Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is this really true life?

Diluted, pink, slick, putrified fleshy bits, and cold decayed, ashen mottled skin. Glassy, filmy orbs devoid of life, and dry brittle hair, matted with a thick, deep red sludge- it does not sound like the picture of perfect health. It sounds more like death.   As for ourselves, we are walking and talking and breathing.  In medically teminology, we have met the criteria for the ABCs; airwaym breathing and circulation.  We are confident that we meet the biological, medical and legal criteria of life.  But is that enough?  We must also consider spiritual life as well.
This describes me- a passage from Ephesions, a new testament book written by Paul, the apostle, "As for you, don't you remember how you used to exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of the air- oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobediance. I'm not talking about outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; we all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. as a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of human kind." Ephesians 2: 1-3 (the Voice NT). Everyone has heard of Zombies- the living dead. A body, reanimated, disgusting, grotesque and barbaric- alive yet devoid of the essential part that makes us human. I don't know who hasn't hasn't heard of zombies- they are the subject of many horror movies. At one time in my life I really was no different from the personification of a zombie- the undead- physically alive, technically, yet dead, spiritually- alive in the form of a body, breathing, walking, existing- yet dead in spirit. I had the appearance of physical life, that is true, but I was dead in all that really mattered.

Even though the actual story begins when I was very young, with the memory of my earliest of memories, for the sake of time I will fast forward to the day when I made an important decision that changed my life. That day started like any other day. There were no distinct weather conditions, special holidays, anniversaries or achievements to mark the date. In fact the particular calendar day was so insignificant that I no longer remember the date or even the exact year for that matter. It had never crossed my mind to record the date. Yet, the significance of that decision cannot be measured.

Some minimal background is required to understand the change that resulted from that important decision. Like countless others, I too had some difficult and awkward years when I was young. I did not grow up with the burden of any extraordinary impairments or circumstances. I did not have any unusual traumatic events. I was not tortured nor was I abused. Never did I go to bed hungry, not did I have to live in a shack. No PTSD memories linger to haunt me. But I did have some physical and emotional impediments which became more pronounced as I grew older. The events of my life in of themselves were neither memorable nor significant. I had three sisters who kept to themselves and two parents: my mother, nevertheless was not always around when I was young- but that was ok.

When I was really young, I was always a bit antisocial and distant from the other children. During my teenaged years, my physical and emotional deficits became more pronounced at a most inopportune time of life when appearance and social skills are paramount for normal positive social interaction. As I matured, my appearance shamed and I was distanced from the other girls my age. My physical appearance embarrassed me to such an extent that I lived in a constant state of abject discomfort and anxiety that someone would tease me. Graceless, indelicate and overgrown, I was isolated and frequently tormented by my peers. I was made fun of, humiliated and embarrassed. I was ignorant concerning the normal common social, health and hygiene knowledge that so many people take for granted. While the other girls engaged in sports, went to dances, took home economics and health class, I avoided these activities with the understanding that I would have no use for such skills which would most certainly never be put into the context of which they were intended. I lacked friends and was very lonely as a result of my physical appearance which was not considered to be even within the normal standards. I eventually reconciled myself to my fate, as well as my physical state. I did not have any hope for a better future. When I was very young, I was brought to therapists to “correct” my issues- to no avail. Attempts at brainwashing me to normalcy failed- retreats failed, counseling failed as well as writing those daily, laborious, repetitive positive affirmations in the spiral bound notebook that I was forced to do. Inside I had the same wants, goals and dreams as any other teenaged girl. Yet these were unattainable. While these problems may pale in comparison to the world’s social injustices and inequities, this was my life and my world! It was all that mattered to me at the time in my own selfish, self- centered world.

Outside I was quiet, yet within I was sad, angry, bitter and jealous. I was shy and lacked confidence and self esteem. I withdrew inward. Every night I would cry myself to sleep. . I could pass half the night awake in bed feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes I played out long scenarios of suicide despite the fact that I was too much of a coward for that. Imaginary scenarios of revenge and justice helped me fall asleep. In my dreams I lived out detailed fantasies of revenge and redemption- that is, of course- when I finally was able to sleep. I had a fear of death- not of my own but of my family. This extreme fear of others dying, made it very difficult for me to sleep. I specifically feared that my Dad would die. He had been hospitalized and had seizures, but no known diagnosis. I lived with a sick sense of dread and impending doom every night for years! In fact I would leave my bedroom sometime during the night and go out to the couch. I could barely even walk past the hall to go to the bathroom without having an intense fear of impending death. I hate nightmares often about death. I often wished my mother or older sisters were around so I didn’t have to face this fear alone. My only prayers were prayers that I would die peacefully in my sleep and never wake up. I didn’t fear my own death, however. I welcomed it. I doubted that even God existed because if He really did, I was sure that I had been abandoned by God. I wondered why I of all people deserved to have been singled out by my peers to endure such misery and frustration.

During the daytime I was withdrawn and anxious. I did not watch tv. I did not listen to music. I engaged in solitary activities: reading, writing, drawing and playing with dolls. I would clean and organize my room and my books and my dolls and my various collections. I had many collections: rocks, stickers, stamps, petrified/ shellacked hermit crabs….. All these things were my expressive outlet- especially writing. I could spend hours, and even an entire night simply writing- filling entire notebooks within a few short hours! This was the age before computers- so I would write and write and write until my fingers were red and callused and sore. I had to finish, I could not leave a piece of work unfinished! Oh, how I lived my life in my room. I lived out my dreams- reenacting a perfect world, and fulfilling my wishes for revenge and my dreams. All those little tiny people represented real people. I created a miniature replica of a town, filled with homes and schools, stores and people. After school from the time I was eight throughout high school, I lived out my life of normalcy and dreams through the fictitious town I created as well as its inhabitants. I found peace by playing within that town. Anything that happened in real life, I would reenact in my small miniature town. No detail was too insignificant to include in my little town replica. In fact, it had its own transportation system, school system, a library and even a newspaper! The newspaper was available both in miniature format as well as larger traditional format- to this day I still have some copies.

I enjoyed books and lived my life’s adventures from reading literature and novels. I also enjoyed philosophy, psychology and science as well. Much of my knowledge and experience came from books. I lived life experiences through reading, and made them come to life through my writings, my fantasies and the re-enactment through my dolls. To me this was life!

By today’s standards, my dreams as a youth were pretty mundane: my peers, normal and average by the world’s standards, represented the manifestation, and complete embodiment of my dreams. As impossible as it seemed my hopes consisted of getting a boyfriend, getting married and having children. That’s it! That was the scope of my ambition- simply to be normal like everyone else. Sure I did well in school- getting on the honor roll and honor society without ever having to study. I completed all my school work , studying and research papers in the time it took me to take the bus ride home and during the time it took finish my business on the toilet bowl. I had three cats, and these three animals were my only physical companions. I constantly feared they would get loose and run away.

The irony is that despite the anger and jealous feelings I harbored within, I felt morally superior to everyone else. I deluded myself into thinking I was righteously perfect. I believed I was so good and guilty of no wrong whatsoever. I believed I was morally superior to all those other so-called ingrates of society masquerading as “good” people. In fact everyone else had wronged me in my own mind. I believed if there actually was such a place as heaven, then I would go there with no problem. I was so puffed up with pride about my own goodness when I compared myself with all those other degenerates that dated, went to dances, listened to music or dressed in nice clothing. At least they were degenerates in my own mind. Yet at times when my father who was a believer in the bible would discuss the bible, I would silently, and without a word, stomp out in offense and leave the room. I simply did not want to hear about God or the bible. I silently and without complaint kept all my worries and miseries to myself.

One day this internal misery came to an end. I vaguely recall a young woman in her twenties associated with a high school self esteem related assembly program who somehow crossed my path and befriended me. She was a Christian, yet at the time having no interest in religion, Christianity or the bible, I do not recall any specific details concerning her associations. She invited me to lunch at Burger King during my lunch hour. We talked, or rather she talked, and I “listened”. In actuality I was more concerned about finishing my french fries than listening to whatever she appeared to be rambling about. She could not have missed my apathy and lack of response. She dutifully and in a perfunctory manner went over, laboriously page by page, a green booklet. She did not miss a detail explaining every diagram and caption- of which I barely glanced indifferently. But one statement of all the others stood out: she called me a sinner. Well she also explained how everyone was a sinner and that no one was righteous in God’s eyes. A sinner! I didn’t say anything, but immediately I took offense. How dare she assume that I was a sinner! She did not know who she was speaking to obviously. Obviously she didn’t know about my sufferings and misery. How inaccurate and ridiculous to accuse me of all people a sinner. As far as I was concerned I never sinned. I don’t remember anything else except that I felt disappointed somehow and she gave me that booklet and that somehow I made it back in time for my History class on time.

Looking back I remember the parables of Jesus about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle….. Well, a more formidable obstacle comes to mind- pride and self righteousness! How much easier it is for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a self righteous, stubborn, self pitying young girl (or anyone for that matter) to humble herself spiritually and enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet, it did happen!

Later that day I tried to put the entire conversation out of my mind. I still couldn’t get over the idea that she had referred to me as a sinner like everyone else. But the thoughts of that conversation and that verse consumed me! “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory if God”. (Romans 3:23) I was a sinner according to that statement! I pondered in my mind the implications of that statement. What if it was true? What if I was actually separated from God? The consequences were to terrible for me to even imagine. Just the thought that it may be true and I was outside of God was too much to bear.For days and maybe even weeks, I can not recall, I thought about it- deliberating and debating in my mind the consequences of that new knowledge. Oh how I wished that my comfortable vague ideas about God and heaven had not been challenged. I had grown accustomed to living comfortably within my own world with my self righteous attitude and self pity. What if it were really true? What if it was possible to have a relationship with God? What if I was separated from God? I had to humble myself spiritually and admit that I was a sinner. I had no choice and no excuse. Despite the hardships of my life, I still was guilty of sin in my actions and most of all my thoughts. My feelings of revenge and anger and envy were sinful! My fictitious fantasies were impure and sinful in God’s eyes. I was not morally perfect as I had deluded myself into believing. I had to make a choice and I had to make a change. It was a real decision. I decided to accept God’s friendship and gift of grace, admitting that I was guilty of sin. In that moment I had made the decision. There was no turning back. The message of the gospel and of salvation was truly good news. “God demonstrated his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8 For the first time in my life I felt truly happy and hopeful, as if an enormous burden had been cast off. The evil feelings I harbored within were a burden all my life, and it was liberating to release those negative feelings and to have God as my friend.

I still remember how I used to exist, as a corpse, dead in life, buried by my transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. I was the offspring of the prince of the power of the air- oh, how he owned me, living in disobediance, guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; having had my fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. Ephesians 2: 1-3 (the Voice NT). I once was dead, but now I am alive, born again- saved. Because I have heard the word of truth- and received the good news of salvation- and because I have believed in the One who is truth, marked with the Holy Spirit, who is promised as the guarentee, who frees and resuces all who belong to Him.

Another long night, but my comfort comes from the Holy Spirit

I was up one night, anxious and exteremely griefstricken over countless things.  I thought I was in for another sleepless night and my thoughts were drawn to Jesus - and that long, dark, lonely night he spent in the garden of Gethemsane. Jesus was God in the flesh, divine in spirit. Yet, at the same time Jesus was fully human- with a body subject to the same pains, discomforts and sensations as the rest of us. Though he was God, he was also a man. He was subject to human emotions: pain, grief, fear, thirst and forboding. With his divine nature, Jesus knew exactly what he was about to endure- a torturous death on the cross filled pain, suffering, humiliation, shame. In fact the pain he was yet to experience in a few short hours was described in explicit detail by David in the Psalms and the prophet Isaiah! The torturous, sensations of drowning in one's own fluid filled lungs, in a prolonged death of asphyxiation, stretched out on the cross, was described by David. Isahiah and David fortold of the nakedness, shame, and humiliation and abandonment that Jesus was yet to face at the cross. The sensations of thirst, pain, flesh stripped to shreds- to the bone, and even the shame- all foretold! Jesus was fully aware of what he would endure. Jesus was griefstricken, sickened, lonely, and anxious. And who wouldn't be in the face of death on the cross? We complain and bellyache about much less! Jesus, in his despair and pain pleaded with God to take the cup of suffering away- three times! Jesus asked his apostles to have the strength to remain awake. But they could not remain awake. They simply did not have the strength. Blood stained sweat dripped from Jesus as he fervently prayed. (Whoever painted those sanitized, artistic renditions of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, depicting Jesus wearing a freshly pressed and laundered white robe, with a pensive yet peaceful look, probably never read the actual biblical account. ) Yet, God gave Jesus- the supernatural strength he needed to persever, and Jesus responded "not My will but Your Will."


The power of the Holy Spirit is very real. The Holy Spirit is here and alive and ready for us. Not many people meditate on the significance of the Holy Spirit. Yes it is true, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity. Intellectually many people are aware of the fact. Every Sunday morning, we are reminded. Yet the significance is enormous! When you consider the Holy Spirit- which is in fact God (just as Jesus is God and the Father is God), then the true meaning and significance become more apparent. It is nothing short of miraculous! God is with us through the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit of God is no less real than the presense of Jesus Christ in ancient Palestine, or the presence of God, the Father in his throne in heaven. All three are God, and the Holy Spirit is essentially God with us- here right now. It is the Holy Spirit that gave Jesus the strength to endure his fate on the cross. It is the Holy Spirit that helped Jesus survive 40 torturous and lonely days & nights in a dry desolate dessert, parched and hungry in the face of the devil's temptations. It is the Holy Spirit that gave a band of unlearned men. the apostles, the strength and wisdom to persevere and spread the good news of the gospel message. This same Holy Spirit strengthened the early believers to face a painful death, being torn to shreds by wild animals, as they were marytered for entertainment at the hands of the ancient Roman government. That same very Holy Spirit can help each and every one of us, infusing us with supernatural, spiritual strength to persevere, even when our minds and our bodies fail us. This is not about our own will power. It isn't about keeping a new years resolution or being tough and independant. This is not simply another self help type of advise that is contained in countless dieting, and relationship and other self helpbooks. This isn't like having a voice in one's head telling us what to do or what not to do. This is about the power of the Holy Spirit that helps us, when we are at our weakest. We don't muster this strength on our own merits, but rather by placing our faith in God.


Jesus explained that we must not live by bread and food alone but by the word of God. The word of God is more important than the food and water we need for our daily sustainance! Certainly food and water keep our physical bodies alive and functioning, but there is something much more important than the physical body- and that is the spirit. Our spiritual health is more important to true life than merely our physical state. And, even when our bodies betray us, when our physical bodies fail us and shame us, we can find renewing and refreshing strength that we need from the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has the miraculous life chaging power to renew each and every one of us spiritually. Replace the expression or term "Holy Spirit" with "God" and it will become clear that God himslef has the power to renew and restore our spirit in order to give us the strength we need to endure and persevere. With God at your side, who needs a counselor or psychoanalysis? Pills, doctors, drugs and medications pale in comparison to the power of God himself through the Holy Spirit! Everything is second place- money, prosperity, career, selfish ambition- its all a counterfit when it comes to the power for peace and strength. You can spend hours in theraphy, you may spend lots of money shopping, or to go on drinking binges, or mind- numbing outings at bars, parties, clubs, sports and other entertainment- all these things may numb the pain or provide diversion- but none of these things can heal. Only God can heal. The power of the Holy Spirit can heal the sick and weak spirit. The power of the holy Spirit can changes lives- no matter how many days you have remaining before you- whether its one day or 70 years. We don't need to be vampires to live for ever, nor do we need superheros like Superman or Spiderman to save us.


And then suddenly in the dark lonliness at 2am, from no where I felt a bit of hope, and peace and thankfulness. God did not take away my problems-they are still there. But, sometimes God's answer to our requests and problems is simply "no", yet I was offered spiritual strength and peace. It is through trials and storms we gain spiritual strength and the ability to persevere. I've been shortsited- overcome in my own personal grief and anxiety. Paul had the thorn in his side, that God chose not to take away and in his weakness he found strength. When Jesus pleaded with God in Gethemane to take away his cup of suffering he was given strength and peace to proclaim, "not my will, but yours." I have the spiritual strength to go on another day, and the peace to lay aside my worry and anxiety. God has the power to grant hope and change lives- God has been there for me in the past to pull me through and will do so now.

The River by Michael Neale

The widely promoted fiction novel, The River by Michael Neale is a visually striking book- complete with an authentic vintage, weather worn cover and embossed print cover- what you might expect from an old beat up leather journal.  The story is about a traumatised boy who witnessed his father's death as he heroically saved some tourists from drowing in the river.  While  there are not a lot of gory and graphic  details about his father's death, the author Michael Need provides authentic psychological insight into the mind of a traumatised child.  After that surreal nightmarish event, Gabrieldoes on to live with his estranged mother who tries to take care of him as best as she can within her limited means.  Basically his mom is an outsider, who simply does not have the financial means or knowledge needed to get Gabriel the help he depserately needs.  As a child he is withdrawn, as if sufffering the effects from PTSD and as an adult he just never quite fits in or succeeds as he is forever haunted by the loss.  As if from a child's point of view, Gabriel is missing so much of the detail about his father's death, it just doesn't make sense- he feels as if he is orphaned or abandoned.  He suppresses his anger and rage which he feels towards the River- which took his dad's life.  Yet at the same time he is compelled to return to the river-  it is an obsession.
It is amazing to see the life long psychological impact that tragedy had on Gabriel's entire life. He often "retreated into his own thoughts. They were the only safe place in his life, the only place he could control. Indifferent to the world abd his future, Gabriel plodded along, performing the same routines day in and day out...and little else.... he was a shell of a person..." Page 110. What this book lacks in action, it makes up in authentic and genuine insight into the mind of one who experiences an unthinkable tragic event. I imagine that Neale had some background in the field of psychology, in order to provide the accurate details of the battle within the mind.
 Finally an outside catalyst helps him to take the steps needed to confront his fears, and for closure introduces Gabriel into vieweing the River from a new, yet more "spiritual" perspective

It is as if the River holds a supernatural mystical power. In fact, the River is personified as if it were a diety where as Tabitha, a character in the book explains, "The River gives it to you [courage] after you take the first step, but a lot of people don't know that because they never get in the boat.  If you don't get in you'll never know what you're missing" (page 157). In a handwritten entry by R. Allen Clark, another character, explains that as a guide he felt it was "a magnificent privilege to introduce people to the majesy [of the River].  You don't have to say anything.  Just take them there and The River says it all". (page 216)  The  River takes on a life of its own, and is revered or even idolized. In the novel every reference to the river is analagous to a reference to a diety as it is always  printed in upper case- "The River" if it is a god.  Devotion to the River is taken to a new level as if it were a religion. Homage to the River is almost cult-like- as if this is the type of medicine Gabirel needs to overcome his deep rooted pain. This mystical line of thinking is reminiscent of new age or  Native American culture in that they too gave power to nature. In contrast to facing the River with anger and recognising his dad's death as a senseless tragedy, the new mystical thinking offers comfort.  This new age philosophy transfers the power rightfully due to God, over on to the River- in a psychological attempt to recreat the original representation of grief and pain, and reinvent  The River, into an entity with purpose. 

 As a blogger I received this book from Thomas Nelson publishers for the purposes of writing this review. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shades of Souls Passed by Teresa Andrews

 Shades of Souls Passed: True Accounts of Ghostly Encounters in Madison County, New York by Teresa R. Andrews, illustrateded by Jacqueline Andrews is a short compedium of folk-lorish ghost stories.  This ghostly collection- a  hybrid genre combining local urban ghost stories with local history,  contains nine individual short stories as reported by nine different people, retold by Andrews.   Each story is accompanied by original artwork.  In contrast to simple line cartoonish drawings often seen in books, Jacqueline Andrews'careful artwork contributes greatly to the sombre mood and atmosphere of each story.  As any good book of spooky tales, the author purports the stories to be true- as reported by the "victims" or individuals who experienced them.  As with a true story, the events are chronologically reported in reporter-like fashion combined with Andrews' skilled method of developing well detailed atmosphere.  The author claims no embelishments are added.  In fact, to add to the authenticity of these Madison County tales of horror, specific, additional details are included- details which further identify the individual characters.  For example, Phil's story which took place over the course of a Thanksgiving weekend, and ironically titled "Thanksgiving Weekend", discusses specific details about his mom's job as a Dean of Administration at Morrisville College.  Specific geographical details, and even the minute details of the house decor, add to the authenticity of the story.  Sensational discription is left out, in favor of mundane- yet factiual, unembellished, realistic details.

Another tale, tells the story of an intense bond shared between her woman and her horse. Detailed background is provided about the shared memories and experiences between Darlene, and her prized companion of over 10 years.  The deep sorrow and remorse she experiences after the untimely and unexpected death of her horse is depicted in great detail.  The story chronicles their relationship which ends with the horse's painful death. Basically, the story is not a ghost story in the traditional sense, but rather a story of the relationship of a woman and her horse.  The supernatural element of the horse's ghostly apparition does not appear until the very end of the story.   Had the story not been included in a book of ghost stories, the supernatural ending might have caught the reader off guard. 

As with the other stories, the supernatural element is not the emphasis of the stories.  Rather, the focus is on the chronological and historical facts as told by the original storyteller and local Madison County lore. There are no gory or scary details.  The stories are suitable for all readers.

The author explores the possible presence of the human spirt (and animal spirit) after death.
Mankind has always had an interest in the spiritual world and afterlife, hence the allure of ghost stories. On a superficial level, people are intrigued by ghosts and scary stories especially around Halloween.  On a deeper level, people are made to experience eternity and we have questions of course, about heaven, and God.  These stories, nevertheless are written for entertainment purposes and I do not believe that it is the intent of author to  make any spiritual or theological claims.

I must admit I am skeptical when it comes to believing modern day visions and or the validity of ghost stories. I see ghost stories for entertainment purposes only.  There are so many alleged apparitions, and  ghostly spirits on television, movies and even various religions-  I believe most to be hoaxes, or delusions- and in other cases, possibly demonic in nature. Once the reader decides to accept the ghost story as legit, it is up to the reader to discern the source or supernatural power behind theghostly appearance. This is where most readers will most likely accept with blind faith that this is a true account in part because most people want to believe this heartwarming and comforting message is true.

Any responsible reader familiar with the bible will be aware that he or she is faced with the task of determining if the experience of the author is spiritually based on spiritual truth, or if it perhaps is an indirect attempt of evil spirits to mislead believers into accepting false information. Paul  warned in the letters of the new testement, especially in the book of Galations, that even Satan, and evil spirits can appear as angels of light, deceiving many. That possibility must be acknowledged by anyone who reads this book. So, who is to say that a perceived ghost isn't the deception of an evil spirit decieving a greiving loved one.  But, as mentioned earlier, I do not believe that the author is presenting any claims either way, in favor or against ghosts.  I believe the simple intent is to make a compendium of local stories for historical and entertainment purposes.

As a blogger   I received this book for the purpose of writing this review. This books makes an enjoyable addition to any ghost story of folk lore collection.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's that time of year again.....Kidstuff- Coupon book

It's that time of year again, September- the start of a new school year,  when every elementary school, middle school and nursery school- all over the nation- is promoting the yearly fundraiser- the infamous $25 "Kidstuff- Coupon Savings Book".  Books are aggresively marketed like unwelcome  solicitors- as they come home in the bookbags- even labeled with the student's name! I even see countless facebook posts of desperate parents trying to sell just one more book in an already saturated market. I figured I review books on this blog, why not this "book" as well, which has earned the same level of poplarity as the purile Shades of Gray series. 

 I am all for school spirit and supporting school programs.  In fact much of my time is spent volunteering for various groups.  Its just that having always been  on a strict budget with my very modest entry level income- and now recently,  having had just been laid off I generally don't do much shopping other than for the minimum basic neccesities.  And even when I do grocery shopping, it is not in bulk- thereby making it unlikely I will ever spend the minimum purchase of $100 required at Shoprite to be able to use the $5 off coupons. The insert flyer promises the consumer that just by using a few of the coupons contained in the book, the book will pay for itself.  But, a quick browse through the coupons reveal that you must literally spend hundreds of dollars at least to recoup the $25 paid for the coupon book.  Yes it is true that if you are an active consumer or shopaholic and are always out shopping- you will evemntually recoup the cost of the book.  And yes, I understand some money goes to the school- $12.50, at least. But for those families on a budget, who scrape by simply making a living and making enough just for food and utilites- it seems out of reach to actually save money while using this book when it requires sometimes extravagent and expensive minimum purchases to benefit from the coupons enclosed.  And yes, for me, many of the theme parks entrance  fees are simply too expensive even with a coupon and  upscale retailers such as Lord & Taylor, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, the Disney Store, NY & C, f.y.e, Disney On Ice, JoS A. Bank, Eddie Bauer, and Fridays, as well as minimum required purchase required to use the coupons, are too prohibitive for my budget. Even the discount retailers, such as the K Mart coupons, require a whopping $50 purchase to use the $5 coupon.  I don't have any credit cards, so basically, my purchases are limited to what I have in my bank account after the bills are paid.  I could never afford to go on a $50 shopping spree- no matter what the occasion, much less spend that amount at a single store. I wish I could afford to spend that much in one shopping trip to use a coupon, but I can't. 

When I saw the McDonald's coupons, I thought to myself that those might prove to be useful.  But then upon closer inspection I noticed that for many of the coupons, the discount required the purchase of a full priced a-la- carte item in order to use the buy one get one free.  In bold letters, "Free" lured in the inattentive consumer, but the fine print revealed "with purchase of same".  So, how is it saving money to buy a sandwich at full price and get a second sandwich you don't need?  It would have been more useful to simply have a coupon savings off of a single meal.  Many of the "Free" coupons in general required the purchase of a full priced item.

So basically, the book serves to simply show me everything I cannot afford to eat, buy or do. It shows me what "good" wealthier families can afford- so therefor I feel inadequate by society's standards. Is it the intent of this book to make hardworking families feel inadequate by showing them all the theme parks, and restaurants they can't afford?  If I could afford to do a lot of shopping, then I could afford the book.  But honestly, other than the four  $1 off Happy Meal coupons, I did not see any other coupons that would justify me spending $25 on the book. Some will say there is something for everyone- yes that is true- but not $25 worth. But for me, to buy a $25 book just for the $4 worth of happy meal coupons is not something I can do when every dollar counts.  Perhaps if a small group got together and pitched in $3 each and split the coupons amongst themselves- then yes, I could see the value in that.  Personally, I will have to stick to the free coupons I get in the mail.  Even if I never use those, at least I did not pay for them.  And in my family where no one has money, jobs or even health insurance, with homes in forclosure, medical bills and jobless, I cannot in good conscious,  guilt them into buying an overpriced coupon book.  But, if you, the reader of my blog, happen to want to buy one, feel free to contact me, because I know three schools that are selling them.

The Deadly Track by Stephen Coar

The Deadly Track: A Ride Against Time by Stephen R. Coar is a new detective novel about an FBI agent's investigation of a serial train bomber in the Pine Barrens of NJ. As a resident of Ocean County,  I found many of the local towns references familiar, as well as the numerous references to governement agencies that are familiar to all New Jersey residents. Authentic scenic discriptions, transport the reader from the miles of wooded parkway, to the hidden Pines and to the suburbs of NJ.

Coar spends signifiant time in the novel developing his complex set of characters. Ironically, it is not the main character, FBI agent Lester Cody, which drew my attention. Agent Cody seemed like the stereotypical hero- with the typical frustrated and dissapointed wife, and a loving daughter.  He is a man who was injured in the line of duty, and suffered physical injury which impacted his personal life as well as his professional career.  Most notable, is Coar's explicit, and authentic Charles Dickens- like discription of an eccentric physically deformed, yet brilliant, and lonely misunderstood killer.  Max, is the evil mastermind behind the serial train bombings.  In fact, the shockingly, vivid discription is so well detailed that the complex story behind the anti- hero, Max, in of itself, would make a richly detailed story.  Apparently, the author was familiar with abnormal psychology and the DSM-IV classification of mental illness. Significant attention was devoted to Max's mental abilities, his schemes as well as childhood, and the physical and emotional abuse he suffered.  Coar provides the reader with unique insight into a disordered mind. Coinicdentally, Cody and his nemesis share two major traits in common.  Firstly, both experience brain trauma  (in Cody's case- sustained by an injury and in Max's case, it is due to genetic physical impaiment from birth). Secondly, both are depicted as having a degree of mental intelligence. Yet at the same time, both characters represent opposite physical extremes- reminiscent of the circus freak sideshow.  Max is incredibly short- the contraption, which is described as his personal vehicle is described as if it were a sideshow prop.  In contrast, Cody is depicted as abnormally tall.  The attention to detail in the story behind Max, makes the book worthwhile reading.  Quite often in the detective thriller genre, the characters are not very well developed. Not so in this book where significant details are  presented about the characters. The insertion of the Islamic extremeists adds further complication to the story.  personally I found there were too many characters and story lines to keep track of.  Nevertheless, this 494 page detective novel reads like a lengthy saga- with a number of characters interacting in this detective novel. There were a few explicit scenes in the book making it unsuitable for some readers.  These were possibly included to add addtional interest to the jaded modern reader of today who is exposed to this material in film, television and modern novels.

 The back of the book references a sequel, featuring the hero, FBI Agent, Lester Cody.  Yet, as a reader I would like to see more works with the Max, the deformed, sinister midget.  Given that his character dies in the end of the book, I assume there is no way to ressurect this memorable and unique character.  As a reader I am curious if the author can create an equally intriguing and interesting foe for his sequel. I am also curious about his short stories which are briefly mentioned in the short exerpt about Coar's life on the back of the book.   This new novel is a welcome addition to the detective thriller genre, and the Agent Cody series stands to be just as strong a presence in detective fiction as other well known fictional detectives.  As a blogger I received this book from the author, published by Outskirts Press for the purpose of writing this review.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Remember Me by Brian MacLearn

Remember Me, by Brian MacLearn is a unique fiction novel about a content middle aged man who has everything a man could wish for: financial prosperity, grandkids, and a new marriage to a younger wife, and well adjusted adult children who pretty much were shielded from the trauma of his recent divorce. Andrew Johnson is unexpectedly caught in an electrical storm and  enters a wormhole while doing a routine, mundane chore of mowing his lawn in anticipation of having a big birthday bash the following day.  Supernaturally he finds himself transported into the past from 2010- to the year 1985. He finds himself standing in the same exact location- only years earlier. He finds that his life as he has known it, no longer exists- and in fact is in danger of never existing.  To reduce the impact he may have in changing the lives of his future family: wives, kids and grandchildren, he finds he must isolate himself from anyone he may potentially know, especially family.

As a practical matter, he seeks out his parents, and after convincing them of his identity he developes a relationship with his younger parents and sister who help him adjust to life in the past. Fortunately his parents' trusting and gullible nature, make it so that he doesn't need to take long to convince his parents into believing the incredible events that led to his transport into the past. Once he has his parents as his ally to  help him get a fresh new start- he slowly adjusts to 1985. After gaining financial independance, he finds he must distance himself from his family to avoid unintentional interventions. The author spends a great deal of time discussing Andrew's path to financial independance and his money making schemes.  Practical matters such as establishing a new identity and making money through betting on sports games, are thorougly explained in extensive detail- in the same fashion as when the villian from the 1980s movie "Back to the Future" goes back in time and provides his younger self with a sports almanac, providing the perfect money making sheme for success in sports gambling.  He has a wealth of information from the future at his disposal to exploit for money making purposes: stock tips, technological information, movie/ media references and sports. He mediates and mentally brainstorms in an attempt to recover any and all information that may be of use in his money making endeavors. He could even make money as a psychic if he chose to do so, based on his knowledge of the future.   The possibilities are endless. He had many "glorious" opportunties "to make significant money". (p 157.)

The author explores interesting philosophical  issues such as purpose and predestination.  Andrew comes to the conclusion that the future is not set in stone- and that mankind is not predestined.  As human beings we have free will to consciously or unconsciously change the future- for better or worse. For example, Andrew enters a period of despair after a failed attempt to thwart the Challanger rocket explosion which killed the entire crew. And just a brief, insignificant, chance meeting with his ex-wife in a supermarket, changes the entire course of destiny so that his second daughter Emily is wiped from existence, and his ex-wife has instead, a son.  The ripple effect, in which each individual life impacts countless other lives, can have far reaching and unexpected consequences. The title itself is a symbol of Andrew's devotion to his wife and family, and specifically the daughter Emily that he inadvertently erased from exiwstence by his time travel into the past.  In fact, that becomes his "driving force" and "moral compass to be steadfast and true". (page 156)

The hero, Andrew, a movie buff and a storehouse of popular culture- has a high degree of self awareness and points out the obvious similarities of his situation to a number of popular sci-fi films such as "Back to the Future" and "The Butterfly Effect".  This novel in fact is a hybrid of  romance novel- whereas some cultural and historical as well as popular scifi elements such as time travel and worm holes are added.  While the book explores the social and philosophical imlications of time travel indepth, there isn't lengthy scientific explanatory material to make the story a science fiction novel other than a few simple passages of explanation on wormholes and multiple universes.  Obviously this is  the intent of the author as this is not to be considered a science fiction novel, but rather a contemporary romance novel. The fact that this is a romance novel is re-enforced from the first chapter, with its explicit account of his physical devotion to his wife, and woven throughout the story in the obsessive way that Andrew's thoughts are always drawn to his wife- who represents tha anchor of security.  Throughout his years of exile in the past, Andrew has one wish- to return home to his wife and the future. Andrew's thoughts are consumed with that of his second wife in a co-dependant, newlywed type of way. On occasion, Andrew prays to God and attempts to maintain his faith in the midst of the unexplainable events- but his true devotion is to his wife Amy his idol.

Andrew finds he must actually repeat the grueling  25 years of his life again- in real time- from the years 1985 back to 2010 after finding no easy and quick way back to the future.  Those years as an outsider, living in the sidelines, watching his family from afar take its toll physically and emotionally. He witnessess first hand the changes to his life- new children born, and his lament that his first marriage that did not wind up ending in divorce. He even is forced to live through the events of 9/11 once again- with a strong desire to devise a plan to thwart  the tragedy.  The plot to give advance warning served to save some of the lives that would have been lost. The one thing he focuses on for purpose is finding his way back to the wormhole on that fateful day in 2010. Eventually he finds himself back in his own time and place- blissfully unaware of what happend. Yet it is not without cost, in an unexpected twist, Amy life is changed forever and she finds herself on the sidelines, alone,  watching her younger self live her life of happiness. She has paid the ultimate sacrifice in her love and faith in Andrew, while also having her life profoundly changed by his time travel.  The original Andrew that went back in time, sends a handwritten  letter as well as the book, he wrote, also titled "Remember Me"- to himself in 2010- years after he dies -delivered by a mysterious older version of his beloved Amy. I cannot help but feel there are many parallels between the life of the author Brian MacLearn and the main character, Andrew.  I had to read through this book- just to see the ending! MacLearn's  writing displays authentic and genuine emotions expressed through his fictional hero.  As a blogger, I receieved this book, published by Outskirts Press for the purpose of writing a review.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Grace by Max Lucado

There are countless theological and apologetic book on the topic of Grace available in Christian bookstores everywhere. Max Lucado's book, Grace, simplifies and explains the thological concept of Gr4ace.  An over used word in prayers, hymns and books, "grace" has become somewhat of a cliche that has lost its true meaning in the minds of most readers.  Lucado disects and devotes an entire book to the meaning of grace and how it applies in our everyday lives.  Max Lucado's writings are  among the most uplifting books that I have recently read. This book specifically helps those who are enduring really difcult times, to endure and persevere. The author address real issues- job loss, terminal illness, grief and loss and even everday daily stresses. This book is designed to help any reader- from those who are suffering from extreme circumstances and those crushed and frustrated from the burdens of everyday life. This book offers real help! If you are bellyaching because you burned your husband's dinner, or the grass stain won't come out of the soccer uniform, or if missed an apointment for your pedicure, or your favorite coach bag sold out before you reached the mall, then this book isn't for you. What you need is a fluffy, superficial, condescending, feel- good, women's devotional book. But, if you truly suffer from life's heartaches, and are searching for true meaning and not just mindless songs or cliches, then this book will offer the comfort you need.
In true Lucado fashion, Max writes in an animated, easy to understand style that communicates biblical truths to the reader. His books bring bible stories and biblical truth to life in an inspirational way that speaks out to the reader. "Catch God in a bad mood? Won't happen. Fear exhausting his grace? A sardine will swallow the Atlantic first. Think he's given up on you?" ..... Lucado's use of colorful language and his conversational tone, make it so that biblical truths are memorable and meaningful to the average modern reader. You need not be a theologen, educated in an expensive seminary or college to understand Max Lucado's books. This inspirational book will be certain to leave the reader with a lasting impression. In today's self centered society, without offense Max Lucado illustrates the importance of living life based on biblical principles. After reading this book, and really meditating on the biblical truths communicated via Max Lucado, one can feel a renewed sense of embpowerment to live a selfless life style. Max makes use of personal anecdotes as well as bible stories to illiustrate the importance of depending on God rather than on the material things of this world. If you are a theologen, looking for an apologetic defense on the purpose of depending on God then this book isn't for you. This is not a wordy theological book on Grace- there are plenty of works like that. But, if on the other hand you are simply looking for bible based motivation and a relief in a world that takes pride in materialism, selfish ambition and competition, then this book is perfect. This book shows the biblical and personal significance of grace. It brings true meaning to God's gift of undeserved grace in everday simple language. As a blogger for booksneeze, I receive books from Thomas Nelson publishers in exchange for writing an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Answers Book 4 Teens Vol 2 Bodie Hodge, Tommy Mitchell with Ken Ham

Answers Book 4 Teens Vol 2 : Your Questions God's Answers by Bodie Hodge, Tommy Mitchell with Ken Ham is a second volume in a series of apologetic books with its unique, graphic. The appealing modern color graphics, and computer- photoshop styled art is enough to compete with popular teen magazines and draw the attention of teenaged readers. The indepth writing, nevertheless will most likely appeal to older readers- college students and adults.  Beneath the modern illustrated appearance is an indepth look at biblical principals and theology written in simplified language for a young reader.

As with the first volume, once again there are fifteen common, yet crucial questions about faith and the bible which are addressed, ranging in various topics such as evolution, slavery, abortion and stemcell research. This volume specifically focuses on areas of science pertaining to eveolution- and the distinctions bewteen micr and macro evolution, fossil evidence, and mutations.  Hot political topics such as slavery and abortion and stem cell research is also discussed. More specifically, satisfying and complete answers are provided for timely scientific questions such as the validity of evolution and missing links, the role of mutation- if any- in evolution and other essential college topics are intrudeced. Social issues will also apply to college students as well especially those who take philosophy political science.

In a culture dominated by sub standard mass media, and magazines which serve to shape the impresssionable minds and morals of teenagers, finanally a publication is made to appeal to this target audience. In contrast to a bare bones text based books on CS Lewis, Aquinas or Augustine apologetics, this book captures the main themes in a repackaged, modern format that is easily digested by younger or modern readers. The only problem with tis book is that I feel the title is too limiting.  I feel the scope of material may be too indepth for the average teen and more suited to the older reader or college student. As a blogger for New Leaf Publishers I recieved this book published by Master Books for the purpose of review.