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Thursday, November 24, 2005

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cover of X-Men Dangerous

The highly-anticipated (at least by me and G.) follow-up to X-Men: Dangerous lived up to my expectations. It deals with the aftermath of the "mutant cure", specifically in the life of Wing, a young flying mutant who was injected with the serum in the last volume. The Fantastic Four also make an appearance, and it was fun to see those characters interacting. But most important and fascinating is Whedon's notion of the Danger Room coming to life-- and what outcome might result from an Artificial Intelligence devoted entirely to violence.

Whedon's writing continues to be subtle and funny-- hinting at more than one traitor in the midst of the X-Men, highlighting the differences between the characters as they are fighting. I love the moment when, after long and involved monologues by a few other characters, Wolverine's one thought is "I really like beer."

Danger is a wonderful character and a great villain; a perfect enemy for the X-Men since she knows their weaknesses so intimately. The plot for her freedom is so carefully and perfectly thought out to take advantage of the X-Men's reactions. The interaction with Xavier is also fascinating with a hint of mystery. This is a character I hope we will get to see again, at some point.

Title:Astonishing X-Men Volume 2: Dangerous
Author:Joss Whedon
Date published:2005
Genre:Graphic Novel
Series:Astonishing X-Men
Number of pages:144


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

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cover of X-Men: Gifted

I am enough of a fan of Joss Whedon's work in any medium to pick up almost anything he writes, so I managed to find the Comic Book section of my local Borders and purchase this volume, which collects the first 6 issues of Whedon's "Astonishing X-Men". It's amazing how easily he is able to weave together so many different plot threads-- particularly the idea that being a mutant is some kind of a disease which can now be cured, a cure which was funded and intended to be used for intergalactic political ends. Added to this are the mixed loyalties of people within and without the X-Men organization, and each character's own problems and memories.

I am not an expert on the X-Men at all, and mostly only know about them from the movies and the PlayStation games (which are quite good). So, it was fascinating to find out more about the characters I'd heard of, as well as meeting new ones (to me), such as the enigmatic Emma Frost and the very appealing Shadowcat (and, of course, the delightful interplay between them). Also interesting is the emotional reaction to the "cure" by the different characters-- such as Beast, who no longer looks human and who is tormented by the possibility of regaining his humanity and losing his fur.

Well-written and beautifully drawn. Plenty of witty dialog to amuse, along with and fascinating plot that leaves you wanting more at the end of the volume.

Title:Astonishing X-Men Volume 1: Gifted
Author:Joss Whedon; artwork by John Cassaday
Date published:2004
Genre:Graphic Novel
Number of pages:152
Notes:Repeat reading.


Monday, November 21, 2005

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cover of Secret Life of Bees

A truly wonderful book. Lily Owens grows up with the horrible knowledge that it is her fault her mother is no longer with her. Her father is bitter and abuses her (because she always reminds him of his wife, and he has no other way to deal with his pain). They have a housemaid, Rosaleen, who is black, which is important because the book takes place in South Carolina during the time the Civil Rights Act is enacted. Some unexpected events happen, and the two of them run away to a town whose name was written on the back of a picture from Lily's mother. The picture is of a black Madonna. Throughout the story there are images of womanhood and femininity and what it means to love and receive love.

Lily and Rosaleen end up 'coincidentally' with three sisters (August, May, and June) who keep bees, make all sorts of honey and wax products, and who live life fully - in some ways. May, the youngest sister feels life intensely – almost like she cannot separate the pain of the world from herself. To deal with the immensity of pain her sisters come up with the idea of a wailing wall in which she can stick notes that she writes about the pain. That idea is beautiful to me – that sometimes we have problems too big for us, and we can just put them in the wall or give them to God and He'll take care of them (since He already is...).

Truth is interspersed throughout the novel – not a preachy sort of truth, but ideas you read and go 'hmm' because they resonate in your soul. Truth can be simple, obvious, or profound - and sometimes all three at once. Running away is not the answer, but sometimes to stand against evil you have to run away to get strong enough.

Title:The Secret Life of Bees
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Date published:2002
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of pages: 302
Notes: Recommended by Mel


Friday, November 18, 2005

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cover of The Artist's Way

Julia Cameron's "artist's way" is a twelve-week workbook that aims at recovering, or discovering, your creativity. This book has been around for long enough-- and successful enough-- that some of its fixtures have become familiar to artists who are not acquainted with the book itself-- namely, the "morning pages" (write 3 pages every morning-- it doesn't matter what about, just write) and the "artist date" (take the time to do something fun and frivolous, to feed your creative side).

In some ways, working through this book was a very challenging and time-consuming experience. For each chapter there are tasks, and it would take a great deal of commitment to do all of them, plus morning pages and artist dates each week, which I never quite managed (although often our failures are as enlightening than our successes, if not more so). The book wasn't exactly what I expected; most of the content and the exercises are more about becoming a healthy person, and having good, healthy attitudes about art and creativity--which, certainly, are important. I thought there would be more in the way of artistic assignments to get you started, doing something in whatever media you like to work, or trying new ones (that might be the case in a few instances, although saying so might be a bit of a stretch). Perhaps the book just aims to get you in a place where you are willing and able to make the time for yourself to be creative, and to follow through on your own ideas and dreams (and there are some tools and helps towards this); but you still have to take the actual steps yourself.

There is also a spiritual component to Cameron's views on art; she challenges her readers to think of their "higher power" as a creative being, and one who values creativity-- and who gives us dreams and abilities for a reason, and wants to see us flourishing. Sometimes, with the language Cameron uses, it's difficult to tell what kind of background she is coming from-- what she says tends to sound a bit like New Age stuff, but this might be a result of trying to write it in terms that will be acceptable to people of a wide variety of beliefs. Also, I've been exposed to a lot of views and theories about art, and I'm not sure how much stock I put in her view... but I have to admit, her vision may be one that is more likely to encourage and stimulate acts of artistic creation, so it may be a pragmatic one in some ways.

This is an interesting and challenging book, and there is a lot of value here. It is worth going through, and probably worth doing more than once.

Title:The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
Author:Julia Cameron
Date published:1992
Genre:Nonfiction / Creativity / Spirituality
Number of pages:229
Notes:Worked through over 12 weeks with 3 others.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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cover of A Wind in the Door

Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin get to be part of another adventure involving creatures who are very 'other' and not of this world. They go on journeys to very large places and very small places. But it is not so much the size that matters – many creatures can kythe, or communicate with each other silently, despite obvious differences. This kything is more of a communion than the talking that humans use. Wonderful ideas of communing, being part of the great song, knowing someone enough to love them as they are and thus name them.

Naming!! This concept continues to affect my view of life and the ways that I interact with people. Seeking to Name others is to call them to be truly themselves. When we are confident of who we are (especially in Christ), we can be more free to Name others without fear.

Title:A Wind in the Door
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Date published:1973
Genre: Children's Fiction
Series: Time Quartet
Number of pages: 203
Notes: A repeat reading


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

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cover of The Magician's Nephew

We follow the adventures of Digory and Polly, as they stumble into other worlds, and through their adventures we learn about the creation of Narnia and the origin of the White Witch. I grew up reading the Narnia books with my family, and we always read them in chronological order-- that is to say, in the history-of-Narnia order, not the order that Lewis wrote the books. So, when we read through all the chronicles, we always started with The Magician's Nephew. It may not be my favorite of the Narnia books, but there is plenty that is fascinating here-- one dying world, another being born; a creation story, and a garden that seems somewhat familiar, complete with a tree bearing the silver apples of life.

There is plenty here that is fascinating, and worth thinking about or discussing with others. This time through, I thought more about Lewis' treatment of magic (it is bad, and its practitioners-- namely, Uncle Andrew and Queen Jadis-- are evil, to varying degrees); this was on my mind, in part, because of the outcry against Harry Potter from certain quarters, while the same people have no problem with magical fantasy from Tolkien or Lewis. It bothers me that they never articulate what the problem is, or the difference between the books which are acceptable or not.

It is also fun to be reminded that Lewis believed in the possibility of other worlds-- it is something that comes up in the Narnia books and his space trilogy, but I think he mentions the possibility in his non-fiction writings, as well. In most of the Narnia books, it is easy to think that there is only Narnia and Earth, but here Digory and Polly get to Narnia by way of pools in the quiet wood between the worlds-- and there are hundreds of pools, which suggests there are far more worlds than we ever get to explore or read about.

The creation imagery is particularly wonderful. It seems especially appropriate and wonderful that Aslan creates Narnia with a song-- and, for a while, different parts of that creation (most notably the stars) participate in the music of creation. This creative power is so strong that anything will grow in the new soil of Narnia-- a lamp post, from a broken off part of a lamp; gold and silver trees from the coins in Uncle Andrews' pockets; and even a toffee tree, from the children's candy.

But along with the creation of Narnia, there is a kind of story that mirrors the Fall. Even before Narnia is created, evil is brought into this new world in the form of Queen Jadis from the dead world Charn, which she helped to destroy. And Jadis was awakened by the willfulness of a little boy, by a simple choice. To make up for this mistake, and to protect Narnia, Aslan sends that boy, Digory, to fetch an apple from a tree in the center of a far-off garden (and there are echoes of Eden here); and in the garden, there is a temptation scene with the witch, Jadis. One of the things that intrigues me most about this part of the story is what Aslan's explanation of the fruit. It is in the nature of the fruit to give life and protection, but if it is not used properly-- if it is stolen, taken without permission or selfishly-- it does not bring joy. In particular, Aslan says that if someone had taken the apple to protect Narnia without being sent for it, it would indeed have protected Narnia, but it would have made Narnia a harsh, cruel land like the world of Charn. This is interesting, because even a good thing, that brings protection and life, when abused can be destructive or cause perversion.

The Magician's Nephew offers plenty to fascinate and entertain. Among other things, Lewis offers a warning-- the world of Charn, and the Deplorable Word that Jadis uses to destroy it, are offered as clear parallels to the path of humans on Earth. But at the same time that we receive this dire warning, we are also given the hope and delight of the new life in the joyous world of Narnia.

Title:The Magician's Nephew
Author:C. S. Lewis
Date published:1955
Genre:Fantasy / Young Adult
Series:Chronicles of Narnia
Number of pages:186
Notes:Repeat Reading. Read and discussed with community group.


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cover of Redeeming Love

A romance based on the book of Hosea - with a good man being told by God to love a prostitute, and all that comes from that. The man, named Michael Hosea, is known by all as someone who lives what he believes every day. The woman, named Angel by the first man who used her for himself, hides behind a thick wall because she has nowhere else to go. She is a high commodity, and people bribe the Duchess to get half an hour with her. Michael begins to pursue her hand in marriage, and gets laughed at and scorned many times -- both by her and others. Angel has no hope and this man comes to offer true Hope, but things always get worse for her so she can't let his promise of hope affect her.

Michael does not push her to accept God or even believe in God, but he continues to trust God himself, obey God, and pray for his new wife. He does not fit into any of her categories, and he slowly breaks down her walls so that she starts to feel and remember and hurt about evil things that happened to her.

Names are significant in the Bible, and in this story they are as well. The man's last name is Hosea, like the prophet who heard God and obeyed contrary to all that may have seemed right. The woman is named Angel at eight by the man who owns her, and she never tells anyone her real name. Michael calls her different names -- Amanda as a general name instead of Angel, saying that part of her is dead. He calls her Tirzah, to mean that he desires her and loves her and wants to be with her. He calls her Mara at first because she is so bitter. After she is fully healed by the love of Christ, she is finally able to share the part of her that she has shared with nobody before.

This book is full of pictures of God's love. As humans, we think that we know best, even though God offers so much. God loves us before we know what love is and calls us to live with Him and to know His love -- but we run away in fear and sometimes because we think it is better for God that way, that He doesn't have to love us. But God knows where we have come from and how we are hurt, and he wants us to go back to that pain and let Him show His power to heal and to conquer evil. Angel must go back and deal with Duke, the evil man from her childhood -- and by listening to the Spirit she does something neither of them would expect and is able to ruin him in front of all his clients, as well as learn what it means to be Free. God's love is the only thing that can redeem us and bring us new life -- and give us the chance to be free to choose Him each and every day. Thank you God for this book that reminds us of that.

Title:Redeeming Love
Author: Francine Rivers
Date published:1997
Genre: Romance, Christian
Number of pages: 464
Notes: Recommended by Rikki


Saturday, November 12, 2005

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cover of My Man Jeeves

Jeeves and Wooster and P. G. Wodehouse are all familiar names, but before now I've never taken the time to read any of Wodehouse's work, or any of the actual stories about Jeeves. This book is really a collection of short stories, and I was a bit surprised and confused when I discovered, half-way through, that not all of them are about Jeeves. Half of the eight stories in this collection are actually narrated by Reggie Philips-- a rather similar kind of character and narrator to Wooster, a chap who tries to help his friends out of jams, but without the assistance of Jeeves. The stories are all quite entertaining, and the tone is light and fun.

Some of the circumstances in these stories are pretty hilarious-- the kind of things you might expect to encounter in a sitcom today. In one case, Reggie is trying to help a friend who's girl has ended their engagement; he decides it would be a good idea to kidnap a child who he thinks is the girl's nephew so his friend can return the child-- but of course, the child is no relation to her and Reggie is stuck taking care of the kid for a few days. Of course, in all of the stories things usually come out right in the end-- although usually in spite of Reggie's help.

Wooster, Jeeves' employer, is the narrator of the Jeeves' stories, and he is usually as clueless as Reggie-- although generally without the bad ideas of how to help people; he relies on Jeeves for all of his ideas. Wooster usually has no idea how to resolve things, and when things go wrong, he tends to despair; but Jeeves always manages to fix things up (and always without any real help from Wooster).

Entertaining, light reading, and worth your time. I plan to read more Jeeves stories and more P. G. Wodehouse.

Title:My Man Jeeves
Author:P. G. Wodehouse
Date published:1931 (original publication; electronic edition 2005)
Genre:Short Stories
Number of pages:139
Notes:Read electronic edition freely available from Project Gutenberg.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

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cover of It's a Magical World

The ever-delightful, irrepressible Calvin & Hobbes. G. & I found this at a great price-- which I assume was because of the new hardcover complete Calvin & Hobbes that was recently made available. It's a treasure worth owning and reading and re-reading, because even after multiple readings I still find myself chuckling and even laughing out loud.

This collection includes Calvin's first finding Hobbes, his first meeting of Susie Derkins, the neighbor girl he loves to torment, along with several Spaceman Spiff fantasies and plenty of Calvin's crazy schemes, and some wacky and morbid snow art. Watterson's imagination is astounding, and his artistic realization of Calvin & Hobbes, and their many adventures, are always delightful.

Title:It's a Magical World: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection
Author:Bill Watterson
Date published:1996
Series:Calvin & Hobbes
Number of pages:165
Notes:Repeat reading.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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Many have seen the movie by the same name -- but the movie is only half of the book, so there are stories that weren't familiar to me. This is a frame story - with the twist that a character in the outer story gets to be part of the story in the inner story. Bastian Balthazar Bux is a young boy who seems to have nothing going for him -- except his deep love of books. One day he walks into a bookstore he's never been into before and a certain book (same as the title) draws him like a magnet -- so the book goes with him to school and influences his whole day.

Atreyu is a main character in the world Bastian reads about, so Bastian reads about his adventures. Bastian ends up in Atreyu's world, and ends up wanting to stay in the world. He almost does, and because his memories have slowly been fading from him, he almost is stuck. He has to find a reason that he wnats to go back -- and it is the human desire to love and be loved. All humans have that need and desire -- but sometimes it takes us a long time to recognize it and then admit it to ourselves, let alone others.

Each chapter begins with a letter of the alphabet – so there are 26 chapters, plus the prolog and epilog. There is a greater variety of characters than most people could come up with in a month, with interesting twists of some well known species. This is an enjoyable book with plenty of interesting characters and ideas to make you think if you let them. And of course, there are truths to be seen, if you have your eyes open.

Title:The Neverending Story
Author: Michael Ende
Date published:1997
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Number of pages: 445


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cover of Out of the Dust

This is a story written entirely in poems, about a young girl named Billie Jo who lives in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma. The poems are written simply and straightforwardly – but still with considerable beauty in the images and words. A young girl who's life is changed for the worse by events beyond her control – but she still finds joy in simple pleasures and in being aware of the world around her. Life is not easy, but it is still worth living. She delights in playing the piano and themes related to that play throughout the book. This is a story written with careful attention to form and words, about a girl who takes delight in the arts and finding beauty in the world around her -- a story of hope in the midst..

Title:Out of the Dust
Author: Karen Hesse
Date published:1997
Genre: Historical Fiction, Poetry
Number of pages: 227
Notes: Borrowed from Miriam


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cover of Serenity

I don't know if I have ever read a novelization of a movie before (when I see a movie based on a book, I usually try to read the book first), but I am enough of a fan of Joss Whedon's "Firefly" and "Serenity" that I wanted to read DeCandido's novelization of the movie. It was an enjoyable experience, and this is a story worth experiencing more than once-- of danger and adventure, a young girl experimented on and turned into a fighter and a psychic, an unnamed assassin, and a captain who has lost his faith in God finding something to believe in.

Early on, I wasn't too sure about reading a novelization of a movie that I've already seen-- many of the chapters are almost exact descriptions of scenes in the movie, with the same dialogue and everything, although with some insights into the thoughts of the characters (which is, I suppose, exactly what a novelization of a movie should be). Having all of the dialogue written down is nice, because I missed some of the lines when I saw the movie in the theater-- particularly those lines just after someone says something hilarious, and the entire audience is laughing. Here, some parts of the story are supplemented with history revealed in the TV series, but as the book goes on, there are more and more extra components: lines that didn't make it into the movie, back stories for characters like Mr. Universe, scenes that we didn't get to see-- including the destruction of Haven, which gives even more support to the theory that Book must have once been an Operative himself. The book is written from third-person perspective, but each scene is sort of filtered through a particular character's consciousness, jumping around from person to person for various scenes, which adds some nice variety and insight.

Sometimes, I wasn't sure if the lines or the story would have the same effect if I hadn't seen the movie first, and in particular I'm uncertain whether or not the humor would be conveyed-- many of the lines are so great because of the way the actors deliver them. However, even after seeing the movie twice in the theater, reading the culmination of the story was still an incredibly moving experience.

I love Mal's line at the end, and the insight that all of the characters (but specifically Wash) each love Serenity in their own way.

Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughtta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

Author:Keith R. A. DeCandido (based on the motion picture screenplay by Joss Whedon)
Date published:2005
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:260


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

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cover of Life of the Beloved

A book with sweet truth from a man who has sought to live what he shares. Nouwen takes the image of communion – being taken, blessed, broken, and given – to share what the life of a Christian is all about – the life of the Beloved. To be taken or chosen by God and to live in that. To be blessed in all things, because all things can be used to draw us closer to God and to know Him better. To be broken because all of us are, and we need to know that we need the love of God to heal us – also, in our brokenness are we connected to God and others and able to see His strength. To be given to God completely and thus to others, because that is where the joy of life comes from. A simple book with deep truths.

Title:Life of the Beloved
Author:Henri Nouwen
Date published:1992
Number of pages: 149
Notes: Gift from Bill & Renee


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Spinelli is an author I respect, and this book is done well and worth reading. It is written from the perspective of a young boy who lives in Warsaw during World War II. He steals food, runs, and then eats - that is the chain of events that he is used to following and doesn't always know what to do when something unexpected changes the usual plan. An older boy asks his name, and this little boy says 'stopthief' because that's all anyone ever calls him.

An older boy named Uri finds him and takes care of him and tries to keep him safe. Uri decides to call him Misha and makes up Misha's life story. Misha is little and fast, and surviving comes naturally to him – stealing bread and other food from people and stores when necessary. Spinelli tells the story of before, during and after the war through the eyes of a child who does not understand and has never had anyone to explain things to him well. So Misha sees acts of violence and degredation and doesn't know why they are significant or evil – but the reader knows. Misha ends up being moved into the ghetto with his gang of boys (all stealers and later smugglers), and becoming part of a Jewish family. This gives Spinelli opportunity to tell about what conditions were like in Warsaw and in the ghetto – not like a textbook, or with guilt behind it, but as a child would have seen it and become adjusted to certain realities. The brashness of Misha surprises all those around him, but he is never hurt too badly. War happens around him and finally affects all of those closest to him (with the boy who took care of him being gone from the ghetto often and becoming the enemy.) The end speeds through his life quickly – not all the ends are neatly taken care of. In fact, few are. But it is a book about war and the craziness of life which affects every aspect. This is a wonderful book -- hard to read in places because it is about war. It is well written – in terms of action, characters and bringing the past to life.

Author:Jerry Spinelli
Date published:2003
Genre:Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Number of pages:208
Notes:recommended age is 9-12, but that seems too young to me


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