Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, Bernd Heinrich. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999 and 2009. e-book, 380 pps. inc. notes, index, afterword.

     I like birds. And trees, abandoned buildings, woods, water, fields, mountains, dogs, cats, and stuff like that. And I like the way that biologist Bernd Heinrich writes. Mind of the Raven is about ravens-- ravens who are quite intelligent and have had a symbiotic relationship with wolves, ravens who are quite charming and funny, ravens who screech loudly for food and do goofy tricks in flight and recognize other individual ravens and some dogs and humans too. 

     I must have seen ravens but I truly do not remember now. I've been to at least one dump in odd hours of the wee morning. I know I've smelt bear. Bears and ravens are said to frequent dumps before the sun rises. So perhaps I've seen them at the dump but I'm not sure. There was an individual I saw hanging on a tree or a telephone wire some years ago. He was a black bird but too large to be a crow. He had a regal stance. And he was alone. I was in a car which was going too fast. He remained a blur. I'm sure he wasn't a crow. Not sure enough for me to comfortably say, "Yes, I've definitely seen a raven."

     I've never been able to climb trees. But Bernd Heinrich can and does climb trees in order to inspect raven nests. I'm jealous of that ability. I'd love to see a raven nest in the wild but if I must climb trees to do so, then I guess I never will. Meanwhile, I will content myself with looking up into the sky in hopes of catching ravens doing aerial tricks. And down on the ground near stands of pines in the woods in hopes of identifying the mutes that are indicative of the presence of raven nests.

     Mind of the Raven takes up where Ravens in Winter left off. The book itself has some delightful photographs and drawings of ravens in various postures and doing various things. Bernd Heinrich has the proper permits to raise ravens. He has an aviary in Vermont and one in western Maine. He has raised ravens, introduced ravens that he has raised to wild ravens, and studied ravens. Although some of the material in the book is not eligible for publication in science journals, all of it is interesting to those of us who like birds in general and corvids in particular.

sapphoq reviews says: I enjoy the writings of Bernd Heinrich. In Mind of the Raven, he relates numerous anecdotes and research studies related to ravens. For those who are looking for more than the basic bird species identification manuals, highly recommended. I was charmed by Bernd Heinrich's ravens and I think you will be also.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Disbelief 101 by Chris Edwards

Disbelief 101: A Young Person's Guide to Atheism, Chris Edwards / S.C. Hitchcock. Tucson AZ: See Sharp Press, 2009.

     Disbelief 101 was written for teens, although adults new to atheism or endeavoring to find clear info on atheism will also benefit from this book. S.C. Hitchcock presents arguments for and against the existence of a god. The first chapter takes a page from various parody religions and presents the Invisible Flying Clown. [The flying spaghetti monster and the invisible pink unicorn bless her holy hooves immediately came to my mind]. 

     Leslie White provided the cartoon at the end of each chapter. They are well-drawn and funny. I was delighted to find the first one, and each subsequent one.

     The rest of the book takes issue with the idea that "atheism is a religion," intelligent design, survivor special-ness, the role of feelings in belief, and religious indoctrination of children.

     Also included is a bibliography.

sapphoq reviews says: It is rather unfortunate that the last chapter of Disbelief 101 takes on religious indoctrination of children as an example of child abuse. This I think is the author's weakest argument. The author states that the teens reading this book ought not to openly rebel against their parents over this. The author may have also been remiss by not encouraging teens to learn about the religion of their family and other religions.  
     It might have been better if the author had pointed out that the United States did not sign the U.N. Rights of a Child document. Therefore, in the U.S.A., it is the parents who have charge of their children's religious or non-religious upbringing.
     I have had the privilege of being close with two sets of parents who are atheists. One set took their brood to the Unitarian Church when questions of "What religion are we?" came up. At that particular congregation, the kids learned about evolution in Sunday School and also about different cultures and religions. The second set of parents said to their kids when confronted with proselytizing peers, "Your mom and dad are atheists. When you are an adult, you can decide those things for yourselves."
     I think there is great value in teaching kids [and those adults who don't know it] the various cognitive fallacies and how to construct a sound argument. Whether children decide to stick with familial religious practices or familial atheism, or pick something else as adults, logical thinking is one skill that serves all of us well.
     Disbelief 101 is a valuable book for those teens who have already decided that they do not believe in any gods. Other teens may feel brow-beaten by the continuous assertions that there is no god. Because I cannot endorse children or teens reading books that their parents do not approve of, recommended with reservations.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spiritual Snake Oil by Chris Edwards

Spiritual Snake Oil: Fads & Fallacies in Pop Culture, Chris Edwards. Tucson AZ: See Sharp Press, 2011. e-book, 148 pps.

     Spiritual Snake Oil is a very thorough and readable book. The author takes on the New Age and much of the silliness [and outright fraud] to be found there. The first chapter explains why debunking is important. The rest of the book takes on individual guru types and their specific "teachings" or "revelations." Many of the sellers of feel-good snake oil use their gross misunderstanding of science and specifically quantum physics to pedal their wares. Vibrations, secret antiquated manuscripts, and a dressing up of the pseudo-christian prosperity gospel are popular. Chris Edwards holds each item to a high standard: what is the evidence for each claim?

sapphoq reviews says: I really liked this book. Spiritual Snake Oil demonstrates the dangers of wrapping crap into palatable formats. Highly recommended. Suitable for teens as well as for adults.

Monday, April 21, 2014

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch. New York: Picador/ St. Martin's Press, 1998, 2011. e-book, 320 pps.

     The story of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is horrifying. Philip Gourevitch made several extended trips there in order to capture what happened before, during, and after the genocide. On page 9, he tells us: The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. [Italics his]. And yet, the rest of the world paid hardly any heed to what was happening there with machetes.

     Those foreign powers who took note screwed things up more. At least one nation supported Hutu Power-- the folks who were doing the massacre-ing. The camps that were set up for the displaced actually housed many of the folks doing the killing, rather than the Tutsis and Tutsi sympathizers who were the targets.

     Rwanda today has many beautiful vistas. The land was terraced in order to help agriculture. Even so, blemishes remain in the form of mass graves and memorials. This year is the twentieth anniversary. The decimation that the people suffered is something to remember forever.

sapphoq reviews says: Philip Gourevitch's book gave me an education that I sorely needed. I had heard very little of the genocide and what I had heard was not accurate. That some churches would call for Rwandans to live side by side in peace-- people whose entire families were wiped out "forgiving their killers" in the "spirit of reconciliation"-- is beyond human comprehension. [The impression left by some church sites on the Interwebs that this is actually happening on a large scale in Rwanda turns out to be a bogus religious fantasy, i.m.o.] 
     Because the world's response was woefully inadequate, justice has been slow in coming or absent. A bunch of people ought to have been tried in World Court for crimes against humanity. Instead, Rwanda set up its own courts. The killers were divided into three tiers of responsibilities. Leaders were put to death. Their seconds were offered life sentences. And the rest perhaps eight years of imprisonment. Even so, some got away. They were aided and abetted by the setting up of the U.N. camps and later "welcomed back" to Rwanda as refugees.
     I've lived long enough to know that justice is no guarantee and that people do get away with horrid crimes. The promise that everything will be made right in some sort of afterlife rings hollow to the survivors who are still confronted with neighbors who pretty much "got away with it." 
     This book will test any lofty "do good" feelings not followed by meaningful action. Highly recommended to thinking human beings.
     Rwanda, I have never visited you [yet?] but I remember and howl with you in your grief. 
     Any mistakes in this review are my own.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Overcoming Your Alcohol, Drug and Recovery Habits by James DeSena

Overcoming Your Alcohol, Drug & Recovery Habits: An Empowering Alternative to A.A. and 12-Step Treatment, James DeSena. Tuscon AZ: See Sharp Press, 2002. e-book, 200 pps.

     James DeSena does not like Alcoholics Anonymous. I don't mind that but some folks will. If the idea that twelve step programs may not be for everyone threatens you, you do not have to cause yourself distress by reading this blog post or by thumbing through the book being reviewed. By all means, quit reading this post now. It's alright. Really.

     One thing that James DeSena does particularly well in Overcoming Your Alcohol, Drug & Recovery Habits is identifying the pattern of treatment, relapse, self-mortification, more treatment... that some addicts get sucked into. This is a problem that the addictions treatment industry is ignoring-- at least in the United States. By and large, twelve step ideology has dominated treatment. And joining one of the twelve step programs may not be the best idea for every single addict that has ever graced the halls of rehab centers across America.

     If someone with a sincere desire to become abstinent is an atheist or a polytheist, the addictions treatment industry does that person a dis-service by insisting that he or she find a capital H Higher capital P Power "of their understanding." The A.A. literature makes it abundantly clear that the Higher Power is male, probably Christian, and part of the patriarchy. Bill Wilson engages in a bait-and-switch technique known to sales people in the Big Book. People are told they can use anything for their Higher Power-- from a dog to a tree to nature. DeSena illustrates how the steps sound when you make your beloved canine your Higher Power. You have to admit your defects of character to your dog and another human being in step five. You have to seek the will of your dog for your life through prayer and meditation in step eleven. Hmmm. Something about that doesn't work. Bill Wilson was a salesman as well as a Methodist. Both of these two factoids show in his writing-- any writing he did that is not plagiarized from the Oxford Group that is.

     James DeSena offers his thoughts on a Higher Power substitute. He calls it your Heightened Perception. From there, he covers the troubling concept of powerlessness, the Parasite, relapse triggers, co-dependency, and true freedom. An appendix provides contact info for alternatives to twelve step meetings.

sapphoq reviews says: James DeSena has written a valuable addition to recovery literature. Although repetitive in spots, the writing was competent and easy-to-understand without being insulting. The one chief fault is his coverage of self-esteem. Self-esteem, properly understood, is indeed valuable to someone seeking abstinence. I suggest that the atheist in particular will find the writings of Nathaniel Branden to be helpful. In spite of inadequate coverage of self-esteem, I liked Overcoming Your Alcohol, Drug & Recovery Habits . Highly recommended to any who have an interest in addictions and addictions treatment as well as to those who are not doing well in a twelve step program.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Mormon Cult

The Mormon Cult: A Former Missionary Reveals the Secrets of Mormon Mind Control, Jack B. Worthy. Tuscon AZ: See Sharp Press, 2008. e-book, 212 pps., inc. glossary and list of recommended reading/viewing.

     Jack B. Worthy grew up in an L.D.S. [Church of Latter Day Saints, Mormon] household in Nebraska. As a young adult, he went off to missionary school in Utah in order to learn Cantonese. He was assigned to Taiwan. Off he went.

     The Mormon Cult covers much more than the memoirs of a young man serving a mission. The book also gives a brief history of Mormonism and illustrates why Worthy considers L.D.S. to be a cult. [There are newer terms but the word "cult" is one that is understood by a higher percentage of people than the newer terms. "Cult" is also the word that is employed throughout the book]. Worthy relates numerous anecdotes about Mormons and L.D.S. Church leaders. A bishop questions children starting at the age of eight about their state of testimony versus their state of sin. A Mormon testimony-- which children are taught very young by their parents-- involves stating that "I know" that the L.D.S. Church is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet of god. At the age of twelve, bishops begin to interview kids about whether or not they masturbate or engage in other sexual practices which are frowned upon. If a child does not know what the words "masturbation" or "oral sex" mean, the bishop helpfully tells the child this during the course of questioning.

     Worthy explains magic underwear-- the symbols on it were borrowed from the Masons; Joseph Smith was a Mason-- and various prohibitions that Mormons are expected to follow. He talks about meetings, discipline, the patriarchy of the L.D.S. church, how kids are taught that their "positive" feelings around church come from "the Holy Spirit," plural marriages, racism, Heavenly Father residing on a "planet" and a lot of other stuff. I was aware of some of the beliefs because I have a casual acquaintance who is an L.D.S. convert along with her family.

    What struck me was the idea that kids are taught that their uplifting feelings around the L.D.S. religion come from "the Holy Spirit." That some ex-Mormons have to learn that similar feelings can derive from other more ordinary experiences was quite profound.

     Worthy's description of the cycle of guilt was interesting to me. When he was able to convince people to allow him and a fellow missionary to return to talk to them, that was a good thing which meant that his faith was keen enough for "the Holy Spirit" to work through him. When rejections happened [far more often than not], then Jack's lack of faith or character defects [or some un-confessed sin] was implicated. This cycle of guilt was also evident in other places.

     Worthy finally caught on that the door-to-door tracting was more of a sales pitch than any workings of a god or spirit. This bit of awareness started new thinking. Yes he was dis-fellowshipped and subsequently kicked out. Unlike some reviewers, I do not believe that The Mormon Cult was written because of a desire for fame based on sensationalism or due to animosity.

sapphoq reviews says: L.D.S. folks who are not considering whether or not they should remain in the fold will not like this book-- if they dare to read it before leaving negative reviews. The Mormon Cult is a valuable addition to literature which describes the process of how individual people have lost their religion. A pithy writing style sets this particular story above the rest. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock

The Book of Lies, Mary Horlock. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011. e-book, 332 pps. inc. explanatory notes and author interview.

     Cat Rozier lives on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. She has a bestie who is a bit of a bully. Cat feels forced to proclaim that a teacher put the make on her. Cat's dad is dead and she finds a history left by an uncle in his study. A young man that she fancies has had a horrific accident. He returns to Guernsey changed.

sapphoq reviews says: Mary Horlock combines historical fiction with a modern day murder tale flawlessly. The Book of Lies utilizes two voices in the telling of the tale-- Cat Rozier and a dead uncle who had lived during the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands. The backdrop of life on a small island adds immensely to the story as it unfolds. Absolutely highly recommended.

The Youngest Bishop in England by Robert Bridgstock

The Youngest Bishop in England: Beneath the Surface of Mormonism, Robert Bridgstock. Tuscon AZ: See Sharp Press, 2014. e-book, 218 pps.

Robert Bridgstock, a convert to Mormonism with a pretty young wife who was raised in the religion, quickly rises through the ranks. Unfortunately, he has questions and concerns. The reigning bishops don't like that sort of thing. His wife dies too young and he is kicked out of the L.D.S. fold.

sapphoq reviews says: The rest of the book consists of Robert Bridgstock's thoughts on his experience and on Mormon theology. He becomes a different sort of Christian but acknowledges that those who abandon their faith for atheism are especially brave. Although atheist, I liked this book. Bridgstock raises some excellent concerns about the actions of those who are followers of Christ in an institutional setting which is jaded and based on the "revelations" of a fellow who was a bit of a flim-flam artist. L.D.S. folks will take exception to the evidence that the writing that Joseph Smith actually "found" was an Egyptian funerary formulary. Christians will enjoy this book. Highly recommended.

Let's Drink to the Dead by Simon Bestwick

* may trigger *

Let's Drink to the Dead: More Stories of the Faceless, Simon Bestwick. Oxford UK: Solaris/ Rebellion Publishing Ltd., 2010. e-book, 81 pps.

     A teen makes her way to a deserted train station to sleep after narrowing avoiding calamity with a horny trucker. The woods are shadowy and menacing. An old fellow who lives in a deserted hospital offers her hospitality.

     Children are being sexually abused and sometimes sold to a sinister man. He arrives on a train. There is a farmhouse where the exchange is made. A young man who had previously been a victim seeks redemption. 

     A woman has the Sight and a friend that she trusts. A ghost places upon her the task of revenge.

sapphoq reviews says: Child sexual abuse and children being sold to predators are the stuff of horror in real life. In Simon Bestwick's capable hands, they become horror multiplied. Highly recommended.

Creation News by John Handrahan

Creation News, John Handrahan. self-published/ Smashwords, 2012. e-book, 235 pps.

     A ship goes down. The folks on it wind up on an island near the Bermuda Triangle. Then the book gets silly with a talking rabbit and other such nonsense. The moral is quickly obscured by the telling of the tale.

sapphoq reviews says: This story is a perfect example of how not to write a book. Creation News could have been an excellent Christian allegory. The premise was sound. Lack of writing skill and lack of a skilled editor blurred the message behind the story. Not recommended.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Don't Call Me Brother by Austin Miles

Don't Call Me Brother: A Ringmaster's Escape from the Pentecostal Church, Austin Miles. Buffalo NY: Prometheus Books, 1989. hard cover, 331 pps., inc. concordance.

     Austin Miles worked his way up in the circus world. He started off as a clown and eventually become ringmaster. He got married and had a daughter. A co-worker turned him on to Jesus. He became born-again and joined the Assemblies of God [Church]. He fell into a healing sort of ministry part-time, speaking at churches and events all over the country. Against the wishes of his unsaved wife, he quit the circus in order to minister full-time. His daughter also became a born again Christian and attended an Assembly of God near where the family had an apartment.

     But all was not well for Austin. He had some run-ins with some higher ups in the A.G. He had some disagreements with some other folks as well. His wife left him, emptying the apartment of furniture and took their daughter with her. He discovered a well-known televangelist romping in a room one night naked with a couple other people of the same gender. Austin Miles began to see the Assemblies of God as a business. He became disillusioned with the actions of other Christians. He left the church in hopes of at least saving his faith.

sapphoq reviews says: I was not aware that Jim Jones [mass suicide, Guyana] had been an Assemblies of God minister until reading this book. Some people will say that any attack on "God's people" [ministers, churches, organizations] is "the work of the devil." It seems to me that much of what is talked about in Don't Call Me Brother is the work of men, not any lower power.
     The last chapter of the book is where Austin Miles states what he thinks is wrong with Christianity today and what he thinks ought to be done about it. 
     I found this book to be enlightening, albeit dry in a few places. Atheists might object that this story is "not atheistic enough." Some Christians will deny much of the stuff in Don't Call Me Brother. Others will acknowledge the truth of it and perhaps work to change it. Recommended.

Friday, April 11, 2014

All He Saw Was The Girl by Peter Leonard

All He Saw Was The Girl, Peter Leonard. Stamford Ct: The Story Plant, 2011. e-book, 250 pps. inc. an excerpt from another book.

     Chip [the rich kid] and McCabe [not rich] are Americans who are attending college in Italy. They wind up in an Italian prison. McCabe is the outspoken one who gets Chip's property back from a sleazy character. First mistake. They get out. A picture of Chip and a picture of McCabe appear in the newspaper with their names inverted.

     Then there is a foxy woman who perhaps becomes far more trouble than she is worth, a couple of kidnappings, car chases, and general chaos.

     Ray from Detroit in the Secret Service comes home to find his wife Sharon up and left him. He tears off to Italy in hopes of finding her and her illicit lover. He finds more than he bargains for.

     The two story-lines converge and some loose ends are tied up. Amusing and well-worth the time to read it.

sapphoq reviews says: A couple of steamy sex scenes so not good for sub-adults or the squeamish. [I found them tastefully done myself]. Excellent book with some humor and lots of action. Well done and highly recommended.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David M. Henley

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr, Henley, David M. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. e-book, 253 pps.

     In the remnants of a world with a controlling government that forbids psi or any sort of occult gifts is a sort of child. He is only eight years old, human perhaps, but very powerful. Some children are able to hide their special abilities and some adults do also. If caught, they are "masked" and then eventually banished to a set of islands, out of the sight of everyone else. A select few of the adults are recruited to serve on one of the teams that seek out and bring into custody others who have psi abilities.

     Some of the special people are hiding in pockets of resistance on one of the mainlands. Perhaps they are plotting some sort of revolution. Perhaps Pierre Jnr will lead them on. Or perhaps not.

sapphoq reviews says: This book moved a bit slowly for me. I wanted more blood and guts. I did like the premise though and I also liked the ending. Recommended.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Reimagining Church by Frank Viola

Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola. Colorado Springs: Cook, David C., 2012. e-book, 251 pps.

     Frank Viola is a well-known name among those within the house church movement [H.C.M.]. In the preface of Reimagining Church, he says that he left the institutional church [I.C.] in 1988. He refers to:
          "...the tyranny of the status quo...[and] oppressive 
           leadership that Jesus Christ can be made                  central and supreme in His church again." (p. 9)

     Reimagining Church is composed of two parts, fifteen chapters, an appendix, an extensive bibliography, notes, and a bio. At the end of each chapter under the heading of "Questions That Must Be Faced" are several questions which the reader may choose to answer. The problem with the questions is that the answers seem to me to be self-evident. In other words, the reader is led to accept the premise of the chapter just read or asked to share on experiences which back-up the suppositions of the chapter. Leading phrases such as "Do we really have a spiritual and biblical...?" and "Does it bother you that...?" and "Are we not obligated by Scripture to...?" are hardly examples of open-ended questions. I found the questions to be annoying.

     Viola readily admits that there are problems within home churches. He states that the early Christians also had problems within their home churches. He says all of the home churches in one community were known by the name of the town. He offers countless bible verses and Greek words to back up his theorems.

     I have not read Viola's other books which may include more history behind the home church movement. Criticisms of the H.C.M. on the Internet link it or parts of it to the Third Wave, Toronto Airport Revival, dominionism, and the gospel of accommodation.

sapphoq reviews says: One of the criticisms frequently found on the web is the idea that some percentage of folks in the H.C.M. are somehow antagonistic or against discipline and correction because the roles of pastors, elders, and deacons are changed or rotating or absent. In the preface, Frank Viola references:

          "...the tyranny of the status quo...[and] oppressive 
           leadership that Jesus Christ can be made                  central and supreme in His church again." (p. 9)

     Yes I know I quoted the same passage early on in my review but it did stand out to me.

     As an atheist with a pagan "soul," I have not attended any H.C.M. nor am I likely to. At first Reimagining Church was attractive to me precisely because of the claim of doing church in the manner of the early christians. Then my rational thinking kicked in.

     I have had the misfortune of stumbling upon several "pagan circles" which purported not to have any set "leader." They were appealing to the public precisely because they accommodated anyone's beliefs-- no matter how whacked out those beliefs might be. You believe that you channel aliens? No problem. Want to show up drunk and then puke on the carpet in the middle of the place? Hey, welcome. And the utmost "pagan sin" of mixing gods and goddesses from a variety of pantheons along with the same silly chant "Come to us. Come to us. Come to us." was mind-numbing but soothing in its rhythms. 

     It's nice (I guess) that Frank Viola offers seminars and instruction to folks who want to do the home church/organic christianity thing. He claims that people are not ready or don't know how to make the idea work if they are not trained. I wasn't impressed.

     The thing is that in any group, natural leaders will emerge when leaders [or pastors etc.] are not appointed. I found the idea that there are no authorities in the H.C.M. to be unbelievable. While there is certainly evidence that cults or cult-like or controlling situations can evolve out of I.C.s, I maintain that the personal mysticism that H.C.M.s foster [even if "based" upon the New Testament, or justified by verses cherry-picked from the N.T.] is fertile ground for a gospel of accommodation and worse. The movement is perhaps too much in its infancy to tell what will come of it in the long-term. Yet to me, the indicators are there. Isolated bodies of people, particularly those who are perceived of as Other, tend to actions which can be detrimental to the whole of society. Here I am thinking of various christian sects involved with communal living. There is a certain risk involved with being pioneers. Frank Viola claims that heresies are quickly routed out of home churches. I am not quite certain that it is that easy. Feelings are not facts. Relying on feelings alone-- even claims of "feeling" the movement of the Holy Spirit-- is dangerous. Anyone who claims special knowledge is suspect to my way of thinking. And this is true of folks in home church movements as well as "New Age" white lighters. [I am not a fan of the New Agers but that is subject for another blog post some other time perhaps].

     Isolated reports that Starhawk [a witch who founded Reclaiming] is involved with one such home church group which has become ecumenical ought to be disturbing to any christian. In an "institutional" church, there is usually a check and balance system in place. Excesses are [usually] avoided. Pastors and others who stray off the christian path can be counseled on their error and brought back into the fold. The Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggert come to my brain here along with Ted Haggert. [Ted Haggert now subscribes to the third wave].

     I ended up not liking Reimagining Church. Although the writing was competent, I cannot recommend this book. Those who are curious about the H.C.M. who can get through the quotes of rather [I found to be] stuffy theologian-types may enjoy this book. I didn't, for reasons that had very little to do with my atheism. Not really recommended.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Snow in August by Pete Hamill

Snow in August, Pete Hamill. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1997 and 1999. e-book, 294 pps.

     Michael Devlin is an eleven year old boy who lives in Brooklyn with his mum. His da died in the war. He is being raised Roman Catholic. He is crazy about baseball and comic books. He has an active imagination which serves him well. The novel opens around Christmas time in 1946.

     Michael has a chance encounter during a blizzard with a rabbi on his way to church to serve as an altar boy. This encounter changes his life.

     There are swears in this book, a few f-bombs. Stuff that kids might say to each other. And some violence. Crooked cops. These things shape Michael.

     There is blatant racism directed at a Jewish shopkeeper in the neighborhood and at Jackie Robinson-- the first black man to play in the major leagues.

     There is magic in the book also. Michael learns Yiddish and the rabbi learns English. They become friends, bonded by heartbreak and situations out of their control.

     Nothing stays the same. Michael is changed by friendship and magic. He is transformed much as a fictional golem is transformed from mud into something profound and alive..

sapphoq reviews says: Pete Hamill invokes the feel of Brooklyn from the first words of this novel until the last. I was transported to a different time. Snow in August is most excellent and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire by Rowland Rowling

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire, Rowland Rowling. ?self-published?: Philtre Libre or Abe Lincoln Vampire Productions, 2010 and 2012. e-book, 171 pps.

This particular book reads like a very stuffy and boring history book. The premise that Abe Lincoln was a blood-sucker could have led to much creativity. Instead, not.

The only part that I appreciated was that the blood of Mexicans was spicier than the blood of other peoples.

sapphoq reviews says: This might be a book to give to a teen as a sneaky way to get him or her to read some history-- providing that the teen understands that we have no historical evidence that Lincoln liked to drink blood or was capable of ripping the necks off of people who displeased him. 

A sharp disappointment. Not recommended. Even history buffs will fail to "appreciate" this rendering of Lincoln. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Crazy by Roberta Carly Redford

Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, Roberta Carly Redford. [self-published],, 2011. e-book, 287 pps.

     Bruno Bettelheim [there is some disagreement over whether or not he was actually qualified as any sort of doctor] was a name I'd heard of many years ago. I remember slogging my way through a book written by him called "Love is Not Enough" about the residential facility that he founded and ran for some years in Chicago. He was reputedly an expert on autistic kids when folks still believed that "refrigerator moms"-- cold and frigid women incapable of giving off human warmth or maternal affection-- were responsible for the incubation of autism in their offspring.

     From Crazy, I learned that-- after his suicide and subsequent un-silencing of the voices of past child and teen residents of O.S. [Orthogenic School]-- his version of "love"certainly wasn't enough. O.S. kids were beaten by Bruno Bettelheim [and by some staffers] allegedly for their own good. They were also subject to unwanted touching and random crazy outbursts by the man who appeared to be a giant teddy bear to those of us who were [forced to be, in my case] readers of his books.

     In at least one other review, the author Roberta Carly Redford was described as being so angry that her anger detracted from her message. It is unfortunate that this current society appears to expect that survivors will be grateful and good. I don't hold her anger against her. The anger is a necessary part of healing.

     Roberta Carly Redford was dumped at O.S. by her adoptive parents. She used the phrase "identified problem" in Crazy. That is a phrase which I understand. One person in the family is forced into the role of the "identified problem" and thus any sort of mental hell treatment or therapy is directed at that one person as being the one person who is the primary cause of familial dysfunction, or who is so different that he or she does not fit into their "normal, average, good" family and thus ought to be shipped off to be fixed or changed. No return until the crazy behavior is mitigated.

     Fortunately, Bruno Bettelheim did not use psychiatric drugs on his charges. [Perhaps the writing of scripts would have been problematic, I do not know]. Psych drugs are no picnic and back in the days when Bettelheim was alive, they had an even wider range of wicked side effects.

sapphoq reviews says: Roberta Carly Redford has written a powerful memoir of her seven years at O.S. These seven years are years that she cannot get back. After her time at the place, she required therapy to help her through her original issues plus those that she acquired while under Bettelheim's "therapeutic milieu" *cough, cough*. I believe her. I wish her the very best. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Gone to the Crazies by Alison Weaver

Gone to the Crazies: A Memoir, Alison Weaver. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2007, 2008.  241 pps.

     Alison Weaver is an only child. She came from an affluent family that lived in Manhattan and also spent time at their second home in Connecticut. She went to an expensive private school.

     Things changed and the Weavers arranged to have their daughter escorted to Cascade School in Whitmore, California.

     Weaver has mixed emotions about that time in her life. Cascade School [now closed] was founded by a former "counselor" of Cedu in Florida. Once Cedu became official, Mel Wasserman had to dump some of the original staffers. They went out into the world, spreading the philosophy and methods employed at Cedu. Some of the methods were borrowed directly from Synanon-- a cultish long-term residential drug "treatment" program. The rest of the methods appear to have been cobbled together from sources which included primal scream therapy. The result at Cascade School was rather bad education but substantial group "therapy" conducted by people who were not qualified to do so.

     Cascade used the vocabulary that Cedu facilities used [] along with nine special forums called "profeets" [shades of K. Gibran, EST, The Forum, and Life Spring] which the kids were required to attend and participate in before "graduation." In other "rap" or group sessions, the kids were required to scream, yell, and cry on demand.

     Although the Cedu facilities officially went bankrupt in 2004 or 2005, indications are that a few of them may be back in operation and are being watched by folks who monitor troubled teen torture industries and cult-like programs.

     Alison Weaver had some hard times after getting out of Cascade School. She did not join any twelve step program but reports that she no longer takes street drugs and that having a singular glass of wine is no cause for her to panic these days.

sapphoq reviews says: Alison Weaver's memoir was an easy and engrossing read. I found her recollection of her feelings as a child and pre-teen to be entirely believable. [Some reviewers found them to be canned]. Although towards the end of the book, the author reveals Cascade School's connection with Cedu it was apparent that she did not know the history behind the crap she endured at the time that she was going through it. I'm glad that she got out alive. Although she is not fond of the internet survivor boards, Alison Weaver has managed to survive and even thrive in spite of her experiences at Cascade School. Recommended as a cautionary tale to parents who are considering "educational consultant services" for their "troubled teen." Old hippies and those who are involved with protesting against such institutional abuse may also like this one.

p.s. I too believe that Alison's word should have been power.