Tag Archives: faith

Gotta Serve Somebody

The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by Herman Wouk (Little, Brown and Company, $23.99, 192 pages; Hachette Audio, $26.98, 5 CDs)

“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, all the different planets, and all these atoms with their motions, and so on,  all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil – which is the view that religion has.   The stage is too big for the drama.”   Richard Feynman

Having a scant knowledge of Herman Wouk (the movie version of “Youngblood Hawke”) and having a great appreciation of Richard Feynman (the book Feynman’s Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow) put this reviewer in a one-down situation for listening to the audio book, The Language God Talks.   Moreover, the author’s age of 94 at the time of the book’s completion puts him in my late father’s generation.

The book is brief, a five-CD set.   Bob Walter, the narrator, provides a worldly and mellow voice that one can easily believe to be reminiscent of the author’s.   The smooth wording lends itself well to an audio book.   Sometimes, the somewhat self-indulgent musings of the author drift along pulling the listener into a past that is only partially shared.   Yes, the space age is fascinating and was most riveting at the time of the biggest breakthroughs.   However, those glory days are nearly gone as are the days enjoyed by Mr. Wouk.

In fairness to the author, his works will, no doubt, keep their places on required reading lists for some decades to come.   The quality of his writing puts him far ahead of many of his generation.   His Hebrew scholarship is quite notable and admirable.   Perhaps the comfort he has found in his studies is well matched with the acquaintances he shared with the luminaries of science and philosophy like Richard Feynman.   Wouk’s exploration of science versus religion is a personal one – and not a new one – but his efforts in that regard are exhaustive and lengthy by his own statements.

For this reviewer, the book felt like an honest retrospective of an enormously intelligent man reaching the end of his life’s path.   The book also seems to fulfill a personal promise of exploration that he has kept to himself.   Being honest about why we believe what we believe is something that few in middle age or younger actually ponder.   Perhaps it is left to the last part of life due to the enormity of the subject.   It would be a good listen for persons of any age, as exploring the meaning of life is a most worthwhile pursuit.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy of the audiobook was provided by the publisher.   Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and Life by Leonard Mlodinow is available as a trade paperback book (Vintage, $14.95, 192 pages) and as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.   Also recommended is The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Mlodinow (Vintage, $15.00, 272 pages).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

A review of The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by Herman Wouk.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Pick of the Litter

Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder (Broadway; $15.00; 301 pages)

“…our little dog, our Huck, had from the very beginning made all of us forget about cancer and its debilitating emotional and physical effects…   From the moment he arrived, Huck brought a lot of love into all our lives.”

I happened to pick up this true tale while encountering a bit of rough sledding and it was the perfect choice.   This is a book that will restore your faith in both humanity and the Universe, with a capital “U.”   I’m not the only person who feels this way – comedian David Letterman said about Huck, “You’ll feel better about everything after you read this.”

Janet Elder and her husband Rich, who live in New York City, finally give in to their son’s pleas to have a dog; pleas which began when Michael was just four.   Years later – after Janet has survived a battle with cancer – they get Michael a red-haired toy poodle named Huck.   Huck appears to be the answer to many prayers until he’s left at a relative’s home while the Elders vacation in Florida.   A neighborhood car accident creates a situation in which Huck gets loose and runs away from the house in Ramsey, New York.   Ramsey is a bucolic rural community with woods populated with coyotes, raccoons and other dangerous predators (possibly even including bears).   It also has high-speed roads that cut through the area, making the odds of survival for a lost animal even slimmer.   Since Huck had never been to Ramsey before, the odds of him returning “home” are extremely unlikely.

Twenty-four hours into their much-needed vacation trip, the Elders learn that Huck has gone missing.   They speed back to Ramsey to look for the lost dog.   The details of the long hunt for Huck are best left for the reader to discover; however, what’s amazing about this true story is the way in which an entire community elected to help the Elders by attempting to find a very small dog lost in a large and dangerous, lightly populated wilderness area.   Each of the volunteers involved brought different skills to the search, with one in particular deciding that they needed to think like an animal (e.g., animals generally re-cross their earlier paths) in order to locate Huck.

“Huck…  is a constant reminder of the simple virtues that matter most in life – loyalty, humor, patience, companionship, and unconditional love.”

Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat or other animal go missing will definitely identify with the Elders, although you need not currently own a pet to relate to this wonderful, highly life-affirming, amazingly true story.   Need your spirits lifted?   If so, Huck may well do the job!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The trade paperback version of the New York Times Bestseller contains an Afterward updating the story’s events since its original publication.

“Elder shows us humanity in its best light and we are uplifted.”   The New York Times

“Your faith in humanity – and dogs – will be restored.”   Lincoln Star Journal

“This dog book actually makes you feel better about people.”   O, The Oprah Magazine

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Blue on Blue

Amaryllis in Blueberry: A Novel by Christina Meldrum (Gallery Books; $15.00; 365 pages)

“Life goes on?   I don’t know the answer to this question.   I don’t know if there’s room in this world.   Because all other times each life feels unwieldy to me, all-powerful, all-consuming, just knowing how much the choices made by one person can affect others’ lives.   In this respect, each of our lives seems huge…”

Christina Meldrum shares a mesmerizing story of love, faith, family and betrayal in her new novel, Amaryllis in Blueberry. Her story takes us through the calm, serene nature of the family’s Michigan cabin to the beauty and desolateness of their African mission.

Seena and her husband Dick Slepy have four beautiful but drastically different daughters, each of whom is in the midst of her own journey.   Mary Grace, struggling with the impact of her own physical beauty;  Mary Catherine, sacrificing everything to prove her faith; Mary Tessa, a precocious young girl trying to figure out her own place in the world; and Amaryllis, the daughter who has unexplainable gifts of sensing the truth, but does not seem to belong.

Following an encounter with his daughter Amaryllis who is the dark-haired, dark-skinned daughter amongst blond, fair-skinned girls and who believes she is not his biological daughter, Dick insists that the family move from their home in Michigan to do missionary work in Africa.   Dick’s attempts to reestablish his own worth and run away from his aching, although unproven fear, that Amaryllis may be right, unravels a string of events that affects each of his children and ultimately his lovely but distant wife Seena.

Seena, a book-loving storyteller, reluctantly agrees to support the journey to Africa but is unable to let go of the memory of a former lover.   This obsession takes on a life of its own.   The characters in the story become real as they struggle with both the cultural shift of their move to Africa and the realities of their own personal downfalls and fears.

Meldrum unleashes a series of unpredictable events that will leave you wondering…  how well can you truly know someone and how great is the impact of your own choices on the lives of those around you?

Recommended.

This review was written by Kelly Monson.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Between Me and the River

Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer by Carrie Host (Harlequin; $22.95; 304 pages)

Carrie Host’s book Between Me and the River is a moving memoir that chronicles her journey and struggles to survive an incurable form of cancer.   In the book, Carries shares all the pain, physical and emotional, she went through after her diagnosis.   She also relates the guilt she felt and anger at her new life.   But more than that, she provides a story of hope, love and self-awareness that many of us have never felt in our lives.

Host compares her trial in dealing with cancer to falling in a river.   Whether sinking into the deep water, rushing toward a waterfall, or resting in an eddy, it’s easy to identify with her as she explains where in the river she feels on any particular day.   It is heart wrenching to read of her account (being a mother of five) of how she delivered the news of her fate to her children, to follow along as she struggles to do the simplest tasks a mother must do, and to see her relationship with her husband flourish under the strain of what they have to deal with.

I applaud Carrie for having the courage to write so openly and honestly about her disease.   Reading this book has changed my life in a profound way.   It has made me more patient and loving with my children and more thankful of my husband.   While Host’s book at first is a heavy read, as you turn more pages you start to see the positive impact this devastation has on her family, her friends and her own consciousness.   Overall I found this book very easy to read, though I had to put it down at times to wipe the tears away.   I would definitely keep a tissue handy.

This review was written by Denna Gibbons and is used with her permission.   You can see more of her reviews at http://www.thebookwormblog.com/ .   Between Me and the River is also available in a low-cost Kindle Edition version and as an Unabridged Audio Edition.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

After the Goldrush

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby (Avon; $14.99; 339 pages)

“I was thinking about what a friend had said, I was hoping it was a lie…”   Neil Young

“I could always heal the birds,” he admits…  Echo takes his hand, “Joseph says that birds are the only creatures that have blind faith.   This is why they are able to fly.”

Ilie Ruby has crafted a magically moving novel composed of disparate elements: a tragic childhood death, a kidnapped woman, American Indian (Seneca) ghosts and spirits, wolves that interact with humans, unrequited love, and a parent’s illness.   The book is also replete with dysfunctional families who, sadly, may represent normality in American life.   Dysfunctional families are fueled by shame and secrets, and the secrets are kept until they must be divulged in order to save lives.

Two of the key characters in The Language of Trees are Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell.   Grant is a half-blooded Seneca with the power to cure sick and wounded birds and animals.   He is also a person who cannot cure himself.   Then there’s Echo, who feels that she is lost in her life in spite of the fact that she’s true to herself.   Echo is the one person in the story who is free, except that she’s not aware of it.   And, except for Echo, the book is populated with characters that are haunted by the past – literally and figuratively – as they search for peace and redemption.

“Happiness is just as hard to get used to as anything else.”

The Language of Trees is written in a cinematic style.   It begins slowly and it takes the reader some time to absorb all of the many characters and to understand the personal issues affecting them all.   There’s also more than a touch of mysticism and magic to the story.   There are unique and spiritual events that will seem almost commonplace to those with even a touch of Native American blood.   (The author demonstrates a great deal of respect for Indian folklore and beliefs.)

What is initially calm builds to a highly dramatic and satisfying conclusion.   Coming to the final pages, I was reminded of the style of Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides, which found this reader both excited and sad that the journey was about to end.   As with Conroy’s novels, Ruby leaves us with a life’s lesson, which is that one must let go of the demons of the past in order to “not (be) afraid of the future anymore.”   Once the nightmares of the past have been left behind, we are free to soar like birds.

At its conclusion, this novel has the power to transport the reader to a better place.

“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying in the yellow haze of the sun.”   (N. Young)

The Language of Trees is nothing less than masterful and transformational.   Let’s hope that we will not have to wait too long for Ms. Ruby’s next novel.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

California Dreaming

Hangman: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow; $25.99; 422 pages)

The Kellerman family crime drama franchise is alive and well.   In this case, Faye Kellerman’s devoted couple Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus are once-again faced with decisions regarding family and duty.   After 24 years of Decker and Lazarus stories, this book feels more like getting caught up on news with old friends than a gory murder mystery.   Maybe that’s because Ms. Kellerman’s side of the house focuses on family values, the power of faith and genuine caring, regardless of whether someone is actually kin.

The requisite murder is by hanging, or so it would appear, and the list of suspects is just long enough to create confusion for the investigators.   Of course there is the usual second plot line with a personal twist involving Peter’s willingness to help others, even if it means putting everyone around him in danger.   The other bad guy is a character he encountered many years ago on the job as a member of L.A.’s finest.  

Gabe, the 14-year-old piano prodigy son of the exonerated murder turned hit man, is the one in need of protection to keep him from becoming collateral damage from the angry interaction of his parents.   Gabe and his mom have fled the east coast for California and the masterly assistance of Peter Decker.

Fortunately for Gabe, who needs to keep up his piano practicing, Rina Lazarus is well-connected with the doctor of a world-famous pianist associated with the University of Southern California (USC) and, well, you can fill in the blanks.   As a member of the USC Trojan family by marriage, this reviewer is always happy to encounter the usual reference to the university in the Kellerman novels, whether it’s Jonathan or Faye who is telling the story.

The take-away from this episode is that family counts and the choices that need to be made are farther reaching than planning vacations or having fun.   A loving community, whether as small as a family or as large as a school, accepts others and is inclusive – very simple but very hard to put into practice.

Recommended, though there are no huge surprises here which is just what a Kellerman reader expects.   This one is like returning to a warm, comfortable bed on a cold Winter’s day.  

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.   Note:  Although they generally write separately, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman have written two novels together (Capital Crimes, Double Homicide) and one Young-Adult novel with their daughter Aliza (Prism).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

An Audiobook giveaway

Thanks to Hachette Audio and Hachette Book Group, we have 3 (three) audiobooks to give away.   We’re giving away the unabridged 5-CD audiobook version of The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by the noted author Herman Wouk.   This boxed set has a value of $26.98.

Here are some summaries of and comments on The Language God Talks.

The first half of Wouk’s third book on religion (after This Is My God and The Will to Live On) is as engaging as his mega-selling historical novels.   It’s about his encounters with famous scientists, foremost among them physicist Richard Feynman, who suggested Wouk learn the “language God talks” – calculus.   He uses a little paleoanthropology and World War II research to bridge from science to religion but then bogs down.   He finishes well, though, with an imaginary dialogue with Feynman that winningly binds him and the physicist as Jews and affirms the continuing viability of questioning God.   Hard not to like.  

Ray Olson, Booklist

At age 94, Wouk embarks on an autobiographical journey through his monumental writings, people he has met in his life, world events and books he has read to weave a testament of faith.   This book will interest any person of faith who has followed Wouk’s storied career and read his fiction.

Publishers Weekly

Masterful…  After several readings, I keep finding new treasures in this entertaining book.

Maarten Schmidt, Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, California Institute of Technology

Extraordinary.   Wouk’s recounting of conversations with Richard Feynman is not to be missed.

Stanley B. Pusiner, Nobel Laureate, UCSF

In a crowded book market filled with self-serving and redundant theories about humankind’s place in the grand scheme, it is rare to encounter an original, honest, charming voice.   Such is the case with Wouk’s latest work…  Wouk’s humility, humor and insight make the book a joy to read and a wonder to contemplate…  Authentic, accessible prose mixed with real insight.

Kirkus Reviews

You can enter this book giveaway by posting a comment here or sending an e-mail message with the heading The Language God Talks to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   In order to submit a second entry, tell us why you think you’d like to win and listen to this unabridged audiobook.  

You must live in either the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address (audiobooks will not be shipped to P.O. boxes).   The deadline for submitting your entry or entries is Friday, June 18, 2010 at midnight PST.   If  your name is drawn by Munchy the cat, you will be sent an e-mail that you will need to respond to within 96 hours.   (If you do not respond within that time frame another winner will be drawn.)

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Good luck and good listening!

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Tangled Up in Blue

It is often said that music serves as the soundtrack of our lives.   So how about setting a sports-related story to the words and music of Bob Dylan?   This is the interesting premise for the story Life and Life Only by first-time novelist Dave Moyer.   Life is the story of Dan Mason, a 92 miles-per-hour fastball pitcher in high school who turns down a major league contract in order to attend college at the University of Georgia.   Mason gambles that the MLB will be there waiting for him after he completes a successful pitching career with the Bulldogs.   What he doesn’t expect – although secretly has wished for – is to meet a perfect Southern belle.   Mason, in fact, meets and marries Anne Jean Simpson whose beauty is obvious to all.

Of course, there’s a danger in getting exactly what you want out of life, and the reader will wonder what’s less likely, that Mason will make the big leagues or remain married to Anne Jean?   Let’s just say that life throws a few curveballs Mason’s way, which is why he must come to terms with disappointment and loss.   What makes the telling of the story fun is to see the events in Mason’s life set in space and time by Dylan’s music.   And, to some extent, Dylan serves as a source of strength for Mason, because Dan attends Dylan concerts as a means of rejuvenating and recharging his life and his faith.

Yes, there’s a touch of the spiritual in this tale, although Moyer handles it so tactfully that it is not going to bother the non-church going reader.   Near the end, something happens that can be viewed as either a near miracle or as something simply meant to happen.   Perhaps, in Bob Dylan’s words, it’s a simple twist of fate.

I hesitate to divulge any more of the plot lines.   (Sometimes less is more; sometimes it is better to say of a review that “nothing was revealed.”)   I’ll just add that it’s not too late to order this book for Christmas from Amazon for anyone on your list who is a Boomer, a rabid Dylan fan, a Byrds or Joni Mitchell fan, a sports fan, a baseball player, teacher or human being.

Good work by Moyer with this semi-autobiographical tale (“I like to say that all of it is true and none of it is true…”), which is why we’re looking forward to the sequel, Younger Than That Now.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the author. Published by iUniverse.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Twin Charms

last will“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”   – Caroline Gordon

The Last Will of Moira Leahy: A Novel by Therese Walsh (Broadway Books, 304 pages)

The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a book that takes its readers to a different world.   It is a novel of charm, mystery, of things that cannot easily be explained and of faith.   Faith in fate (often hard to come by, often rationed) and in the journey one is supposed to take in this life…   Faith that the right lesson will be learned at the end.

This is a story of twins, something much in vogue at the current time.   Therese Walsh’s story shares some of the mysticism of Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.   It also paints twins as exotic creatures with shared language, thoughts and animal-like instincts.   Of course, the twins are not exactly alike.

The narrator Maeve Leahy, is the more cautious of the two – more cautious in love and in life.   She is a musician, a saxophone player, but she’s not the musical prodigy that her piano-playing twin Moira is.   It seems that Moira will lead the bigger life until a tragedy strikes.   Then Moira is frozen in place while Maeve is left to fend for – and find – herself.

After a period of depression, Maeve attends an auction where she spots a keris – an ancient and believed to be magical type of sword – similar to one she owned as a child.   Maeve finds that she has a need to discover more about the centuries old keris and this takes her on a journey to Rome, Italy.   It is on this journey that she learns more about herself, her twin, and life.   Life without fixed boundaries.   “Not everything in life can be measured or accounted for by the five known senses.”

First-time author Walsh has a smooth style with enough uniqueness that the reader desires to keep reading.   She stays ahead of the reader, too, as nothing predictable occurs.   I had just one small issue and that was the disconcerting movements  between present time and prior events.   It is not actually harmful in this case, but the baseline story is strong enough that it could well have been told chronologically.

This is one of those books where you delay getting to the last page, knowing the next book from this gifted author may not arrive for another year or two.   Nevertheless, this is a trip that is – without a doubt – well worth taking.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized