah, Another Atheist in Recovery is for you.

     I am in the midst of my second NaNoWriMo but I will endeavor to post more reviews of stuff I've been reading within the next couple of days.

     Sail Strong!

Up the Rebels! by SpikedUp Frog

Up the Rebels!, SpikedUp Frog. self-published, 2014. e-book, 131 pps.

@SpikedUpFrog on Twitter (tm)

     I cannot be disingenuous here. Up the Rebels! is my book written under my Twitter (tm) alias and one of my pen names. So what I will say is that Up the Rebels is dedicated to my brother Stanley Cohen [@StanleyCohenLaw on Twitter (tm)] and to my hero Edward Snowden. Early excerpts from it have appeared in one of my other blogs. Now I have learned how to format the thing [a very long process of over ten hours and a steep learning curve].

     The book just hit the Barnes and Noble online site this morning. It is an ePub with NO DRM. I gave it a creative commons license because I support releasing my books on the torrents. And hey, if no one else puts it out there, I'm going to do it myself. Just as soon as I recover from learning how to format.

     So if you like hacker fiction or slacker fiction and want to read a book with a Muslim fella named Jesus in it, some Anonymous protesters, N.S.A. drones, a rather hefty cat by the name of Majestic, a fourteen year old, a cute kitten named Freedom, some homeless folks, some prostitutes and their evil bosses, a hapless mental health professional or two, and a few folks who escape the clutches of the ahem behavioral health system, then this book is for you. And Dree RainCave is in it. He is Ed SnowDen used in a purely fictitious manner hiding from the government in Newark, New Jersey  of all places.

     Some of my Twitter (tm) buddies are also in it, again as pure fiction. You will find That Damn Stan (@StanleyCohenLaw), Kenneth Lipp (@kennethlipp), and Tor Ekeland (@TorEkelandPC) within the story.

     Briefly mentioned are Todd Kincannon (@ToddKincannon), Ashely Kincannon (@AshelyKincannon) [Todd and Ashley Andersen in the book] and Noodle Kincannon (@TheNoodleK), again as fiction.

     I'm sorry that I couldn't fit all of my Twitter (tm) buds in the book. There will be more books to follow.

     I endeavored to keep the cursing down to a minimum but there is bits of cursing in it. Enough that parents may wish to read the book before allowing their teens to do so.

     Take care everyone and know that today-- the first day of the release of Up the Rebels! as an eBook-- means that I am happy happy happy!


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Kickstart Your Recovery by Taite Adams

Kickstart Your Recovery: The Road Less Traveled to Freedom from Addiction, Taite Adams. self-published via Smashwords, 2014. e-book, 153 pps.

     Taite Adams is a pseudonym. I felt it necessary to say that because in the author section of Kickstart Your Recovery, she self-identifies as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with a decade plus of sobriety. She has written other books about addiction to specific drugs. One book title gave me pause. It is about how to detox at home safely. I found the notion to be a bit scary. Withdrawal from most substances requires medical treatment in order to do it safely and come out of it alive. 

     As of date, Kickstart Your Recovery is available as a freebie. After reading it, I wondered at the subtitle since what was described in the book was standard twelve step addictions industry treatment protocol. To go to rehab or not. To get a capital H capital P Higher Power regardless of sincerely held non-christian beliefs or no religious beliefs. Sponsorship and clubhouses and (the topic I abhor) a part on meeting etiquette. Nothing really new here.

sapphoq reviews says: I found Kickstart Your Recovery to be disappointing. One of the ideas that Taite Adams presents is that the word alcoholic includes addictions to other drugs. It most definitely does not. The word that does is the word addict. I have no quarrel with recovering addicts who choose to attend Alcoholics Anonymous only and respectfully identify as alcoholics (because all addicts are pretty much addicted to alcohol anyway). The bone that I am picking is with the author's specific notion about the word alcoholic. Folks who identify as atheists or agnostics or nones will recognize the standard apologetics in this book regarding the use of religion in the twelve step rooms. Folks who are committed to a return to a program without the glitz that modern rehabs have attached to the rooms (such as the use of chanting phrases in A.A. or holding hands in A.A. or the notion that "addiction is a disease") will also not be satisfied with this one. Verdict: not recommended. People considering abstinence will do better reading other sources for information about recovery from any addiction.

Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

Into the Wild (Warriors Series #1) , Erin Hunter. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. e-book, 205 pps.

     I have seen the extensive postings from readers on the B&N site under reviews in which they pretend to be sentient felines from various clans. I didn't understand the motivation for such scribbles until I started reading Into the Wild.

    Rusty was a typical indoor outdoor house cat with stirrings of his wild nature. He was hunting mice when he was attacked by  Graypaw, a young kit in ThunderClan. There are four clans-- ThunderClan, ShadowClan, WindClan, and RiverClan, plus a farm cat who is clan-less-- inhabiting the forest and fields around it. The book, first in a series, deals with the adventures of Rusty and his changing fortunes. It also delves into the problem facing all four of the feline clans.

     A most interesting concept for me was how Erin Hunter used re-naming in order to indicate change in status of an individual cat in a clan. The ritual of naming and accepting membership into any community is one that is rich in tradition and narrative of homo sapiens. Who we call ourselves says something about who we are. Those folks with some forms of personality fragmentation have parts with different names and characteristics. When the associated trauma is too deep, integration may occur with one of the sub-personalities at the forefront who is known by a different name other than the one given at birth. Nicknames also may be telling. They may be a shortened or modified version of a legal name like John to Jack, an endearment such as Little Grandma, a sign of status as in Michael Junior or Chatsworth III. Rusty himself is endowed with two name changes as he transforms himself into a warrior of ThunderClan.

sapphoq reviews says: As a result of reading Into the Wild, I have stopped flagging the reviews at the B&N site that role-play being a feline in a clan. I now understand why people do this. The pull to create one's own animal story (also reflected in lycanthrophy, vampyre lore, and Otherkin) is a theme that has been written about extensively in the fantasy genre. Cats that are more than what they seem had a certain appeal to me. Into the Wild was an excellent read for this adult fan of Mercedes Lackey and her Valdemar series. The series is suitable for pre-teens and teens. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Learn Scrivener Fast Webinar

N.B.: Scrivener is a complete writing studio developed by the wonderful and talented folks over at It is a word processor, research tool, organizer, e-book formatter and much more. It is not free but it is much less expensive than other word processors sold by larger companies. 


     On Wednesday October 29, 2014, I took a free webinar from the folks at: . I found out about it from Joseph Michael. Joe does not work for Scrivener. What he did was make videos about how to use Scrivener and start his own company.

     The webinar was designed to help NaNoWriMo participants use Scrivener in the quest to write 50,000 words or more of a novel during the month of November. This is my second year doing so but my first using a writing application. [Last year, I wrote my whole novel on a Windows Notepad].

     The sign-up process was easy. Directions were specific as to what url to go to before the start of the webinar and how to get admitted into the chatroom going on at the same time. I was relieved to find that I did not have to sign in through Facebook since I absolutely refuse to FB anything in my life. I signed in via a Twitter account. 

     I used a vertical split screen during the webinar. On the left was the chat room. On the right was Scrivener Coach Joseph Michael along with host Jeff Goins talking us through various tips on using Scrivener. Even I could follow what they were saying.

     The men graciously stayed longer than the hour scheduled. They taught us stuff for ninety minutes and then stuck around the chatroom for more questions.

     At the end unfortunately some folks who wanted to win freebies "right now" began a bitchfest about it. Such is what has happened since our society became one of entitlement. If it's free, it might me for me and I might even take three but I'm certainly not going to whine about it.

sapphoq reviews says: All in all, the webinar was an enjoyable experience for me. I do recommend it highly. While I may not buy into taking the advanced course, I was happy to know about it anyway. I admit to being the sort who wanders around saying to myself, "I wonder what this button does" and then clicking it in order to find out. Consequently, when it comes to many computer programs and apps, I learn best by experimenting. Still, the webinar did answer one question I had that I hadn't been able to puzzle through on my own. So yeah I highly recommend the freebie webinar, and the paid courses for those who are still having difficulty figuring things out on Scrivener. 


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

A Street Cat Named Bob: and how he saved my life, James Bowen. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin's Press, 2013. e-book, 180 pps.

      James Bowen was trying to get clean off of heroin via an opioid substitution program in London. He was living in what is called "vulnerable housing" and busking with his guitar for a living when he happened upon a cat. James took the cat in with a thought to nurse him back to health. As a result, both James' and Bob's lives were permanently altered.

sapphoq reviews says: James Bowen's first book is a charmer. Easy-to-read, I found myself rooting for both James and Bob. Through Bob, James found a purpose in life. James started to make decisions that would keep both himself and Bob on an even keel.
     Bob is certainly an unusual feline. He is a ginger tom with many of the characteristics inherent to that coloration. [I also love ginger toms and have had several of them. Currently, one is in residence].
     The twelve step programs have become a sort of set of sub-cultures in the United States. Those who are threatened by other ideas about recovery will most likely reject this delightful book based on the facts that James was able to drink in moderation and that he elected not to attend Narcotics Anonymous. Culture is a funny thing. While informing us of where our roots are, it also limits our vision.
     It is clear that we are continuing to hear from James Bowen and Bob in the form of subsequent books and a charity set up for cats. For those who love cats and tales of human triumph over tough adversaries, A Street Cat Named Bob is highly recommended. 

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Leaving the Atocha Station: A Novel, Ben Lerner. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2011. e book, 142 pps.

     Leaving the Atocha Station is Ben Lerner's first novel. We follow narrator Adam Gordon in 2004 during the Spain train bombing. He is a young man on a fellowship claiming to be interested in the Spanish Civil War. But he gets no research done. Instead, he spends his time generating poetic phrases under the influence of hash, conning women into believing his re-inventions of himself, and having crises generated by narcissistic injury.

sapphoq reviews says: Ben Lerner's first novel is a charmer. I was not exactly smitten by Adam Gordon. It was more than that. The lost poet in a foreign country has a certain appeal. The author described perfectly the process of becoming fluent in a foreign language. I too have had a sense of what others were communicating rather than literal translations. I liked this book. The author also has three books of poetry out and a new novel.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Don't Tell,edited by Roger C.

Don't Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA, edited by Roger C.      Toronto: AA Agnostica, 2014. 
ebook, 368 pps.

     It took me a bit to realize that the first word in the title is the word "Don't" followed by the word "Tell." It seems to me that I read it wrong. I read "Don." I couldn't figure out who "Don" was but I got the book anyway. I was glad that I did.

     Don't Tell divides up the stories and essays into ten parts. These ten parts are, in order of appearance, In The Rooms, 12 Steps, Book Reviews, Founders of We Agnostics in 1980 (Hollywood), Lord's Prayer, Many Paths to Recovery, Early History, An AA Pamphlet for Agnostics and Atheists, Controversy in The New Millennium, and Moving Forward. Each section has between two and eleven stories or essays in it. The construction of the book was logical. And the material was highly readable.

     There was a bit of new information for me in Don't Tell. I hadn't known the name of the atheist salesman who got drunk. [Jim Burwell held on to his atheism and his sobriety for the rest of his life. Bill overstates his case for Jim's change in beliefs in the Big Book]. I didn't know that Bill W. gave permission for the first Buddhist A.A. groups to re-write the steps to fit in with their atheism [Some Buddhists are atheists and some are not. The first groups referred to apparently were]. (p.23)

     Nor was I aware of how the designation "Conference approved" is being used to de-list freethinker A.A. groups from various Intergroups' meeting lists. (p. 97). The info about the protracted fight to get the Literature Committee to produce and publish a pamphlet tentatively titled "AA - Spiritual Not Religious" for newer agnostic AA members and those who are religious who wish to understand more about those of us non-believers who are achieving long-term sobriety (pp. 273 - 276) was news to me. [N.B. I read somewhere that the Literature Committee has finally produced a pamphlet about "alternative spiritual paths" which should be coming out at the end of 2014 and which does not include atheists or agnostics. ~ sr].

     The best parts of Don't Tell for me were some A.A. history that I didn't know about along with finding some essays by agnostic and/or atheist members with long-term sobriety.

sapphoq reviews says: Roger C. has done a fine job of editing Don't Tell. I especially appreciated the non-judgmental tone taken toward believers in Alcoholics Anonymous. This book is written for those of us in recovery who have found ways to remain in recovery without recognizing any gods. Believers in recovery who are not threatened by the subject matter (and who understand that there is zero evidence of any attempts by anyone in the book to de-convert them) may also be interested in reading this book. Professional helpers within various rehab structures which use the twelve steps as a basis for treatment ought to be urged to read Don't Tell. Highly recommended.



Storm by Brigid Kemmerer

Storm (Brigid Kemmerer's Elemental Series #1), Brigid Kemmerer. New York: K Teens/ Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2012. ebook, 295 pps.

     The book opens with Becca who is leaving self-defense class. She lives in Maryland where she is in high school but old enough to drive. She has a job at a pet shop, a best friend named Quinn, and a mom. Her dad left and hasn't been back.

She happens upon a beat down in the parking lot. The vic is the youngest of four brothers by the name of Chris. She runs the attackers off with her car.

The Merrills-- Chris, Gabriel and Nick (twins), and oldest brother Michael-- live sans parents. They are of a different sort. Storm is the first book of a series featuring Becca and family, Quinn, the Merrill brothers, and a few other people.

sapphoq reviews says: Brigid Kemmerer keeps the story line moving as she develops her characters. Storm uses the pentacle-- earth, air, fire, water, spirit-- to explain things. There are also New Age rocks on bracelets and their meanings. And a suggestion of rape and violence. Storm is not a book that I can endorse as reading material for teens whose parents are christian or otherwise object to the occult. Recommended for mature teens who are not triggered by rape and its aftermath. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why I Love New Orleans by Heather Graham

Why I Love New Orleans: A Collection of Blogs, Heather Graham. self-published, 2014. ebook, 132 pps.

     Heather Graham was Anne Rice's secretary for a time until AR relocated away from New Orleans. She is also herself a writer and organizes an annual writer's conference in the Crescent City.

     Why I Love New Orleans was a personal delight to me. I have fond memories from before the hurricane-- a paddle-boat that I saw outside of St. Francisville going down the Mississippi one night from my perch in some dark and misty wood, a concert at The Warehouse, Bourbon Street and environs, Cafe du Monde, Mardi Gras, the truckstop in Slidell, biking in the park near the zoo, and the zoo itself. Aside from the presence of one very large casino, I was relieved to read that NOLA continues with the same sparkle and zest that she used to. I'd heard from animal handler friends that the white tiger at the zoo had been saved during Katrina and was doing well in a different zoo. I knew that folks living in the ninth ward are still struggling to reclaim their neighborhood. And I was aware of some of the history behind the city that I too grew to love. There was much in this book that I didn't know. 

sapphoq reviews says: Heather Graham has crafted a fine short history and sightseeing catalog of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. At the beginning of each chapter was also a delightful photograph. For those who love New Orleans and for anyone with a curiosity about a fine southern town, highly recommended.

The Reason Revolution by Dan Dana

The Reason Revolution: Atheism, Secular Humanism, and the Collapse of Religion, Dan Dana. self-published, 2014. e-book, 43 pps.

     Dan Dana earned a PhD and founded M.T.I. [MTI, Mediation Training Institute]. MTI offers both seminars in various places and online training in mediation at the worksite. The mediation works website have a large variety of offerings for lots of money. Dan Dana has since retired but does still plug his books and videos on Twitter (r).

     I had several huge problems with The Reason Revolution. The first problem was the hype produced by the publisher which was either someone at Smashwords or Dan Dana himself. The book simply did not live up to it in my estimation. The second problem I had was the note on page 4 stating that there are no sources cited, leaving the problem of verifying any statements made up to the reader. This is largely unacceptable in atheist circles when christians and muslims do it. And it is unacceptable to me when an atheist does the same thing. Period. Uncool. Cite your sources next time, please. It makes a difference.

     The third problem I had was the writing itself. It simply was not up to the level of PhD writing. I think of PhD writing as the kind that I find in any of the Oliver Sacks books or in Scientific American magazines. And although attempts were made to illustrate why one should either reconcile one's faith with science or come over to the skeptics' side, I did not find the reasons listed to be persuasive. And as an atheist, I am part of "the choir!"

     The predictions of how wonderful the United States and the rest of the world will be when religious believers finally become a largely ignored minority didn't set well with me at all. I hated that list. It sounded like brainwashing. 

sapphoq reviews says: While Dan Dana has been recognized for his outstanding in the field of mediation, his short e-book The Reason Revolution fell far below the mark for me. Atheists and religious folks alike can certainly do better than this book. Give it a miss. Even for free, the thing is simply not worth the time it takes to read it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Worldview of Atheism by Jensen DG. Manebog

The Worldview of Atheism, Jensen DG. Manebog. self-published, 2013. e-book, 47 pps.

     Jensen De Guzman Manebog, from Rep├║blika ng Pilipinas, has written a booklet which pretty much accuses atheism in what he views as its many forms of failing at morality. He makes a case against relativism as a working morality and he charges atheism with this relativism. Being good without any gods does not seem to hold threats of eternal damnation or rejection above the heads of the human puppets. Ergo, atheists lack morals because any morality that atheists do have depend upon human law-making rather than divine law-giving.

     It is indeed troubling in this day and age that atheist and atheist organizations should be continually called upon to refute such charges. Morality can and does arise in social groups without the use of or reinforcement by [christian] religious influence. Although The Worldview of Atheism employs logical fallacies extensively in its pages, the central message that non-theists are not getting through to believers that we too, as social animals, certainly do have principles is one that atheists ought to take to heart. A dialogue between believers of all ilk and freethinkers ought to take place with its central aim as clearing up such misunderstandings. I personally do not hold out much hope for such an event, since we are often subject to debates with each side winning points instead of to honest and open communication.

sapphoq reviews says: This book is full of poor arguments favoring Christianity. Doggerel which merely repeats that atheism is not logical fills up the pages of The Worldview of Atheism. Christian apologist C.S. Lewis is quoted extensively here. Both he and Humes make for much better reading for christians and others who are seeking out more intelligent thought. Skip this one.

Lasting Impact by Jen Slothower

Lasting Impact: How the murky world of concussions might be causing permanent damage even among those who will never go pro, Jen Slothower, NESN. Watertown MA.: New England Sports Network, 2013-2014. e book, 108 pps.

     Jen Slothower is a journalist who speaks out about football (and some other sports). Specifically, she has taken on player injuries-- concussions-- which can lead to permanent brain effects like CTE. C.T.E. stands for "chronic traumatic encephalopathy." Some N.F.L. players have it. They have a history of repeated dings, knocks to the head which result in concussions. At some point later on, 

          ...they develop cognitive problems, experience
          crippling memory loss or become deeply
          depressed."     (p. 24)

     Lasting Impact also points out some other scary things like how football players may deny head injuries or sequelae because they want to keep playing. Pros want the paychecks to keep coming in. They also do not want to lose their positions on the team. Kids playing school sports don't want to admit to injury because they want to keep playing regardless.

     While the N.F.L. does at time change rules and procedures, the changes trickle down slowly into school athletic departments. This delay is not good. Kids too can and do also suffer from repeated concussions and permanent side effects.

sapphoq reviews says: Jen Slothower has done an excellent job writing about concussions in sports, what can be done about it, and what is or is not being done. Highly recommended.

     The link below leads to a senior thesis from Spring 2008 submitted to Liberty University by Jen Slothower. I believe it is the same Jes Slothower. It makes for interesting reading. It is about christians who go into the field of journalism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Common Sense Recovery by Adam N.

Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist's Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous, Adam N. Toronto: AA Agnostica, 2014. ebook, 63 pps.

     Within many twelve step program meetings, it is difficult to share honestly about one's non-belief. Bill W. was raised as a methodist and via the Oxford Group became more of an evangelical christian. 

     Surveys indicate that things are changing in the United States. Our younger folks make up the bulk of atheists and agnostics. And yet, there is a strong current of fundamentalism present in many rooms of recovery as well as in many treatment programs which are based on the twelve steps.

     I came in to recovery believing but that did not last. By the end of my first decade, I had checked out several more religions and found that I was comfortable in none of them. I read creation myths and other legends for Spanish class and that was the beginning of my abandoning religion for something else.

     Unlike Adam N., I do not feel like a spy or a double agent. I do feel a bit uncomfortable when people use recovery rooms as an excuse to heap testimonials and exhortations on what they imagine is a congregation of sorts. It seems to be that if some folks are willing to do this, they also ought to be willing to listen to an abbreviated version of another side of things. Generally, I do remind other folks that they do not have to be christian to be in recovery. I myself am an atheist. Other people may practice various forms of spirituality and ritual.

     Like Adam N., I have felt like I've needed to translate the steps and other literature into a format that I can use in order to remain in recovery. I was much relieved to find the books published by AA Agnostica. Although the focus is on AA or Quad A, I do think there is a need for secular alternatives to recovery such as S.O.S.

sapphoq reviews says: Adam N. shares from his heart his story and how he copes with being a non-believer in the ranks of Alcoholics Anonymous. For those in 12-step recovery who practice alternative spiritualities or no spirituality, recommended.

Coming Out Atheist by Greta Christina

Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Greta Christina. San Francisco: Dirty Heathen Publishing, 2014

     Greta Christina put out a call on the Internet for stories about coming out as an atheist. This book is the result. It is filled with quotes from atheists of various religious backgrounds.

     Greta Christina's involvement with the queer and bi-queer communities in San Francisco also inform her work. The simple question, "What do people want?" [or "What does the community want?"] lends itself to making activities that resonate with people and can lead in directions which are initially unexpected.

     Admitting to atheism-- either casually or formally, in front of a large crowd or a few people-- is not without its risks. Greta Christina covers those risks. In Coming Out Atheist, she reminds readers over and over again that there is no formula. Each person has to evaluate the risks and benefits for his or her self.

sapphoq reviews says: Although repetitive in places, Coming Out Atheist is a pretty good addition to the library of atheists old and new. Some overlap with Hemant Mehta's The Young Atheist's Survival Guide makes this book more valuable for adult atheists in adult situations. [Mehta's book is the best for younger atheists i.m.o.]. Although Greta Christina could have done a better job delineating resources for atheists who are in recovery from addiction, overall a satifying read with emphasis on developing community. The resource guide in the back is especially valuable to those folks who can access the Internet but are unable to or don't care to connect with atheists face to face. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Format Your eBook the Free and Easy Way by J. Gunnar Grey

Format Your eBook the Free and Easy Way, J. Gunnar Grey. Humble Tx: Dingbat Publishing/ Smashwords edition, 2011. ebook, 49 pps.

     I've been preparing my first e-book for publication and I am quite frankly scared out of my mind. I remember reading that the Midrash says "all beginnings are hard." Ain't that the truth?

     At last, I have found one book that tells me how to format my e-book in simple words using lists and illustrations. That book is Format Your eBook the Free and Easy Way. By using Calibre []and Sigil [], J. Gunnar Grey says I should be able to do this.

sapphoq reviews says: I wrote Up the Rebels last year in thirty days and have been proofreading it so it can be ready to submit as an e-book. November is fast approaching and I am getting reading to write a second novel. Hopefully, my first novel will be ready to hit the digital waves by then. If so, I promise to name a character in the second book Gunnar or Grey. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Obedience by Will Lavender

Obedience: a novel, Will Lavender. New York: Shaye Areheart Books/ Crown Publishing/ Random House, 2008. paperback, 289 pps.

     Professor Williams teaches a college course called Logic and Reasoning 204 at Winchester University in Indiana. The fall semester is short-- six weeks-- and there are no pictures of the face of the professor to be found anywhere. Unlike other professors, he wears jeans and sneakers to class. He also says the f-bomb. The first class, like Professor Williams, is a mystery. He announces that a female by the name of Polly went missing in August. He says if the class cannot figure out who kidnapped her by the end of the six weeks, she will be killed.

     Mary is a student in the class as is an ex-boyfriend named Dennis. There is also Brian, a young Republican whose brother had recently suicided. They become a sort of trio as the six weeks wear on. The three students take a road trip.

sapphoq reviews says: Will Lavender has written a truly creepy book. Although the dialogue did not move fast enough for me at times, I read Obedience in one sitting. It was a story inside of a story. The plot intrigued me in spite of my misgivings about a six week fall semester and the Winchester students' obsession with finding out what an unknown professor looks like before the beginning of class. The Milgram experiment was rather sneaky I thought. The point of obedience to a higher authority regardless of the consequences to another human being felt a bit lost in the parade of characters. Even so, I do recommend it for adults only.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

A Killing at Cotton Hill (Samuel Craddock Series #1), Terry Shames. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2013. ebook, 205 pps.

     Retired police chief Samuel Craddock lives in a small town in Texas. An old friend is murdered in her kitchen. Samuel gets involves seeing as the current police chief likes to drink more than anything related to work.

sapphoq reviews says: I enjoyed the small Texas town feel of A Killing at Cotton Hill, complete with regional accents. The scenery reminded me of places in Texas where I've been. The conversations were realistic. An absence of curse words, gratuitous violence, and graphic sex scenes make this book readable for those who are sensitive to that sort of thing. There are a few secrets revealed which may trigger survivors of childhood abuse but the way those things were described was with sensitivity and respect. The mystery itself was engrossing. In short, I love this book and I will be reading more of the series in short order. Suitable for mature teens and adults. Highly recommended.

Why Math Isn't an Awful Nerd by Jason Marshall

The Math Dude's Why Math Isn't an Awful Nerd, Jason Marshall. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2011. e-book, free, 15 pps.

     The Math Dude a.k.a. Jason Marshall has a day job as a research scientist. That makes him pretty cool. What's also cool about him is that he has a website and a podcast devoted to explaining neat math stuff to the masses. And vids too. 

     Math teaches you how to think. Math is also fun. If you don't think so, you ought to check out at least the videos. 

sapphoq reviews says: My only complaint is that this book at fifteen pages was way too short. "Free" is great-- and Why Math Isn't anAwful Nerd was free when I downloaded it-- but I want more. And I'd be willing to pay for more. Longer. Because that's how cool Jason Marshall makes math.


ASK ANNA by Anna Koontz and Dean Koontz

ASK ANNA: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn, Anna Koontz and Dean Koontz. Lebanon IN: Center Street Books/ Hachette Books, 2014. Page Perfect NOOK e-Book, 103 pps.

     Anna Koontz is writer Dean Koontz's golden retriever. In this book full of whimsical and cute pictures of Anna and of various other dogs, Anna gives advice to other dogs on such matters as size versus the owl, leg extensions, expressions of love, and anxiety over when the two-footeds leave the house.

sapphoq reviews says: Anna made it through twenty two out of twenty four months of training for Canine Companions for Independence. She flunked out due to birds. All monies from ASK ANNA will go to that program. I think that is sweet and certainly a worthy cause. A cool book with photos of dogs that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Recommended.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wrestling with Our Inner Angels by Nancy Kehoe

Wrestling with Our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness, and the Journey to Wholeness, Nancy Kehoe. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/ Wiley, 2009. Hardcover, 149 pps.

     Those who bear the label of mental illness often find their religious beliefs and other spiritual things important to them ignored by clinicians in their day treatment program and other counseling settings. It seems that there is something like an axiom that says, "Don't tell the counselors that stuff" and that is rather unfortunate.

     I remember the days when anyone who had an obvious disability was assumed not to have a sex life/ or their issues with physical intimacy were ignored by therapists. Not to listen respectfully to people who are charged with telling professionals about the things that give their lives meaning is to ignore the whole person. The labels take precedence over any sort of religious [or sexual, see above] feelings.

     Nancy Kehoe is a nun and also a clinician who started some groups for adults in treatment. The groups were optional. Most who attended had religion but a few did not.

     It is unfortunate that people in addiction treatment with sincerely held atheist leanings are often short-shifted. Their non-beliefs are viewed as deficits by staff who often have New Age-y sort of philosophies. Nancy Kehoe has done something else. Instead of judging those labeled mentally ill as having bizarre beliefs, she allowed each individual to shine. I liked that a lot.

sapphoq reviews says: This is a pretty good book for clinicians and outpatients who wish to communicate respectfully about topics that are considered taboo within mental health communities. Recommended.

Among the Enemy by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Among the Enemy: A Shadow Children Book, Margaret Peterson Haddix. Toronto: Scholastic, Inc./Simon & Schuster, 2005. hardcover, 214 pps.

     Among the Enemy is sixth in the Shadow Children Series. The shadow children are any who are born after the first two of a family. Each family is limited to two. Thus, the shadow children are illegal. The Population Police take their job seriously.

     Three children are taken along with others to a "work camp" but the trio make an escape. They are injured, shot at, and hunted. Fortunately, one of them is able to make his way to the home of some sympathizers. The trio all live. Some other things happen too.

sapphoq reviews says: I did not read the other Shadow Children books. There is a bit of bias in Among the Enemy towards people who pray. Even so, I enjoyed this book. The pace was fast, the plot had some intrigue and twists, and the solutions to some of the problems that the trio were faced with were novel. This book is suitable for children. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. e book, 390 pps.

N.B. This novel has cuss words in it and depicts some sex and quite a bit of violence. If you object to that, then don't read Fourth of July Creek. Please read the book first before you consider letting your teens read it. Thanks.

     Fourth of July Creek is a fine novel. Set mainly in Montana-- with some other places thrown in-- Smith Henderson evokes the wilderness and those who live there in order to get away from the troubles of society. But even so, dysfunction has a way of following. 

     Social workers can also have their share of the stuff that takes the fun out of living. Pete Snow is an alcoholic. Lots of folks know that about him. He is not the only alcoholic caught up in the dramas of the backwoods, but he is the one we know the most about. There is also a drunken judge and some boozy friends. And an ex-wife gone party bananas in Austin Texas along with a teen-aged daughter.

     Pete Snow endeavors to do his job. He checks up on kids and their families. He takes kids away when he must. He does alright with some of those kids and fails drastically with others. He meets up with an irate father by the name of Jeremiah Pearl. Mr. Pearl doesn't cotton to him much at first. He always has his loaded shot gun. 

     Mr. Pearl is a christian of the end-times variety, waiting for money to fail and the antichrist to rise up from the dead and take over America. His apocalyptic thinking is of the extreme sort, very much unlike that of some of my fundamentalist christian buddies who attend church on Sundays and who may at times greet each other with the word "Maranatha" or visibly shake their heads at the evening news.

     Pete Snow has a life that is falling apart when he hears some news from Texas and must take off immediately for Austin. I'm not going to tell you any more of it. Read the book.

sapphoq reviews says: Smith Henderson did an excellent job with Fourth of July Creek, his first novel. The characters were vivid. The plot moved along nicely. I was transported into the story itself. A most excellent book and highly recommended.

Mike O'Connor

Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? And Other Bird Questions You Know You Want to Ask, Mike O'Connor. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010. ebook, 163 pps.

Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me? More Answers to Common and Not-So-Common Questions about Birds and Birding, Mike O'Connor. Boston: Beacon Press, 2013.  e-book, 155 pps.

     Mike O'Connor owns The Bird Watcher's General Store in Orleans, Massachusetts. He was asked to do a column for a local paper. These two books are among the results of that column. The titles-- Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? and Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me? act as clues to the whimsy and the humor enclosed within their pages. The illustrations are also not to be missed.

sapphoq reviews says: I was very pleased with the writing style in Mike O'Connor's books. They were an easy read, yet contained enough new information to keep me reading. If you don't know when or why you should clean out your bird feeders, you owe it to your feathered "friends" to get both of the books. If you don't know why you should not buy mixed seeds, ditto. Even if you do know those things, read the books anyway. Highly recommended for all who like birds and want to know more about them.