Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Friday, May 22, 2015

Braden's Story by Mason Dodd

Title: Braden's Story
Author: Mason Dodd
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WORTHY!

Braden is thirteen and being hit with the growing realization that he's gay. His family, highly religious and very fundamentalist, isn't going to like this one bit. This story details how Braden comes to terms with his true nature and his feelings, and how he copes or fails to do so, with the reactions of others. I started out liking the story, but quickly grew tired of the writing style and the endless grammatical and spelling errors, some of which I list on my blog. No matter how much I might want to support books like this one, I cannot in good faith recommend this particular story.

The errors, in what is a story badly in need of an editor, were numerous. In addition, there were other issues, such as the fact that these are very religious folk, yet the language the younger ones employ seems highly unlikely at best, and their disrespect for adults isn't believable given their background. Just be warned that if you're tempted to pick this up thinking it's a religious or spiritual book, it's really not!

Some of these problems with this book could have been caught with a good spell-checker while others, such as the use of 'alter' in place of 'altar', and 'apart' in place of 'a part', can only be caught by a good editor or better beta readers.

"...But is there someone your are interested in, or...?
"...felt that I was apart of something important" should be "...felt that I was a part of something important"
"... wedding alter..." should be "... wedding altar..." or preferably just "altar".
"... get those handless stuck on..." should be "... get those handles stuck on..."
"But is there someone your are interested in, or." Should be " But is there someone you are interested in, or.". I didn't get the hanging 'or' at the end, but after reading this form of speech used frequently, I decided that this was simply a figure of speech.
"Okay, you weren't listing in Mr. Miller's class at all." should be "Okay, you weren't listening in Mr. Miller's class at all."
" discuss the situation with Tom and is acceptance of gays..."
"...Mum was cooking in the kitchen when I got home..." Unintentionally humorous - Braden's family are cannibals - and incestuous ones, too!
" does that fit inline with..." should be " does that fit in line with..." (the lack of a space in "inline" changes the meaning)

Here's one example of the inconsistent use of bad language:

His goddamn smile, it was so cute and had this effect on me. I know, I know, it was only a goshdang smile...

This was a thought expressed by the narrator, who has been raised in a highly religious family, so it's hardly likely he would say "goddamn" and just plain weird that he says that and immediately follows it with "goshdang" so it didn't sound authentic to me at all. I know that even religious people cuss, and this isn't confined to adults, but the language felt unnatural for the context, and it was way overdone, as though the author was using it purely for its shock value rather than because it was the natural argot of these characters.

I don't care if people cuss in stories, because they cuss in real life, so in general terms it's inauthentic not to have them use bad language from time to time, but it needs to be authentic to the situation in which it's used, or to the people into whose mouths these words are placed.

There really are people who come down hard on gays and gay marriage, acting under the religious delusion that being gay is a sinful choice which calls for a cure. They're morons. Throughout history, human attempts at "curing" nature have been consistently disastrous, and this one will be too. People who delight in having anal sex with their wife or girlfriend irrationally think there is something wrong with two guys enjoying the same thing with each other. People who preach 'love thy neighbor' out of one side of their mouth have no problem stirring up resentment and hatred against people who only want to be allowed to love and marry one another. It's not only hypocritical, it's sick.

The problem for the big three monotheistic religions in accommodating this however, lies in the ignorant words of old men who specifically prohibited homosexual relations in the Old (men) Testament - only between men, however! The OT has nothing to say about lesbianism! People mistakenly think that Queen Victoria did not believe that lesbianism existed, which is why it never was made illegal in England, but this belief is a myth. It was never mentioned in Victorian statutes for the same reason it was never mentioned in the OT. Old white men couldn't have cared tuppence about women's sexuality. It wasn't even considered that they had any. Only male homosexuality threatened these geezers, and why on Earth would women be attracted to each other when there were so many manly men around?!

So the problem for those who adhere to these religions is that the Bible does expressly prohibit it. This means they either have to dispense with the blind edicts of ignorant old men, or they have to dispense with homosexuals, and they're far too cowardly and insecure to do the former, so it's gays who suffer.

Some of the other things which these young teens were depicted as saying were bizarre too. At one point for example, Mia, who is Braden's best friend, says to him "Gimme a break, Bray Bray" which sounded so babyish that it brought me right out of suspension of disbelief. These teens are also using bad language in church when they're sitting close-by grown-ups, which struck me as stupid and unrealistic.

I didn't have a problem with the religious people cussing, but for kids to use such bad language within earshot of their parents and family friends struck me as very unrealistic and spoke poorly of the kids' judgment. This was a bad impression to give because it fuels an argument that Braden's sexuality was also an example of poor judgment rather than his nature, which is nonsensical, but it's a serious mistake to write in a way which puts ammunition into the hands of your detractors, even if that ammo is a pile of duds.

There was a lot of texting described, too which felt way overdone to me. Invariably, depicting texts fails in YA stories. It seems like the writer is trying far too hard to be hip and 'authentically teen', and it just makes me want to skip it, especially since the bulk of it really conveys nothing of value and does little to move the story. A simple brief sentence describing the text is far more effective than a whole paragraph of text-onics.

There was a certain naiveté to this story. It felt a bit like reading fan fiction, or reading a first draft by a young author, and usually this will turn me off a story. In the case, the simplistic tone actually tended to lend it some authenticity. First person PoV stories are usually appallingly unrealistic. I am not remotely a first person fan. Far from rendering the story more immediate and accessible, it typically makes it seem irritatingly false and self-centered to me. This one wasn't, but the value of this was lost amidst all the other issues.

The novel was pretty much completely lacking in any really descriptive prose. It was mostly about movement between one place and another, and the conversations which took place between the teens - chats which were in serious danger of losing the reader because very few of the speeches were ascribed to a specific speaker. It was mostly a list of spoken text with insufficient attribution to give the reader a decent idea of who was saying what. There was almost nothing to set atmosphere or to describe the surroundings, not even sketchily. It made the story seem rootless in many ways, like it wasn't actually happening in real life but in some ghostly existence divorced from the real world, which is also a mistake for a novel of this type, which really begs to be solidly grounded in reality.

In the final analysis, I can't recommend this, but if you happen to like it, there is a companion novel titled Aaron's story. I can't say if these two are tied together in any way.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Egg by Andy Weir

Title: The Egg
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Audible Studios
Rating: WORTHY!

This is a really short story available free on-line, and also in audio form. I recommend it. It's rather hard to review though, without telling the whole story, because it is so short.

I'm not even remotely religious, so I have no skin in the game of who has the best religion; they're all clueless, and that's the joy of this story because it makes more sense than any of the other religions out there! Not that that makes it true. It's fiction after all.

The basic plot is that a guy dies and meets god, and gets an education as to how life and death really works! Of course, ultimately the story still makes no sense, but it's original and fun, and it's a quick easy read, so what's not to like?

I think those who reviewed this negatively either have a religious axe to grind or they're taking fiction way too seriously! It's just a story and a short one at that. I recommend it. Even if you hate it, you've lost only five minutes of your life and you have something new to think about to boot. If you don't like it, go ahead and write a parody of it and have some fun!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Story of Buddha by Hisashi Ōta

Title: The Story of Buddha
Author: Hisashi Ōta (no website found)
Publisher: Ichimannendo Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

Translated (and I have no idea whatsoever how accurately!) by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

This book was pretty cool. It was interesting, informative, very cleanly and competently drawn in gray scale line drawings and delivered the facts as they’re known.

I’m an atheist, and while I don’t care what people choose to believe for themselves ( it’s their business after all), I am not a fan of organized religion, and I’m an implacable foe of religions trying to dictate to the rest of us how we should live our lives.

Even a religion as ostensibly benign and pacifistic as Buddhism hasn’t won me over, because for me, at its roots, it has no more to offer than does any other religion, so I’m a woodist! Religions are all uniformly making claims they cannot support and claiming knowledge they do not have. None of them is standing on any sort of realistically supported foundation. I don’t trust a one of them because they’re inherently flawed in that they offer power to those who are willing to believe (or fake a belief in) things for which there is neither rationale, nor scientific evidence.

Setting up any organization, and particularly one which can grow to be powerful, based on blind belief is a recipe for disaster and abuse, and we’ve seen how this works out. We’ve seen it repeatedly throughout history and not one of today’s religions has learned a thing from the glaring flaws of past incarnations or versions of these vacuous cults.

None of these faiths can claim any handle on real or useful knowledge of gods, or of any after-life, or any of the stuff they claim to have any insight into. They cannot offer any individual anything more than can simple rational thought. The story of Buddha, though, is interesting, and not of the usual kind. Usually prophets, avatars and messiahs come from lowly backgrounds and can rise from there to positions of power and fame. The Buddha traveled in the opposite direction, starting out as a prince, and descending to a lowly position.

This story is so old now that it’s impossible to know how much of it, if any, is true, but it is related faithfully and accessibly here for anyone interested. My favorable rating is not to be construed as acceptance of any of this story, but of how well it’s told and how interesting it is (for me!).

It seems to be accepted that Gautama Buddha, aka Siddhartha Gautama, aka Shakyamuni (‘shake yer money’ is a great name for most religious leaders isn’t it?!) actually lived. When he lived is debatable. It seems to have been either around 400BC, or around 560BC give or take a decade or two. He’s considered to be nearly contemporary with the founding of Jainism.

Just as with the founder of Christianity, there are no contemporary written records of his existence – we learn of him through records dating after his death, and it’s on these legends and stories that this modern retelling is based. While I recommend this as a great way to get a quick and easy introduction to his life, please understand that this is not the same a recommending Buddhism as a realistic approach to living one’s life – a recommendation which I don’t make.

My problems with Buddha’s view of life is that it’s so negative. He’s obsessed with aging and suffering, and with disease and dying, and in his obsession, he misses all that life has to offer. Buddha was a deadbeat dad; he abandoned his wife and child, which is an appalling thing to do, and almost as badly, he abandons his position. Normally I would not support royalty, which is largely an unjustifiable parasite on any society which tolerates them, but in this case, he seemed (from the stories) to be enlightened even before he became ‘enlightened’.

If he had stayed in his position and became king, then how much good could he have done for everyone? The very suffering and disease which ironically took over his own life could have been at the very least ameliorated if he had used his position of power to help people. He could have done this and also sought enlightenment, yet he chose – if this story is to be believed – to run from it in a most cowardly fashion, and make it all about him instead of about others. That is the biggest indictment against him and makes him decidedly unworthy of founding a religion, doesn’t it?

That said, I do recommend this if you’re interested in learning a bit about other religions. That’s definitely a body of knowledge of which the USA population could certainly avail itself to its betterment, and this does it without getting into any boring detail!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen

Title: The Wicked + The Divine
Author: Kieron Gillen
Publisher: Tim Nolen
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

Artwork by Jamie McKelvie (website worth a visit - I love the opening page (as of today's date the girl on the telephone pole)
Coloring by Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles (another amusing website - as of today's date, Empire fighter craft versus a witch on a broom?)

This is an amazingly original story about gods and humans. Note that this is a compendium volume featuring the first five issues. I love that it was subtitled "The Faust Act"! Anyway, these gods are reincarnated in young human bodies every ninety years, but they only live for two years before the human body dies and they go dark again. They don’t know when they will be reincarnated because not all of them are incarnate at once. The gods are treated like celebrities - music and movie stars. They hold concerts and the younger generation flocks to see them

I love that Luci (guess what that's short for!) was female. She was by far the most complex and intriguing character, especially when she was arrested for exploding the heads of two people who were firing automatic rifles into her apartment - the problem is that during her trial, the judge's head also explodes in a similar fashion, and she's immediately imprisoned.

A girl whom Luci earlier befriended now takes up her cause, and seems to be the only person interested in doing so. None of the other gods seem to care. The conversations between these two, and between Luci and a blogger-journalist are fascinating. The fun really ramps up though, when Luci loses patience and breaks out of jail.

One problem I had with this graphic novel was that on some pages, the text was rendered in such a tiny font that it was really hard to read, even in a full-screen Adobe Digital Editions reader ebook. Fortunately it wasn't that many pages, so it wasn't a huge issue. Other than that, the artwork, coloring, and lettering were exemplary: beautiful, bright, brilliantly colorful, clean and sharp - and really eye-catching. It was a joy to see as well as to read. I was spoiled for choice in trying to narrow it down to my usual two or three samples that I post on my blog, so I tried somehtign brand new (for me!) this time and put all my faovrites into a GIF. This is the first time I tried this, so I hope it works OK.

I read some other reviews after I wrote mine, and I noticed that some people were confused by this graphic novel. It really isn’t confusing at all, but I grant that it does take a while to get into it. Other reviewers bemoaned the fact that they didn’t have enough background on the gods: why do they come, why do they have to die? The god who started it all, Ananke made it quite clear why they come and what they want: they want to be adored, but these reviewers were right in one regard: it didn’t explain why the visit was confined to only two years. Maybe it’s explained later in the series (this compendium covered only the first five volumes and had a great "ending"). I'm guessing it’s because they don’t want to devalue the currency! Or maybe the presence of a god in a mortal body burns it up really fast. A better question is why they need the physical body.

I recommend this for a really good read, and for an original story, and for something which was truly creative, imaginative, and inventive. This is everything a really great comic should be.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Henni by Miss Lasko-Gross

Title: Henni
Author: Miss Lasko-Gross
Publisher: Z2 Comics
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

For reasons which really rather escape me, I fell in love with Henni Hogarthe from the first few panels, where we find her chasing a dragonfly and excitedly calling her father over to share in her discoveries and excitement. Henni is a cat-person - not a cat lover, but a person who is a cat - or at least very cat-like! She lives on another world where religion is insane and cruelly dominant - not very different from Earth when you get right down to it.

The artwork in this graphic novel is simplistic, but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. The coloring is also simple, but it’s perfect. The drawings are clean and focused, and overall the effect is really pleasing, very artistic, and they're another reason why I quickly warmed to this story.

Told in several episodes, the story hits us almost immediately with the injustice perpetrated upon a society where one small group of privileged individuals gets to dictate what reality is and how people should behave. Her first experience is her father being hauled away as a heretic, and her mother doesn't even shed a tear for this despicable unbeliever she has found in her home.

Henni's next revelation about religion is that the priesthood lies and is corrupt. No surprises there! Periodically, food has to be taken as to the church as an offering, and Henni discovers that these treats are nothing more than disguises to hide bribes which in turn sway the priesthood into acting favorably towards marriage proposals for those who submit sufficient cash. Even Henni's own mother sends bribes.

Henni is eventually kicked out of her village for trespassing on a holy site which has an unearned reputation, and she has to find a life elsewhere. Branded (quite literally) and with no possessions other than the fur on her back, she discovers that her new home is hardly an improvement. People think she's primitive because she wears no clothes. She ends up in trouble there, too, but she's smarter and more cunning now, and she talks her way out of a death sentence, getting herself banished from this village as well. Where will she end up? I’d really like to find out in the next volume because this one ends in a most stirring and intriguing way.

I loved this intelligent and engrossing story, and its fearlessness in exposing ignorance and bigotry championed as religion and faith. The main character is one which really spoke to me - again for reasons I can’t reliably articulate. I felt sorry for her, yes, but I also admired her resilience and persistence. It’s really nice to find stories with truly strong female character, and Henni is one if I ever saw one. Bring on volume two!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley

Title: Florence of Arabia
Author: Christopher Buckley
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WARTY!

Buckley wrote the novel which gave rise to the movie of the same name Thank You For Smoking which starred Aaron Eckhart and which I found amusing. It was one more reason to pick up this novel, the first being: how can you not like one with a title like this? Well it turns out that this novel failed to keep its promise which is no doubt why it's likely to be made into a movie.

Florence's real name is Firenze Farfaletti, an American of Italian descent who started using the Anglicized version of her name after too much teasing at school. In later years, she married a minor royal figure of the ruling family of Wasabia (yes, some of the names and other items are quite amusing). Florence discovered what a huge mistake that was, and she literally escaped his clutches to move back to the US, where she eventually wound-up working for the State Department.

After a traumatic encounter with an old friend, another bride of a prince, who she couldn't help and who was subsequently beheaded, Florence comes up with an outrageous scheme to liberate Islamic womanhood, and gets unexpected government backing in the form of a guy she thinks works for the CIA.

She refers to him as Uncle Sam, and he loads her up with massive volumes of cash. She uses this to fund her scheme, beginning with the recruitment of her team: a gay friend from the State Department, a James Bond style ex-marine, and a PR guy who has the morals of an alligator, and who took his tutelage from Nick Naylor, the morally-challenged protagonist of Thank You For Smoking.

Florence sweet-talks the Emir of Matar (which borders Wasabia) into allowing her to approach his wife on the topic of setting up a TV station, and she also then sweet-talks Laila, the wife of the Emir (and first lady), into running the TV station. They start transmitting rather slapstick and demeaning shows across the Middle East. In reality, no Arab nation would even allow this kind of condescending nonsense, yet here we're expected to accept that it causes a sensation and starts making money for the Emir from advertising. While i could see where Buckley was going here, I found this portion truly amateurish.

The Sheika is thrilled because it gives her a chance to get back at her husband who is constantly running off to his harem and he's thrilled because he's becoming ever more rich, yet things start going badly very quickly, and given the content it's hardly surprising. The neighboring nation denounces the TV transmissions. The news reader, a young woman, is stoned to death one day, and the Emir is killed in a coup.

This problem arises when the Emir's brother, who has been nothing but a playboy, is talked (by the French, who supply him with his Formula One race cars) into making a power-play for the throne. Civil disorder starts to brew, the marine ends up shooting someone in self-defense, a bomb explodes downtown, and the mullahs are stirred up by more French moolah into becoming vocal about the Emir's lifestyle. Oh and the ayatollah of the neighboring fundamentalist nation of Wasabia issues a fatwa on the westerners involved in producing the TV show.

The Emir's bother comes to power, yet despite all we've been told about his newly-found religious fanaticism, he fails to dispatch Florence despite having her in one of his jails for some time. Instead, she's inexplicably freed.

There were some real moments of laugh-out-loud humor in this novel, but for the most part it was plodding, juvenile, amateur, and worse: not very funny or very entertaining. I just kept reading wanting it to be over so I could go read something more interesting. When I put it down I didn't want to pick it up again and I found no reason for the story to drag on as long as it did.

Most of the humor simply wasn't that great, and this conceited fiction of having, once again, the white American come in and save the wee cute colored people (substitute which particular skin shade/ethnic region you wish here) from themselves simply wasn't funny at all. I can't recommend this one at all.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Waking Up by Sam Harris

Title: Waking Up
Author: Sam Harris
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: WORTHY!

I'm a huge fan of Sam Harris's writing, but I was not impressed by this effort when I first began reading it. He is the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, and Lying, all of which I've read and enjoyed, but this one initially imbued me with the feeling that I wasn't going to end up with a worthwhile take-home message. Having finished it, I still feel like that, but I was impressed by the chapters that came after chapter one. I found them fascinating, and this is why I think this is a worthy read.

This is subtitled "A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" yet there are critics who quite evidently have paid no attention to Harris's explanation of what he means by that. His basic thesis is that spirituality has nothing to do with religion and we can lead spiritual - useful, content, fulfilling lives imbued with a sense of joy and wonder at the universe - without having to delude ourselves that there's a magic giant in the sky who, despite being the creator of literally everything (so welre expected to believe), has consistently shown himself incapable of subduing evil!

I agree with Harris's thesis, but I'd take issue with the wisdom of his decision to employ the term 'spirituality', which has evidently confused way too many people because of the baggage with which it comes so effectively larded. I don't know: maybe Harris is trying to reclaim it for secularism? Good luck with that!

Harris meditates, and offers some guidelines to how to do it in this book and on his website. He doesn't do it to link to 'the godhood' or some numinous higher consciousness. He simply does it to center himself and bring a balance to his thoughts and actions, and there's no better reason.

I'm not a meditater myself. I believe you can get to precisely the same place by employing any number of more mundane methods: listening to your favorite music, occupying yourself with your favorite craft or hobby, watching a good movie, taking a stroll in the countryside, reading a loved book, pursuing your favorite sport, enjoying an art gallery, cooking your favorite meal or treat, playing with your kids or your pets, conversation with someone you care for, any any other number of pursuits many of which l'm sure I haven't even considered, but Harris offers evidence for his perspective, so maybe this is another option.

The advantage of meditation of course, is that you can pretty much do it anywhere. It's rather harder to read a book when you're at work (that's an advantage of working in a bookstore - which are sadly in decline), or watch a movie (again, with the decline of video rental stores it's a lot harder to work in a place that lets you play movies isn't it?!).

Harris tells an interesting tale, but for me he spoiled the purity of his message with too many asides. That's what most annoyed me in chapter one. The book reads more like a scientific paper than a guide to secular spirituality, and this detracted too much from his message for me. I also think he did the scientific theory of evolution a disservice, not because he doesn't accept it - he does - but because the terms he employs when talking about it are so easily distorted by its ignorant detractors.

Given the number of times people of scientific backgrounds have been abused by the profound dishonesty of religious nut-jobs in taking the words of scientists and thoroughly warping and distorting them (when they're not outright and knowingly misquoting them), I find myself in askance that so many people of science still speak so loosely.

Harris, for example says, "25 percent of Americans believe in evolution (while 68 percent believe in the literal existence of satan)." thereby equating the fairy tale of religion with the fact of evolution! Evolution isn't a belief, it's an honest acceptance that the fact of common descent cannot be denied by any honest, rational person. It's not a belief. It's not dependent upon faith. Claiming that 'Satan' is real is a pure faith assertion because there's no more evidence for a satan than there is for a god. To equate those desperate delusions with a scientifically established fact by using the word 'believe' is a serious mistake. Shame on Harris for making it.

The discussion of what is self and what is consciousness in the chapters succeeding chapter one were what really changed my mind about this book because to me they were fascinating and in some instances revelatory, particularly the discussion of how each of us is, in a very real way, a split-personality by dint of the fact that we have a split brain. This book is worth reading for that discussion alone. I recommend it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor by Joel M Hoffman

Title: The Bible's Cutting Room Floor
Author: Joel M Hoffman
Publisher: Macmillan
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This blog is nearly all fiction, but once in a rare while, I take a look at a non-fiction work because it really interests me, and this book is one such exception. To me, the Bible itself is a work of fiction: a collection of fairy tales. The only difference is that there is some factual material included, so I guess it's more like a work of historical fiction or historical fantasy than anything else. There is supportive evidence for many of the factual aspects of the Bible, but none for the supernatural aspects, and the Bible is simply flat-out wrong when it tries to assert, for example, that the universe is only some 6,000 years old or that there was a global flood some 4,000 or so years ago.

One thing about the Bible which most believers simply do not get is how unreliable and contradictory it is, and this is why I was interested in Joel Hoffman's book, which delves into these aspects of it inter alia. The author is quite evidently a knowledgeable scholar who is intimately familiar with the material he discusses, and for as much as I've read on this topic, I confess he raises issues with which I had not been familiar.

The first couple of chapters are an historical overview of Biblical times and a relation of how the Qumran (or Dead Sea) scrolls came to be unearthed. I largely skimmed these because the material is not unfamiliar to me, and they were not what I was interested in. Frankly I was a bit surprised to find the first chapter there at all in that form, but if you want historical details, these chapters are replete with them.

Where this book really shone for me was in the remaining chapters, where Hoffman himself shines relating information, detail, overview, and fascinating snippets with a sly sense of humor and an exert eye. Rather than try to précis the content, I'm going to list the chapter headers here:

  1. Jerusalem: An Eternal City in Conflict
  2. The Dead Sea Scrolls: How a Lost Goat Changed the World
  3. The Septuagint: How Seventy Scholars Took Seventy Days to Get It Wrong
  4. Josephus: The Only Man to be a Fly on Every Wall
  5. Adam and Eve: Falling Down and Getting Back Up
  6. Abraham: Humans, Idols, and Gods
  7. Enoch: The Beginning of the End
  8. The Big Picture: Finding the Unabridged Bible

The book also includes an appendix with suggestions for further reading, but there is plenty for thought right here. How many people know, for example, that the Septuagint, long considered an authoritative text, is riddled with error - and for good reason?

You will note Josephus is the topic of one of the chapters and his work is cited by many believers as powerful evidence for the existence of a real Messiah named Jesus who was a miracle-working son of a divinity. How many of those people know how unreliable and fanciful Josephus is, and that the passage they love to cite is not an original but a later interpolation?

How many people are aware that Genesis doesn't tell the whole fable of Adam and Eve (a first couple now categorically disproved by modern science). There is another book which was excluded from the Bible, which continues the story.

The central theme here - not necessarily the author's theme, but one to which I subscribe - is that the Bible is not the word of any god. It's an arbitrary collection of tales written and put together by very fallible humans, nearly all of whom were men, and all of whom had one agenda or another. Until and unless people understand that and appreciate it for what it means, they're never going to grasp what the Bible actually is on the bottom line.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Search for an Abortionist by Nancy Howell Lee

Title: The Search for an Abortionist
Author: Nancy Howell Lee (no website found)
Publisher: Open Road Media
(Originally published 1969 by the University of Chicago Press)
Rating: WORTHY!

Author Nancy Howell's "Preface, 2014" has an error in the second line, where the word 'radical' is repeated.

In fictional works, I routinely skip the introduction or prologue or whatever the writer chooses to name it, because there is no place for such a thing in a novel. In non-fiction (which I do not review often on my blog) I do tend to read such things, and so I have to say that I wasn't impressed with Mark Crispin Miller's introductory rant in which he posits unsubstantiated claims of stealthy censorship. Yes, he may be right. In fact, I don't doubt that there have been cases where novels and other works have ended up buried for one reason or another, but whether there is a huge number of such episodes. and whether the effort to suppress written works is active, and/or concerted, and/or widespread remains only an hypothesis with no supportive evidence offered here, notwithstanding the conviction of those who declare it to be so.

Moreover, I can see how these claims might have had some basis in fact in the past, when Big Publishing™ ruled the roost, but that case no longer holds. We live in the era of the Internet where pretty much anyone (assuming that they have access of course) can post pretty much anything. Even those who cannot afford a computer can use machines in their local library. There is no censorship here; neither government nor Big Publishing™ exercise any control over this. No matter how true or otherwise these assertions may have been historically, in an era of easy and free self-publishing, claims such as those which Miller makes have no foundation upon which to secure a sound lodging.

As far as the book itself goes, it's not really for reading, it's much more of reference, since it's less like a textbook than it is a scientific study (which is what it actually is, of course!). However, that should not prevent anyone from reading the salient points in this, because that's the real value of this book, and that's the topic on which people need to be educated, and this book will educate you to the reality of life when abortion was common but not legal and was definitely not safe.

Religious fanatics have been trying to drag us back to the stone age for a long time (before that, they were trying to keep us in the stone age!). Their absurd assault on a woman's reproductive rights isn't anything new. They've been assaulting women in one way or another since the Bible was first invented by blinkered, cantankerous old men. The problem is that the present wave of professional oppressionists is just as blinkered. They cannot see that you cannot keep people in ignorance of contraception, and prevent people from obtaining it, and then not expect that unwanted pregnancies will be one serious result, yet this is precisely what these morons do.

They are also hypocites. They claim to live by Biblical principles yet depart from them as soon as they become even slightly inconvenient. The Biblical god quite evidently had no problem aborting literally thousands of people whether they were babies or not. That god quite clearly had no respect for life. The Bible definition of life was when the baby took its first breath after departing the vaginal canal and thereby inhaled the spirit of this god. The Bible most certainly does not define life as beginning at conception any more than we do today. If we did, then everyone would be nine months older. Your birthday is the day you are born, not the day you're conceived. These people are morons.

But true as that may be, that's not the premise of this book. The premise is that people will get abortions whether they are legal or not, and will suffer far worse if they are illegal than if they are legal. Women are not dumb, nor are they as cowardly as the anti-abortion psychos, and they will take care of their needs whether Biblically sanctioned or not. The first step to understanding what this means in the real world is to read this book and thereby arm yourself against the propaganda and outright lies put out by those who are supposed to adhere to the injunction not to bear false witness.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fifty Years in Polygamy by Kristyn Decker

Title: Fifty Years in Polygamy
Author: Kristyn Decker
Publisher: Synergy Books Publishing
Rating: TBD

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This blog has been primarily about fiction, which is what I intended, but in honor of International Women's Day (yeah, I'm a day late and a dollar short - story of my life! Deal with it!) I started reading a story rooted in a topic about which I care very much: the subjugation of women and the abuse of children by religion. Kristyn Decker is the daughter of a "polygamist prophet". She was pretty much trapped in a religious cult (all religions are cults in my book no matter how mainstream they are), so I'm pleased to have a chance to read this and help expose this, well, let's call it what it is - crime - of the abuse of women and of children.

Kristyn Decker, when she went by the name of Sophia Allred, was born into a rather clannish family of cult followers in one small branch of the highly sectarian Mormon church. The abject failure of the church is explicit in how many sub-cults it has spawned since Joseph Smith died, and this same sectarianism is rife throughout all religions, including the big three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Indeed, Christianity has spawned well-over twenty thousand sects since the first century - that's very nearly a new splintering of the "one true faith" every single month since it began. That's how worthless it is. The very fact that there is no one true religion is proof positive that there is no true god. Kristyn's life was one of abuse and of rape, and of the wholesale marginalization and demeaning of women which went on for decade after decade in her direct experience.

I did have some technical issues with this book. The first problem I ran into is the same kind of poorly-formatted ebook issue I've been encountering with every other ebook I've read this month. This book is not formatted for the Kindle. The contents, rather than showing a single (or even a double) column of chapter headings are all jumbled together into one continuous paragraph, which actively prevents a reader from reaching the beginning of the book proper! When I touch the right side of the screen to move to the next screen, I'm hitting some chapter heading and I'm transported directly to chapter thirty-nine or whatever! When I hit 'Beginning' to return to the start of the book and try again, I'm right back at the introduction, and I have to wade through six screens again only to find myself right back at the contents!

Fortunately Kindle also allows you to slide your finger, rather like slipping a page over, so I got by that way, but this was bad formatting, which is annoying at the very least and not a good start to a book I'm supposed to be reviewing! The Adobe reader version was fine, and even showed the few gray-scale illustrations, but the Kindle version showed only dark gray rectangles where the images should be.

Another minor bitch: if I'm in possession of the ebook, then I really don't need a couple of screens of book recommendations to wade through from people I don't even know and therefore cannot rely on for a recommendation! I'm already planning on reading it otherwise why would I even have the ebook? This isn't smart thinking. Why would I need a recommendation which conveys nothing to me? I don't actually see the point of those in a print book for that matter, but I could argue that there's more point there than ever there could be in an ebook. You cannot leaf through an ebook in the store to see these recommendations or to get a feel for how it reads. Indeed, you cannot leaf through an ebook unless you already bought it! Seriously, I do not think publishers have even begun to catch up with what ebooks are all about. They're still thinking in terms of print books. Just saying!

So finally I get to start reading it and at 483 pages, it's a bit TMI for my taste. For me there was far too many unappealing details of everyday activity. The history went back to well before Kristyn was born. The problem with that, for me, is that I didn't ask to read this for her family tree, but for what happened to Kristyn herself. Having said that, let me get to the meat of the project: hidden amongst the mundane - and it was truly worth searching for, especially if you mistakenly harbor a benign view of religion - were some truly horrific revelations which might be too graphic for some readers (it was the uncensored version which I read), and this is what, for me, made it worthwhile wading through the tedious parts.

This was a no-holds-barred, no-punches-pulled story of what a religious cult can do to young children and to women, and it's depressing at best and horrific at worst. This isn't a story of something religion did during the crusades or the inquisition, awful as those things alone were. It's something truly horrific which was done - and continues to be done - in the lifetimes of anyone who might read this. It's going on right now, somewhere. I'm already well aware of how evil organized religion is, so much of this did not actually come as a shock or a surprise to me. Indeed, the only truly surprising thing to me was how people can cling to a belief in a benign god when these horrors happen not rarely, but routinely and on a daily basis. It was disturbing and it was sick, just as such a god would be if there were one, but this is the information that needs to get out, and which needs to keep coming out until organized religion dies the natural death that it's long overdue. I recommend this book.

Friday, November 8, 2013

External Forces by Deborah Rix

Title: External Forces
Author: Deborah Rix
Publisher: Dime Store Books
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review.

This novel has a prologue - really short, but which I automatically skipped. Prologues are a waste of time and effort. If it’s worth telling, it’s worth putting in chapter one, front and center. Chapter one starts out badly by immediately telling us this is three weeks earlier, May, 2125, but it’s told in first person present! Chapter three brings us to the present - the novel's present, still in first person present PoV. Confused yet? Why we didn’t simply start it without the immediate flashback is as mysterious as it is annoying. First person PoV's are becoming increasingly anathema to me, and this novel is exemplary in offering a plethora of reasons why.

Finally, after all the ambling preamble we get to the story: now it’s June 2125, and Jess Grant is entering the military because she doesn’t want to be classed as a deviant and the military evidently gets a hall pass for this. Shades of Divergent anyone? (No, my comparing a novel to Divergent is most definitely not a compliment!) Deviance is evidently a really bad thing in a fundamentalist-future genetically-purified USA, where you can be killed for it, by the authorities, with no questions asked.

How we got to this sorry state of affairs isn’t really explained very well (except by passing reference to a comet strike in the Arabian sea and civil unrest), but if it's religion, it doesn't really need a rationalization, does it? It looks like Rix went the same way I did in Godstruck!, but starting from that same kind of premise, took off in a different direction, with a lot more technology, so I was initially quite curious to see what she did with it. That curiosity was soon dissatisfied.

To begin with, in a novel about an elite special forces unit, I could have done without the trope YA romance which frankly made me sick to my stomach. The advice she gets from her new best friend about shooting a pistol with your middle finger and using your forefinger to point, for example, seemed really stupid to me, not to say, er, pointless! But niggles aside, I confess I did start out liking this character and this idea. Unfortunately, Rix seemed to be determined to sicken me with her character's childish behavior and with the sadly puerile view of special forces to which she seems beholden.

I know this is set in the future, and it's fiction, and things have changed, but have military requirements mutated so drastically? Unless standards have dropped precipitously over the century between now and then, the training is nowhere near adequate or authentic. There's no way someone like Grant would ever have got in. The atmosphere in the barracks is completely juvenile and unrealistic. There is no way stupid childish stunts like throwing knives at people up against dartboards would ever be tolerated in an elite military unit: the soldiers have too much respect for the uniform and for their fellow soldiers. This is frankly an insult to special forces.

Again, unless IQs have dropped in a century (and given the eugenic breeding programs, perhaps they have) the behavior and training just didn't cut it. I didn't buy at all the "sim" units. They were completely inadequate and offered nowhere near realistic training for these poor soldiers who are doubtlessly going to die, and soon, as inadequately prepped as they are. It didn't help that we learn that Grant is a death-squad soldier in a Nazi regime - and she joined up knowingly. I'm supposed to like this teenager, who is inadequate as a soldier and, as if that's not bad enough in and of itself, who goes all wilt-and-vaporish over her sergeant Every. Single. Time. She. Sees. Him. Without. Fail and without a shred of self-possession, self-respect, or decency? I'm sorry but I was hoping for a much better main character than I got. It reminded me of that old Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All the Way where Langston finally gets his beautiful Turbo-Man figure from the santas for Jamie, only to open it and find it falls apart, and doesn't even speak the right language! That's this novel all over.

The sergeant's behavior towards Grant is absolutely no better, and a disgrace to his uniform. And completely out of left field. What has Grant done to even remotely appeal to the sergeant? Nothing! Nothing at all. And what's with her constantly referring to him as sergeant, anyway? Special forces don't identify rank: it gives too much information to their potential enemies. I kept telling myself that Rix had better have some really, really, and I mean really good stuff to tell me if I was going to let her get away with this kind of story-telling and not call her on it. And she didn't. I had no choice but to quit reading this and call her on it because, far from getting better and more engrossing, it got worse, and worse. Very soon - too soon, in fact - I couldn't stand it any more.

I really wanted to like this one, and I looked forward to reading it; I felt I had a lot of common ground with Rix's PoV in this story since I felt that the basic premise has so much in common with Godstruck!, but life is too short to waste on something which isn't pleasing you, and she left me no choice but to rate it warty. Here's a tip: I'd much rather read about Matt's second-in-command than about Jess Grant. There's no contest. She sounded far more mature, capable, and interesting. Indeed, one real fear I had was that she would be killed off and Jess would replace her as Sergeant Matt's second! That really would have killed me, so perhaps it's best that I didn't finish this one. But who knows, Rix is full of good ideas; maybe next time she'll execute them without executing them. One can only hope. We never run out of a need for fresh and original voices.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox

Title: The Genesis Secret
Author: Tom Knox
Pages: 369
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WARTY!
Perspective: third person past


Tom Knox is the pseudonym of a journalist named Sean Thomas, which begs the question as to why he isn't using his real name. He's had several 'international best sellers' (although what that means in practice, I have no idea!), so you’d think he'd be proud! Oh well!

The Genesis Secret is another in a long line of secret religion thrillers/horrors by various authors. Since I have no beliefs in any gods or demons, you might think that I wouldn’t be interested in these stories. I have no belief in space alien visitations or witches or wizards either, but I still will read those stories if they tell a good tale. It’s all fiction to me!

The Genesis secret in which Turkish Kurd meets British Way, starts off with the obligatory religiously-oriented evil murders with bodily mutilations and arcane messages, in this case carved into the flesh of the victims. We meet Mark Forrester, a London detective who is trying to solve these murders and is literally without a clue. We also meet Rob Luttrell, a journalist who is taking a break from his almost-demolition by a bomb in Iraq, to report on an archaeological dig in the Kurdish part of Turkey near a town called Sanliurfa.

The dig is real, the story is fiction. When he arrives, Luttrell meets a gorgeous young French woman of course (not of course she's French but of course she's young and gorgeous), Christine Meyer, who will be, doubtlessly, his love interest by the end of the novel. Telegraph much, Tom?!

The lead archaeologist dies killed horribly, right after some Kurds were seen by Luttrell and Meyer chanting an ancient curse by candle light under his window! The Kurds resent the archaeologists being there because although they're paid for their work on the dig, they feel their heritage is being dug up and exported to Turkey.

Meyer meets Luttrell and tells him that the murdered archaeologist, Breitner, had a secret notebook in which he wrote ideas he was entertaining. They go back to the dig to find the safe in which he kept it, but he safe is gone. As they get back into the Land Rover, Luttrell finds the notebook hidden in the back. They visit another of the dig team who confirms that the piece of grass they found in the notebook is einkorn wheat. Yes, he grassed him out!

Forrester visits Isle of Man to investigate a similar murder to the one in London. Still no real clues.

Luttrell and Meyer are trying to figure out Breitner's notebook, and it was obvious to me right from the start. In it there is a map of one river becoming four. Clearly this is the four rivers mentioned in Genesis in relation to the Garden of Eden, but neither Luttrell nor Meyer get it. Then there's the tree! They still don't get it. I Can se how Luttrell wouldn't; he's not orientated that way, but Meyer really has no excuse. Not only is she one of the archaeologists working on the project, she's also quite religious and knowledgeable enough to take Luttrell on a local tour of religious sites without a map! No excuse.

Sanliurfa is evidently the Garden of Eden. There are numbers, too, in the notebook, about which my first guess would be that they're Bible verse references. They take a trip out to Haran, a Biblically referenced village tied to Abram, and finally they visit some caves dedicated to the moon god, where evidently, human sacrifices were conducted, and Luttrell mentions that Abram was prepared to sacrifice his son. Then he finally gets the Bible references!

Forrester finally gets a lead: five men dressed as telecom workers were spotted in a field which is also an ancient site. Their vehicle is also spotted. News comes in that a similar crime was committed in new England. Meanwhile Forrester has researched ancient sacrifices and concluded that the Star of David is actually 'Solomon's star' and that these people, for some reason are into human sacrifice.

Luttrell finally tells Meyer that the numerical references are Bible verses. One of the Turkish police detectives visits them and tells them they need to leave Turkey otherwise they will find themselves in jail. They resolve to stay, of course.

Forrester finally gets a lead: five men dressed as telecom workers were spotted in a field which is also an ancient site. Their vehicle is also spotted. News comes in that a similar crime was committed in new England. Meanwhile Forrester has researched ancient sacrifices and concluded that the Star of David is actually 'Solomon's star' and that these people, for some reason are into human sacrifice. Really? Wow!

Luttrell finally tells Meyer that the numerical references are Bible verses. One of the Turkish police detectives visits them and tells them they need to leave Turkey otherwise they will find themselves in jail. They resolve to stay so they can break into the museum. Meyer can get the pass-codes from a guard who is hot for her, but instead of going during the daytime, on a holiday when every citizen of the town is fully occupied with festivities and they won;t even be noticed, they wait through all of that until it gets dark and very, very quiet, and then they break in. They find some jars containing infants which have evidently been stuffed into the jars alive and then allowed to suffocate - as a sacrifice. They're assailed and captured by a bunch of men, but as they're brought out of the museum, the Turkish cop shows up with a SWAT team (Why? How? We don't know!). He frees Luttrell and Meyer from the mob and puts them on a plane telling them to leave Turkey and to never return.

Forrester finally begins to get a clue. He's led by information to investigate highly educated young men who may have had trouble in their school or college and who have dropped out or gone AWoL recently. In this way he tracks down a family in central France which has some secrets. Their grandfather was a general in World War One who seemed fond of sacrificing his men to the German machine guns. They learn that there were also more ancient sacrifices made in this locale. But the young son whom the seek is not there.

Meanwhile, Luttrell and Meyer are pretty much just vacationing for ten days in Istanbul with a friend of Meyer's. No reason is given for their lolly-gagging in Istanbul, but we do learn that they've now become lovers (as was expected, you'll recall!). None of this is described; we hear of it only after the fact. Obviously they haven't yet left Turkey, but that's about to change.

Luttrell makes the manly decision that he must go alone to Lalesh, in Kurdish Iraq, the heart of the Yezidi religion (yes, real town, real religion). He asks Meyer to go back to London to keep an eye on his daughter for him. No explanation as to why she needs to do this is offered. His daughter is with his ex wife, and no threats have been offered to either party, but if Luttrell's newspaper stories have been noticed by the believers, they could, I guess, go after his family, in which case Meyer gets to be the saving hero, and Luttrell's ex becomes another victim? I'm guessing that's where this is going, because we certainly haven't had anywhere near enough horrific misery and gore yet in this novel!

Forrester finds another body, this one flayed alive. At this point I'm starting to wonder about Knox. It's like he's taken the most disgusting aspects of every barbaric religion that ever flourished and meshed them into one so he can be gross and nasty just for the sake of it. Of course, this does serve the double-purpose of his having a horrible tale to tell, and of exposing how utterly disgraceful religions have been throughout history. But then I knew that.

Meanwhile back with Luttrell, the story takes a sci-fi turn. Having spent another ten days in an Iraqi village fruitlessly trying to learn about the Yezidi religion, Luttrell is about to give up and go home when he's invited to Lalesh by a young Yezidi boy who educates him about their religion. He looks around Lalesh and spots some men sneaking into a hut, so he wraps a head scarf around his own face and sneaks in. No, they're not watching a stripper, they are venerating a skull which is very human looking, but not quite human enough: obviously, it’s an alien skull. Shades of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!

Luttrell feels a knife at his throat, has his head bagged, and is dragged into another room where he once again agonizes over the details of his inevitably forthcoming torture and murder. But as before, nothing happens. This is a bit tedious because Knox is so repetitive in this mode. In the end, Luttrell's Yezidi friend concludes that he should allow Luttrell to go free and hopefully his story will benefit the Yezidi and remove some of the devil-worship stigma from them.

Well I've abandoned this novel. As I expected, Christine and Luttrell's child Lizzie were both abducted, then we're treated to the most disgusting scene of Meyer's entrails being cooked while still attached to her, alive, then we find it wasn't actually her but Meyer's friend Isobel, and Meyer is really still alive, then Luttrell is forced to confront the psycho, and we see him disappear, shot and apparently dying, into the raging river. And the only reason I know that is because I skipped to the end to see what it was! I skipped the last hundred pages or so because at that point I couldn't stand to read this twaddle any more.

I'm sorry, but this novel which started out offering some hope of a decent religious mystery/thriller with a possible sci-fi connection just went to hell. Even the big mysterious skull is blown off completely, as indeed did the reader. This novel is crap And I'm sorry I wasted so much time trying to find something worthwhile in it.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Misfit by Jon Skovron

Title: Misfit
Author: Jon Skovron
Publisher: Amulet Books
Rating: WORTHY!

So this book is a bit weird. The pages are dirty - the chapter title pages and the first few pages before chapter one. This is not because a previous borrower did something unmentionable in polite company with this the book, but because the publisher did: the pages look like someone rubbed charcoal on them, or soot (or something). Icky!

This book is religious fiction about demons. The protagonist is Jael Thompson (no, no-one has called her Jael Bait yet and we learn later in the novel that her name is supposed to be pronounced yah-el). Jael's mother was a demon. Jael is also an interesting Biblical character. She attends Catholic school (I'm already salivating over this novel!) at the insistence of her domineering father who actually is also a father of the Catholic church.

I find that funny. Since she has to refer to the priests at her school as Father, does she refer to her dad and Father Father? Just asking....

Jael didn't get why her dad was on her case so fiercely, but on her eighth birthday, she got it when she fought with her dad and ran off to the local playground to find herself confronted by a large bizarro beast made of wood, stone, and old iron (any old iron, any any any old iron) which chats with her almost like a friend, and then declares that it's going to kill her. Her dad comes to the rescue. Presumably this is why we find Jael at sixteen having moved house many times.

It's only a two-hour drive from Tucson, where Jael met Baal, the demon beast, to Phoenix to the northwest, but Skovron makes it seems like this long drive through the night. During it, Jael learns a bit more about who she is, but her father is so tight-lipped and unhelpful, you just want to slap him upside the head.

Why are we seeing this Catholic priest abusing his child in this way? Is he protecting her? From what? He assures her that she's only half demon and that she's not bad, but I get the feeling that either he's too ignorant to know what's coming or he's too mean or scared to prepare his daughter for it. This may well be what that breakfast note was all about, but this 'the child is ignorant and will have to learn on the run when the world comes crashing down on their shoulders' has really become a tired cliché in this genre, hasn't it‽

Jael, whose name is that of one of the angel figures on top of the Ark of the Covenant, was born in Siberia, of all places; I'm sure there's a story there. Her best friend is called Brittany (not Bethany) Brougher, and she brings Jael a bunch of hair care products for her birthday - products which Jael's father refused to buy for her.

It was only recently that Jael moved with her father to their present locale, to a house where she finally has a separate bedroom from him. Now that is disturbing given the history of all-too-many Catholic priests with children!

So as we meet Jael on her sixteenth on October 16th, she has a lousy breakfast at home, alone since her father already left for the school, and all he gave her for her birthday was a note on the table saying he needed to talk with her. Clearly something wicked this way comes! I'm guessing things have changed now she's sixteen and she's going to have to step up. I'm also guessing there's some hot potential partner around the corner who's presumably a guy.

I'm not into religion, especially not organized religion, and especially not an organized religion that's rich but preaches the values of someone who supposedly advised people to give all they had to the poor and follow him, but I'm definitely into Skovron's story so far, notwithstanding its clichés, even though I also recognize that it's early days yet. I still recall fondly the days when I thought TimeRiders started out promisingly....

After an enlightening and very explicit lunch with her friend Brittany, wherein Brit reveals what she did in the front seat of the car for her new and generous boyfriend (definitely not PG-13!). Jael reveals that she once lived in England, and has been at her present location for two years, but she fears they're about to move again.

She finally makes it home from her school day to see what daddy has in store for her. It's depressing just to hear her description of walking into the kitchen. Her dad is there and there's a box on the table which could, she dreams, contain a piece of jewelery. Her dad tells her that it's something that her mother left for her, and made him promise to give her on her 16th birthday. It's a gorgeous necklace with a red stone in it that looks like a ruby, but as Jael starts to put it on, her father yells that she must never wear it! But of course, he won't tell her why.

Starting to get a teeny bit annoyed with all this secretiveness, not just with Jael's dad, but with the author of the novel!

So Jael storms off upstairs angrily, where I'm guessing she's about to have some interesting dreams. She can't reach Brit on the phone and her computer is so old and cranky that it won't even boot up so she can send an email. She gets ready for bed but can't sleep and instead lies there looking out at the sky, which is busily readying itself, of course, for a thunderstorm!

Jael holds up her new gemstone so the lightning will flash off or through it, but it doesn't - it's like the stone actually sucks-in light but doesn't reflect it. Obviously it must reflect some, otherwise it would be black instead of red, but as Jael examines it, she sees something moving in it, and upon closer examination, she finds that it's her kitchen at which she's looking.

Gazing more deeply, she 'falls into' the stone and it's like she's in the kitchen watching her father - but he's unaware of her as he indulges in some sort of ceremony involving dripping his blood into a bowl of water, from which then issues a voice chiding her father for not telling his daughter what to do with the stone. The voice belongs to someone called Dagon.

Jon Skovron is really sneaky! After getting us into this sixteen-year-old first person present narrative, chapter 4 suddenly sticks us in the third person past. This is a time-travel novel! No not really! But it definitely perks up the story for me. I want to learn more of this past. We encounter Father Paul, a young and energetic priest who enters a monastery full of old men who have no interest in discussing the theology he aches to learn of from them (not that there's really a whole heck of a lot to learn there that hasn't been thrashed to death already! lol!).

One night he has a weird, erotic dream and suddenly wakes up to see green eyes observing him from the darkness of his room. He tries to exorcise the 'evil spirit' and he demands it be gone, but he fails, and the spirit materializes into an attractive woman who we learn is Astarte, ex-god, now demon, because she is what people want her to be.

This encounter blossoms into night after night of Father Paul discussing theology with the ancient and knowledgeable demon. Paradoxically, he's in heaven! Until, that is, she asks that he share something of himself with her. Rather than be freaked out by this, or even suspicious of her motives, Paul enters into some sort of mind meld and after that, Astarte disappears. No more nightly visits. Paul is beside himself and eventually trudges up the nearest mountain to throw himself off a precipice in his grief, but as he's about to do so, he's thrown back form the edge and Astarte reappears, confessing her love for him as he does his for her. I think we just met Jael's mom and Dad. But Skovron has another surprise for us.

It turns out that this flash from the past was a dream Jael had (yes, I was right about what dreams may come!). Jael also has another flash from the ruby stone. Literally: it burns a hole in her textbook in her bag! She has to retire to the school rest rooms (brings a whole new meaning to 'female trouble'!). While there she's transported through the stone to a weird cavern that I'm not even going to try to describe, but she sees a humanoid creature with fish scales, and it sees her. It's Dagon and he's apparently happy to see her.

Stressing from all this, Jael goes to See Father Ralph. That name seems like the sound of someone is barfing, but it's oddly appropriate in this case since Father Ralph strikes me as being a bit creepy. He talks to Jael about heaven and hell and demons, which he doesn't believe in, but she's not really getting what she needs from him. She asks him if he thinks the Bible might be wrong about some things (well we know it is: Earth isn't 6,000 years old and 'the heavens' isn't a dome over a disk-like Earth for starters!).

Father Ralph says he doesn't think Satan and demons are real, but are a state of mind: a personification of our failings and fears, which logically, would mean that god is nothing more than a personification of our good feelings, of course, but logic doesn't enter into this! Finally he notices Jael's necklace, which she's now started wearing around her neck, and he says, "Wow, that's a pretty necklace."

Jael responds, "Thanks! I think it might be from Hell." That's when I fell in love with her!

Misfit gets a bit confusing at this point. It seems that Jael is seeing more and more of her parents' past through the stone (and what a secret lies in that!) but it's never explicitly stated so. It’s more like Skovron has used this bit with the 'stone visions' as a neat and convenient way to expand the story outside of Jael's limited (and that's about to change!) perspective. Whatever! More power to him, and it does let us learn that her father and mother were actively hunting demons before Jael was born. We also learn that for some bizarre reason, demons were buying up New York City real estate. Uh-huh!

That kind of thing (supernatural beings taking a deep interest in human affairs) is really hard to take as a plot point for me, especially given what we learn about Jael a few pages on (ain't I a stinker, keeping this from you‽). Anyway, we find them encountering Asmodeus, who has possessed a human. They fight a couple of demons and get Asmodeus to leave, sparing his life, so now, he owes them.

Again, I don’t get this demons-play-by-the-rules trope which is rife in this genre of novel! Why on Earth (or anywhere else, for that matter!) would they? They’re denizens of hell! Why wouldn't they screw everyone over all the time, including each other? Why, if there is an omnipotent god in ultimate charge, does he even permit any of this crap during his watch? None of this makes a lick of sense, which is why I'm not a believer. For that matter, even if there were a god just like the Biblical Yahweh, I still wouldn’t want any part of his barbaric rule! Worshiping a being like that for eternity would not be heaven to me, it would actually be hell. I think it’s better to be in hell than to worship a being capable of such callous and capricious acts as he exhibits according to popular mythology.

But I digress! Again! Now I need to mention a fact that I've been evilly keeping from you. Jael has the predictable male interest precipitate in her life: a guy called Rob. Interesting form of name there. Relevant? I don’t know at this point. I love to play word games in my writing, especially with character names, but whether Skovron does remains to be seen.

I'm really suspicious of Rob because he's so conveniently at hand and so interested in Jael and her stone when no one else is. At this point I don’t know if Skovron is going to offer us something truly unexpected, or if he's going to offer exactly what’s expected: that Rob is either an angelic guy who will become Jael's BFF, or if he is, instead, is a sneakily evil guy who's just pretending to dote on her. We'll have to see which of these three options plays out as we go.

In another flashback, we find Astarte giving birth to Jael and we learn that Belial, a demon who's obsessed with racial purity, and therefore dedicated to destroying the 'half-breed' Jael, in hot pursuit of them. Astarte resolves that the only way to fix this is to remove Jael's demon component, which she does, thereby creating the 'burgundy' jewel which Jael now wears, but since Belial will still be able to track Astarte herself, she also has to sacrifice herself to protect her family. This she does, and we’re treated to a rather horrifying scene where Belial literally eats Astarte, but as he is consuming her last piece, her arm, she snatches off his ear, thereby robbing him of his purity. This act evidently has some significance of which we're in ignorance at this point.

Jael finally loses it with her father ('bout time!) and calls on Dagon, who appears right there in the house. I hope you've noticed that I've refrained from making any 'that's fishy' kind of jokes about Dagon! It's tough, but I'm willing to make that sacrifice for you). It turns out that despite his somewhat repellent appearance, he's actually Jael's doting uncle, and he and her father fight over what’s best to be done now for Jael. Dagon wants to take her on a tour of hell (seriously, is that wise? It's definitely contraindicated based on what Dagon says later), whilst Father Paul wants to run away again, but Jael demands that they stop and let her decide, and she's determined to stand her ground. If she's to die young, at least she can enjoy what little life she has left right then.

When Jael learns that the stone is really her demon component, she wants it restored, which Dagon does. Suddenly, she's more alive than she's ever been, aware of everything around her: sights, sounds, smells, appearances (although touch seems to have been sorely neglected in this revelation!). This is well worth a read. I have to confess here that if people - people like you and me, in the real, non-fictional life - aren't seeing the world as Jael now does, then they're sadly blinkered, and missing a treat. I always urge my own kids to look at the world as Jael is now seeing it. Everyone can - you don’t have to have your demon restored to do it!

When she arrives at school, almost distracted to immobility by her new perspective, she finds that everyone is looking at her. She's forced, at one point, to run to the bathroom to see if she has horns growing! But no, she looks exactly like she always has, including her rather Harry Potter-ish unruly hair, and her fine Middle-Eastern features, which Rob describes as Arabic at one point. Clearly it’s not something people are seeing, but something her demon qualities evoke in those who see her.

Jael finds that it’s not only her fellow students who are obsessed with her; the priesthood is, too. Her mother, Astarte, was like Venus, a god of love and fertility. She also has connections with the evening star (which is actually the planet Venus, but is also known as Lucifer). The Bible, interestingly, identifies Lucifer with both the Devil and with Jesus. Hm! Given that Lucifer is supposed to have power over Earth, and so does Jesus, does that make Jesus the same as the Devil‽

You can see Venus often, and in daylight, unless it's really bright daylight. The best time to see it is right where the sun is rising or setting, and right before it rises or right after it sets. You can’t miss it; it’s really bright because of the deadly clouds of greenhouse gasses in which it’s bathed. They reflect a lot of sunlight. Because it's on the sun side of Earth - that is, it’s closer to the sun than we are (as opposed to Mars, say, which is further out than we are) Venus shows phases, waxing and waning like the Moon, which you could see through a good telescope, although you seriously need to be careful pointing a telescope or binoculars anywhere in the vicinity of the sun. You do not want magnified sunlight burning your eyes!

Jael is the daughter of a succubus, and as one herself now, she's attracting way too much attention, and she can’t handle this intensity. That evening, she seeks out her uncle Dagon's advice about dealing with it. She tries to summon him using her father's technique of dripping blood into a bowl of water to provide a conduit for him, but when she tries to cut her palm with a kitchen knife, the knife is ruined, her skin untouched! Father Paul advises her that she has to use a silver knife, and gives her the very one which her mother owned.

Jael, of course, rebels against using the Latin phrase her father tells her to use. She uses plain English instead, and it works. I loved this! What is it about novel- and movie-writers who think they have to use Latin for magical works, or Celtic or something for ancient spells? I know it sounds so much more dramatic, but it’s become such a cliché. I loved Harry Potter (books and movies), but you chant two Latin words and wave a stick, and magic happens? Gimme a break!

Anyway, Dagon shows up, climbing right out of the bowl and bitching about her not using a larger conduit for him to travel through! I'm starting to like Dagon. He advises her to cut her hair short. This will give her some protection, by reducing her 'emissions' as it were. This is odd, but interesting, because she uses ordinary scissors to cut it. So how is it that a steel knife can’t cut her palm, but steel scissors can cut her hair? Is it because hair is dead? Technically, the outer layer of your skin is dead, too! Yes, when you look at someone, you're seeing a dead person! It’s only underneath that thin outer shell that you're alive: the lower layers of skin and what’s inside them, so the steel knife should have at least left a mark.

Dagon heads out, saying he has to get back to his job of running the bakery in hell. I am not making this up! Skovron is! I'm starting to like Skovron, too. Dagon leaves having made an arrangement with Jael to meet somewhere (Jael chooses a big park in Seattle) so he can teach her how to use and manage her powers.

Then we’re transported to another flashback which gives a really interesting take on the Biblical story of Samuel, and offers us some back-story on Baal, who you will recall visited Jael in the park when she was 8. This was a fun bit to read. Soon, we're in the park where Jael meets Dagon, and Skovron does a really good job of talking about magic and how Jael must approach her attempts to affect the natural world. I really liked this part of the book. But it was annoying because it's reminiscent of something I was trying to do in a young-adult novel of which I put down a couple of chapters some months ago. This just goes to prove if you don’t get your idea out there someone else will sooner or later! To paraphrase Eli Wallach's character Tuco from The Good The Bad, and the Ugly: if you're gonna write, write, don’t talk!

Dagon finishes up teaching Jael for the day, although he's really doing very little teaching. He's mostly encouraging Jael to figure everything out for herself; although some would argue that this is exactly what teaching is supposed to be! She has learned to get in touch with water, with air, including elevating herself in the air, but not flying, and Earth. Jael inadvertently created a larva pit to cushion her landing when she fell from the sky. That larva burned off her clothes but did no harm to her person. How that works isn't explained. It’s like she's fully human and fully demon, but not at all human when it comes to things harming her skin or her body in general. Given how invulnerable she is, there would appear to be no need for the larva pit except in that it allows Jael to have had some control of another of these 'elements': earth.

I have to Wonder if the tedious repetition of the use of 'the four elements' in this kind of story is really nothing more than a gross insult to the reader. Is it that the author thinks that the reader is too limited of intellect to cope with anything else? Are the too lazy to come up with anything more involved or more complex? Or is it that the reader refuses to read anything that's more complicated than this? I dearly hope readers are not like that.

I was thinking this morning, walking across the parking lot to work with the wind blowing softly and a fleck or two of rain in it here and there, of why we can’t all have the demon perceptions with which Jael is now blessed.

If we were created by a god why wouldn’t he have shared this with us? Why limit us? Why can humans not eat any green herb as the Bible claims we can? Why can we not see infra red or receive radio waves? Why can we not breathe under water? How many drowning victims would be alive today if there had been a creator and she or he had granted us that? Why can we not fly? How many lives would that have saved: children who couldn’t fall to their death; wannabe suicides who could not throw themselves off a building; people who did not die a horrible fiery death when a tall building burns or an airplane crashes because they could literally fly out of the window. Well, the answer to all of this is not that a god chose to deny us other powers, but that humans did not evolve along any lineage that ever involved or tended towards such powers or such needs.

But more in line with the story, why do the demons have these perceptions? And given all that they do have, why on Earth would they be even remotely interested in us?

Jael gets to see fire for the first time through her demon perception and that part is really good, too. I like the way Skovron is going here, and although I still have roughly a third of the novel to go, I'm ready at this point to give it a worthy appellation assuming it doesn’t tank appallingly in the last hundred and some pages. It may be presumptuous and immodest, but I think I would have wanted to take this novel the way Skovron is going if I were writing it.

Jael still has to replace her history book, so she heads to the used book store where she finds a replacement with the help of a college student named jack who works there. Since Rob had been repelled by Jael's succubus persona, I was thinking that Jack might be a replacement, but Jael encounters Rob in the store, and because of something which happens there, he discovers that she's not your ordinary average human being, and he's fascinated. Introducing jack, since he's not going to be Rob's replacement, is a telegraph that he has some important role to play. Jack is also the name of Jael's friend Brit's wonderful new boyfriend….

Despite her father's warning and her agreement with him that she will tell no one about this, she tells everything to Rob. He encourages her to explore the one power she has not yet used. In addition to the tropes of earth, wind, fire, and water, there's also, in this novel, spirit. She looks deeply into Rob's soul and encounters his spirit which is light and warm and bright, and she 'sings' with it, resulting in Rob collapsing for a few seconds, eventually telling Jael that he had what was most easily likened to an orgasm (and then some!).

Jael takes him home with her only to have her father reject him and encourage her to look into his own soul, which she does, and discovers that it's dark and jagged, and unappealing, presumably because of the life he has led hunting demons. As she delves into her father's spirit, we flash back to when Jael was one year old and we have an odd encounter with Baron Samedi which decides Father Paul to turn to the church for help.

This chapter seems like it was put there only to show off. I see no point in it, frankly! But after it, Jael's father becomes determined to use the church to help him protect Jael. Meanwhile, in the present, he is also determined to move again, so figuring she has nothing to lose now, Jael goes over to her friend Brit's home to tell her the truth about her demon self. In undertaking this journey secretly, Jael learns how to control the air to descend from her upstairs room to the ground in complete safety.

Unfortunately, when she arrives at Brit's place and overhears a slightly suspicious phone conversation where Brit's mom is talking to a guy called Jack (dramatic, descending scale, staccato orchestral interlude!), she visits Brit only to have her friend tell her about losing her virginity to (violin rip-off from the shower scene in the Psycho movie) Jack!

Brit doesn’t listen at all to what Jael has to say. Now if Jack is not to be Jael's new beau, and he's had sex with Brit, does this mean that Jack is evil, perhaps even Belial himself, and that Jael's best friend Brit is now possessed? Only time (or more accurately, Skovron!) will tell.

Jael takes a look at Brit's soul and decides she isn’t going to tell her the truth. On her way home, she meets a ram in the street, who turns out to be Asmodeus, come to warn her that Belial is coming for Jael. She starts to think about standing her ground.

In that chapter where Jael is a year old and Baron Samedi visits, Father Paul tells his friend (the one who is helping him hide out there in the middle of nowhere in the baking heat of, presumably, Haiti, and bringing him supplies) that he doesn’t know how to be a parent, which is the same as Father Paul saying that he doesn't know how to be a father! And isn't this a huge problem? Surely a father of the church should know how to be a parent? Isn't that what a priest is supposed to do - watch over people and help them grow in the right way? What an appalling admission! The Catholic church forbids marriage to its priests, so if the church goes around truly believing that the congregation is essentially sheep and the pastor is truly a shepherd, how can they even begin to properly understand people and watch over them like a real parent would? This Church of Rome was doomed from the start!

At school the next day Father Aaron, the gruff greeter at her school who usually gets on her case about pulling up her socks seems to warn her to be careful that day. Jack, the college student from the bookstore suddenly turns out to be a student in her class and winks at her. He looks younger than he was in the bookstore. Jael wants to corner him after class to find out what his deal is, but he's now gone and no-one knows who he is. Never once does Jael, who knows for a fact that she's being stalked by Belial, even think for a second that Jack = Belial. I'm sorry, but no! That won’t wash! Jael is smarter than this. Skovron kicked me out of my suspension of disbelief with it, but I'm still fond of him enough that I'm willing to let him get away with an occasional stumble like this as long as he keeps otherwise writing as well as he is does in this part of the book.

Jael is unexpectedly called into the Mons's (monsignor's) office to find her friend Brit already there, having apparently ratted out Jael for her oddball behavior of late. Jael learns that she's to be exorcised. That doesn’t go too well for the Mons, who ends up on the floor with his head injured and Jael knowing that he has killed scores of people when he was exorcising his options in Peru. Evidently his path wasn't so shining…. (And you'll have to read the book to get that one!).

Father Aaron shows up and orders Jael to go home, telling her he'll take care of everything. See Jael. Jael is confused. Go home Jael. See Jael dawdle. Dawdle, dawdle, dawdle, Jael. Jael gets home later than usual to find her father almost freaked out that she disappeared for the afternoon. She's weirded out by her father's behavior. As if that's not quite enough, Rob shows up at Jael's house that evening, advised by Father Aaron to go visit Jael. Jael's father welcomes him further freaking her out; then Dagon climbs out of Ron's glass, freaking him out. Hah! I almost managed to say Ron Glass, the actor from Firefly! Lol!

The next day is like a normal school day which weirds out Jael even more, but she heads home at the end of the day and walks right into Jack, and finally (finally!) she realizes that he's Belial. He envelops her in ice and when it breaks, she's in hell with him, (apparently in hell's kitchen lol! - as opposed to hell's kitten which is another story altogether….). A not-so-heavenly host of demons are all sitting around the kitchen table waiting for faithful servant Dagon, who ignores Jael, to serve them up their daily bread. Sorry but this part was nonsense!

Jael breaks loose and starts running like…er… hell. She tries to find Dagon, but ends up jumping into a sea of larva to escape the ice creature Belial. And apparently there's a shark in the larva. Maybe it’s a Shark Boy and Larva Girl half-breed? Let's read on, and find out!

There was a gorgeous thunderstorm came through here this evening. I went out to watch it and there were some amazing spidery threads of lightning running across the sky like something was trying to rip through the seams of the sky and come down! I was thinking of Misfit and how nice it would be to have those enhanced demon senses and be able to see all the colors woven into those daring streaks of lightning, and t be able to smell, and even taste it. Maybe even eat a few bites if I were a really demon! But now I'm off to see if I can finish this novel tonight.

So Jael manages to jump the shark (as it were) and get out onto the bank of the lava river even without a lamp to guide her.... It's now frozen and snowy on the shore, which means, of course, that Belial is waiting for her. He takes her prisoner again and shows her a garden that he maintains he created from the excrement generated after he ate Jael's mother.

I'm sorry but that's just not right at all, in any way, shape, form, or function!

Having had all the fun he can stand her for now, Belial pushes Jael down into the ground whereupon she reappears on the street in Seattle. That's an interesting take on Hell, that it's up rather than down in relaiton to Earth! Belial's plan is to torture Jael by hurting her friends, so the minute she gets home, she creeps out Rob by calling him and intimating that he stay home until she comes to pick him up to walk him to school in the morning. Of course, she fails to call Brit, so that;s where Belial strikes.

After a frantic clal form father Aaron, she and her dad rush voer to Brit's house ot find ehr misisngf and Brit's mom oin a bad way. Now here's the start of what I don't get. Jael is able to dive into Brit's mom and free her spirit from the icy confines in which Belial has locked it, but when she goes looking for Brit, insyead of doing the same to hert, she purposefully allows Brit to lead her into Belial's trap onsytead of freeing ehr, too. This results in Brit becoming severly injured.

Far from a big time showdown à la summer blockbuster movies, the finale is rather tame. I felt a bit like I did after reading Sister Mischief's ending, but on reflection, I can accept this ending more easily better than that one! Jael finds out accidentally that she can Banish demons, so she makes short work of Belial's two assitants, but he proves himself ot be a tougher prospect. He turns into a worm and invades Brit's soul, digging holes all through it. Jael pursues him and grabs his tail, whereupon he turns on her and starts trying to freeze her. it hurst (like hell?!) but she refuses to let go no matter what. By helping herself to a tiny piece of Brit's soul, Jael finds she has the power to then banish Belial. Is that like picking up a 'get out of Jael free' card? Sorry, I can't help myself. Jael wins!

And that's pretty much how it ends. We do learn that there are three other Dukes of Hell (is that anything like a Duke of Earl? and why isn't there an Earl of Duke?

Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Hell,
Duke, Duke, Duke of Hell,
Duke, Duke, Duke of Hell,
Duke, Duke, Duke of Hell

As I walk through this world
Nothing can stop the Duke of Hell
And you, you are my girl
Oh I will hurt you, oh, yeah!
(stolen shamelessly from Chandler, Edwards, and Williams

So Skovron has set himself up with with a potential for three follow-ons from this and based on this one, I'm there, Dude!