The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

mayor-casterbridge

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive.”~~Walter Scott, in Marmion, 1808.

Thomas Hardy’s classic begins with a young man and woman, the woman carrying their child, walking on a road toward a village in Upper Wessex. As they approached the village, the see a fair in progress and decide to find something to eat. The man plans to look for work, as well, as he is a hay-trusser, and carries his tools on his back.

They choose a tent which bears a sign, “Good Furmity Sold Hear.” (I did not spell that wrong, it’s a direct quote.) The man would rather go to the tent that says “Good Home-brewed Beer, Ale, and Cyder,” but the woman wants some furmity. (Furmity was a popular dish, sometimes called “Frumenty,” made from boiled, cracked wheat, probably similar to our outmeal.)

As they are all eating their bowls of furmity, the woman selling it gestures to the man, indicating that she might add some rum to his furmity, for a small fee. He winds up having at least four bowls of the laced furmity.

This is when things take an ugly turn, as he then proceeds, in a drunken stupor, to offer up his wife to the highest bidder. After a few moments, finally, a sailor at the door of the tent offers up the price of five guineas for her. By this time we know that the seller’s name is Michael, and his wife’s name is Susan. The sailor’s bid stands, and Susan and the baby leave with him. By this time, she is more than willing to go, as she is furious with her husband.

Of course, when Michael Henchard wakes up the next morning, he is quite upset with himself and vows to find them. When he is unsuccessful, he eventually winds up in the town of Casterbridge. Along the way, he makes a serious vow to not touch fermented beverages for the time of twenty-one years, as that is how old he is at the time.

Michael Henchard is a terrible person, this much is obvious from the beginning pages of the book. At some points it seems he may have learned his lesson and changed, but no sooner do we think that than his inner demons rise up and spoil everything again. Being somewhat charismatic, he winds up (as the title would suggest) becoming Mayor in Casterbridge. As fate would have it, Susan, along with a girl in her late teens, eventually show up looking for him. The sailor, named Newsom, has been reported lost at sea. Susan thinks that Michael, considering that they are, of course, still legally married, might have her back, along with Elizabeth-Jane, the daughter.

I won’t retell the whole story here, but there is deception upon deception throughout this tale, and the lesson is that it never pays off the way we think it will. Every time, the deception is discovered, and it always sours the relationship. Henchard continues to be incredibly self-centered and manages to ruin every relationship that he ever has. I haven’t read any reviews of the book, but in my opinion, the lesson learned speaks of the Walter Scott quote cited at the top of this entry.

The book is quite interesting, and held my attention well. Unlike some writing from the 19th century, it is not so difficult to follow. Hardy’s descriptions conjure visual images that are pleasing, which carry the story well. I would consider it a “tragedy,” although it certainly has comedic, as well as romantic, characteristics. (I would certainly entertain opposing opinions, as I am no certified literary critic!) A wonderful classic, well worth the read.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on September 10, 2016 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard

spirit of disciplines

It is my opinion that The Spirit of the Disciplines is the definitive work on spiritual disciplines. While Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline gave us a great overview of the spiritual disciplines, Willard’s book goes into the meat of the disciplines, discussing history, why we need them, and what the long-term effects are.

I won’t lie. It’s not an easy book to read. There are about three chapters toward the beginning (four through six, I think) that you might want to just skip. Willard even suggests that. I muddled through them, though. But once you get to chapter seven, where he discusses Paul the Apostle’s “psychology of redemption,” things get really good. The perspective from which he suggests we read Paul’s writings, especially Romans, is mind-blowing.

From there, Dallas goes into some history of the disciplines, and then, in chapter nine, actually discusses a number of the disciplines, but not in a lot of detail. His list is slightly different from Foster’s list, but it brings the point across that there is not a fixed list of disciplines. As Dallas, himself, said in the conference recording, Living in Christ’s Presence, there was one instance where he was practicing “the discipline of not having the last word.”

But I must say that the truly revolutionary chapters of the book are the last two. In chapter ten, Dallas discusses poverty and the prevailing myth that poverty is somehow more spiritual than being rich. He completely destroys that myth, and reminds us that the Scriptures never tell us that we are supposed to eliminate poverty from the world. Yes, we are to care for the needy and poor, and he is all for that. But the point is, you can’t help the poor if you are poor. So intentional poverty is no more spiritual than possessing a lot.

The final chapter is both inspiring and devastating. Dallas relates the practice of the disciplines to the “power structures of the world.” He points out that we really shouldn’t be asking “Why” when horrible things happen (crimes perpetrated by others). Rather, we should be “deeply thankful that something is restraining us, keeping us from fully doing what lies in our hearts.” Dallas fully believes that the answer to society’s problems lies in the transformation of the individual through the practice of the spiritual disciplines. This begins with the Church, and the Church is failing miserably at this, because there are very few, if any, local churches that are truly making disciples. He says, “There is a way of life that, if generally adopted, would eliminate all of the social and political problems from which we suffer. This way of life comes to whole-hearted disciples of Christ who live in the disciplines of the spiritual life and allow grace to bring their bodies into alignment with their redeemed spirits.”

Then, in one of the boldest statements I have ever read, he says, “Ministers pay far too much attention to people who do not come to services. . . . The Christian leader has something much more important to do than pursue the godless. The leader’s task is to equip saints until they are like Christ (Eph. 4:12).”

Why do I say that this is both inspiring and devastating? Simply because it shows me how lacking I am in discipleship. For one thing, none of the churches that I have attended, throughout my whole life, have truly equipped me to be a disciple. I have never attended a church (until now) that even talked about the “spiritual disciplines.” In fact, I would be surprised if any of the pastors of those church even know what they are. I’m not trying to be harsh. It’s just a realistic truth. The pastor that I now serve with (I’m the prayer ministry leader, and working toward developing spiritual formation in our church) is hungry for these things. The time is ripe. The Church needs to step forward and become the kind of disciples that Dallas Willard describes in this book.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on September 3, 2016 at 3:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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Experiment of Dreams, by Brandon Zenner

Experiment of Dreams

Experiment of Dreams was a fun read. Ben Walker is involved in an experiment in which his dreams are recorded every night. But he has a unique talent. He is a lucid dreamer, meaning that he is aware when he is dreaming and can control what he dreams, to some degree.

After going through some testing with a legitimate doctor, he is approached by some men who represent a wealthy man who wants to hire Ben to have his dreams recorded by an invention known as Lucy. They take Ben to various places in the world and have him spend hours studying masterpieces of art, after which they record his dreams. Eventually, he finds out that they are reproducing the art from his dreams, perfect reproductions, down to the brush strokes.

To aid the experimentation, the doctors that work for Kalispell, the wealthy man, have invented a serum, which is injected into Ben’s bloodstream on a regular basis. We learn, at one point that Ben is not the first to be exposed to this serum. There was another, and it didn’t end well.

In the middle of all of this, Ben, whose wife died tragically a few years prior, meets a beautiful woman at an airport and falls in love with her. But as the story progresses, there are doubts as to whether she truly exists or not. Is Ben dreaming her? Is he going crazy because of the effects of the serum?

There are plenty of unexpected twists in this thriller by Brandon Zenner, one of which I totally did not see coming.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on August 7, 2016 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Celebration of Discipline, by Richard J. Foster

celebration of discipline

This is at least the second time I have read this book, and possibly the third.

Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is kind of the launching point for the modern day spiritual disciplines movement. It is a great book for anyone who wants to get an overall view of the “classic” disciplines and how to practice them in daily life.

Foster breaks the disciplines down into three categories. First, he discusses the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. Then he goes into the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. Finally, he delves into the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

I’m currently ready to begin practicing these disciplines seriously in my life, and am glad to be able to read this book again, to refresh my memory, as well as motivate my spirit. I had forgotten so much of what was in this volume, and to read it again was very refreshing and inspirational. And, there is a veritable plethora of other resources mentioned in this book, from the Desert Fathers to modern day authors such as Dallas Willard.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is either simply curious about the disciplines or who is serious about beginning to practice them.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on July 13, 2016 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King

Bazaar

I still love short stories, and I am glad that Stephen King still writes them. As stated in the introduction, some of these stories have been previously published, and I do remember reading at least one of them in a previous book (“Blockade Billy”).

There is a good variety of stories in this book, in my opinion. Some of them are fantastic (meaning completely unbelievable), while others are somewhat terrifying, and some are otherwise disturbing.

I listened to this book on Audible, and thoroughly enjoyed the various readers, although it took me a while to get used to the accent the reader used in “Drunken Fireworks,” which was a great story about a “Forth of July arms race.”

My favorite reader in the book was Will Patton (who also reads the Bill Hodges series). He read the last story in the book, “Summer Thunder,” as well as “Premium Harmony.” Also enjoyable was Fred Weller, who read “Obits,” and “That Bus Is Another World.”

Stephen King even joins in, reading the story “Tommy,” as well as introductions to all of the stories in the book.

My favorite stories in the book were “Bad Little Kid,” which I could easily see being made into a movie, and “Obits,” which also could make a good movie or Twilight Zone-ish episode of a TV show. I also really like “Ur,” a story about an unusual Kindle. My least favorite in the book was the one King read, himself, “Tommy.” I didn’t really get it. Perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention, because I always listened while driving home from work. Maybe I will give it another listen, sometime.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable book, and I’m glad I took the time to listen to it.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on July 4, 2016 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Am Sofie, by Carley Eason Evans

i am sofie

This is a tough review to write, because I’m not sure what to say about it. To say that I “enjoyed” this book would not be entirely accurate, because it was painful. Carley has taken real life diaries and letters, written by Sofie and Hans Scholl, two German youths in the thick of WWII and Hitler’s Nazism.

At one point, both Hans and Sofie were part of Hitler’s Youth, but both withdrew from the organization because they did not agree with the philosophies of Hitler. Sophie was arrested and detained when she was sixteen, because her brother had withdrawn. However, she was released shortly after.

This is a work of fiction, based on true events, as documented by those letters and diaries, as well as some leaflets produced by an organization that they were both active in, known as The White Rose. The leaflets are reproduced in their entirety at the end of the book.

These young people were brave beyond all description. The way in which they went about their resistance to Hitler seems almost casual. It seems as though they would never have thought twice about it. They were all quite intellectual, as well. They gathered in groups and read works that I would struggle with as an almost 60 year old adult. I can’t even imagine trying to read things like that when I was sixteen.

I have read all of Carley’s novels, and it is my opinion that this is her finest work, to date. Certainly, it doesn’t have nearly the action content as The Only Thing or Gani & Sean, or the mystery and intrigue of As From A Talented Animal. But what she has given us in I Am Sofie is inspiration. I am in awe of the young people in this book. And, at times, I am shamed by my life of ease, in comparison with what they endured.

So did I “enjoy” the book? Hard to say. But I loved it, and I loved what it made me feel. Because it did make me feel. There aren’t too many books that do that. Thank you, Carley.

Published in: on June 25, 2016 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wilton’s Gold – Book One: Fortune by Craig W. Turner

Wilton's Gold

This was a really fun book about time travel. And since there are so many uncertainties (and debates) about time travel and its potential effects on history/people, you can pretty much write anything you want about it and be okay.

Turner has crafted a delightful tale about a scientist who has inadvertently discovers time travel while working on another project. He, along with his best friend decide to use this new discovery to “get rich quick” by going back in time and stealing “Wilton’s Gold,” before the historical robbery could take place. They manage to pull it off, but in doing so, they change history. You see, in the historical robbery, several members of Wilton’s team were killed. In the time travelers’ robbery, no one is killed. Naturally, members of the team who survived, lived on to have families. One of those family members became a historian, who was, naturally, obsessed with the robbery and the subsequent hunt for the gold, which was never found.

That’s all I will reveal in this review. The story has plenty of twists and turns as the lead character plays with history, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes by accident. The ending is quite chilling and somber, even sad, I suppose. But it doesn’t really end, as it paves the way for a second book in the series.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on April 16, 2016 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God by Dallas Willard and John Ortberg

Living in Christ's Presence

If I could give ten stars to this book, I would. I have, in fact, begun listening to it a second time, because there is so much good information in it.

Dallas Willard was a giant in the realm of Spiritual Formation. In this “book,” which is really just a recording of some conference sessions in which he and John Ortberg spoke, Willard and Ortberg discuss aspects of discipleship and Spiritual Formation, sometimes simply known as “disciplines” of the Christian life. It is truly magnificent to hear Dallas speak in these sessions. At the end of each session, Dallas and John engage in some question and answer follow-up, sometimes the questions being offered by conference attendees.

One of the most eye-opening thoughts is his discussion on what comprises the Gospel that Jesus presented. Very simply put, it was, “The Kingdom of God is available to you.” That is the essence of the Gospel.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who is at all interested in studying Spiritual Formation and the impact that discipleship can have on the Church of today.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on April 16, 2016 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The House On Tenafly Road, by Adrienne Morris

the house on tenafly road

Adrienne Morris, the author of this book, also writes a very interesting historical blog, called “Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained–Where Past Meets Present at Middlemay Farm.”

This was a very long book, and I might have enjoyed it a bit more had it been split into two books. However, I’m not sure where that split should have occurred, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

This is a gripping tale of love, loss, and betrayal, set in historical times shortly following the Civil War, leading into the Reconstruction and the “war” with the Native Americans. John Weldon, the central character, becomes addicted to pain medication while recovering from wounds received in battle. While serving in the army, he has become good friends with Simon McCullough. He eventually makes his way to the McCullough home in Englewood, New Jersey, the house on Tenafly Road.

There, he falls hopelessly in love with Katherine, Simon’s younger sister. The story goes on from there, and I won’t go into endless detail about it, as the book is over 600 pages long.

What I liked about the book was the detail of the time. I feel that Ms. Morris has done her homework very well. I’m not terribly familiar with the customs and times surrounding the Civil War, but this book just “feels right.” The attitudes of the people, the way they dressed and carried themselves, the conditions that they lived in out on the frontier, and most especially, the health conditions that afflicted them.

In my opinion, this book was very well-written, in both description and dialogue. The only reason that I gave it four stars instead of five is that I’m probably not in the target audience for a book like this. Sure, there was some action (not that I’m a huge action fan, myself), and I’m not really sure what “genre” this would be placed in. I might simply call it “historical fiction,” but I think that it might edge slightly over into the “romance” section, as well. Although, there are many times that what occurred between John Weldon and Katherine could hardly be called “romance.”

Nevertheless, I say it’s a very good book, worthy of reading by anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and especially if one likes the rather romantic side of that genre.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on March 19, 2016 at 5:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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Abandon, by Blake Crouch

Abandon

When I first began reading Abandon, I thought it was going to be a ghost/haunting story. When I first realized that it was not, I was initially disappointed. However, my disappointment waned as the story progressed.

Abandon was the name of a remote mining town. In 1893, everyone simply disappeared. The town was discovered empty on Christmas day, with food on the tables, no signs of struggle, everyone just gone. The story goes back and forth between 1893 and 2009 (the year of the original copyright), telling the story of what happened in the town, and following a history professor, his journalist daughter, and some others, including a couple of “psychic photographers,” as they gain access to this town.

Eventually we find out what happened to all of the people in the town, so that mystery is solved. The point of the story, at least what I got out of it, is what greed can do to people. Essentially, that is what this story is about . . . greed. You see, “thar’s gold in them thar hills!”

At some point, the owner of the mine was robbed and killed by some folks who lived in the town. His gold was stolen, and then hidden in the mine. But due to circumstances, they never got back to retrieve it. The history professor knows about this gold, and that is why he is going to Abandon, pretending to be interested in the history of the town. Unfortunately, there are others who know about this gold, as well.

It’s a thrilling story, indeed, complete with betrayal on all sides and unexpected, sometimes tragic, plot twists. The ending isn’t entirely satisfying, but it is fitting, because it illustrates the consequences of greed when it completely takes a person over.

TTFN, y’all!

Published in: on February 13, 2016 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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