Sunday, 25 December 2016


Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal SufferingDeath Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering by Ronald E. Osborn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: 2014 ECPA Top Shelf Book Cover Award Did animals have predatory natures before the fall? Did God punish innocent animals with a curse because of human sin? Is it possible for theistic evolution to be compatible with the Bible, even though animal death before the fall would contradict the teaching that death began after the first sin? In this eloquent and provocative "open letter" to evangelicals, Ronald Osborn wrestles with these pointed questions and with the problem of biblical literalism and animal suffering within an evolutionary understanding of the world. Considering the topic of animal suffering and predation as a theodicy dilemma, Osborn offers an open-minded exploration of the subject, specifically coming against the fundamentalist and literalist view of the book of Genesis and the creation account. He challenges one-dimensional reading of Scripture and shines a sobering light on the evangelical dogma responsible for advancing viewpoints long ago dismantled by science. Always acknowledging the traditionalist viewpoint, Osborn demonstrates with a wealth of exegetical and theological insight how orthodox Christianity can embrace evolutionary concepts without contradiction. Osborn forces us to ask hard questions, not only of the Bible and church tradition, but also and especially of ourselves.

MY REVIEW: Brilliant! Fundamentalist and literalistic readings of the biblical text are one of the banes of the Evangelical wing of Christianity. It has the loudest voice in Christendom, especially in the US, and many of those in this group believe their “truth” should be imposed on other Christians and, frequently, on others in secular and diversely religious or non-religious communities. The first half of the book alone is worth its price. Even non-believers in religion would benefit from reading the first half of the book, many of whom are just as literalistic in their reading of ancient texts as the Christian fundamentalists. Highly recommended.

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Friday, 23 December 2016


Dorothea Gutzeit: Be True and ServeDorothea Gutzeit: Be True and Serve by dorothea gutzeit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: A fascinating view of the “other side” in World War II, on the domestic front. Born in Berlin, Dorothea Gutzeit spent her formative years in Nazi Germany and in her war-torn city. She then forged a new life in Canada.

MY REVIEW: Enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Fascinating to read what it was like for a child growing up in Hitler's Germany. The author writes well and she has certainly lived an interesting life! Definitely worth a read if you like autobiography.

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Sunday, 4 December 2016


Draw to Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell, and Innovate With Your Visual MindDraw to Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell, and Innovate With Your Visual Mind by Dan Roam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Dan Roam's brilliant strategies for creating images, sharing them and explaining them have finally been distilled into a "best of" handbook for busy readers who need to digest the takeaways, fast. Since his first book, The Back of the Napkin, Roam has argued that imagery is the most powerful tool for leadership, innovation, and sales. Even though we live in an era of big data, one great picture is worth a million numbers (not to mention a thousand words). A clever idea, visually expressed, can resonate with everyone from the CEO down to the newest intern. The best news is that you don't need to be an artist to create attention-grabbing images. Roam can teach anyone with a pen and paper to translate business ideas into engaging and clear images. He identifies the types of pictures that work best in various settings and shares the basic shapes that all business pictures can be built from. This is an indispensable handbook for business leaders struggling to communicate more effectively in a world that everyday becomes less verbal and more visual.

MY REVIEW: Great book! I found this wandering in a bookstore and it captured my attention. I learned so much reading this book. I have always been interested in mind mapping because of its visual element. Dan Roam broadened my horizons about the way in which simple drawing can be so powerful in communicating ideas of all sorts. I’ve started using the ideas in this book in my own professional life — and, while I am still learning, it has created a fresh shift in my thinking. I’m planning to use these ideas in my teaching of online classes next semester. If you are interested in expressing yourself clearly and creatively in professional life, check this book out. I’ll pursuing more of this author’s books in the future.

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Friday, 11 November 2016

Brainwalker by Robyn Mundell

BrainwalkerBrainwalker by Robyn Mundell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Fourteen-year-old Bernard thinks outside the box. The only problem is that neither his school nor his ultra-rational physicist father appreciate his unique ideas. When he reacts to a stressful situation at school by mooning the class, his suspension sends him straight to his father’s workplace. After his frustrated father leaves him unattended, Bernard does what any teen would do: wander into the particle accelerator and accidentally get transported through a wormhole!

It doesn’t take long for Bernard to realize he’s in deep trouble. Not only did the wormhole drop him in the middle of a civil war over a depleted resource, but the battle is actually taking place inside his father’s brain. Bernard has one chance to save the dying side of his father’s creative brain from the tyrannical left side. Can he use his outside-the-box thinking to save his father’s life?

Brainwalker is a young adult sci-fi fantasy novel that turns the world of neuroscience on its head. If you like incredible fantasy worlds, fast-paced entertainment, and the human mind, then you’ll love Robyn Mundell and Stephan Lacast’s amazing journey inside the brain.

MY REVIEW: An enjoyable fantasy sci-fi that is more fantasy than science. I suspect young teens will enjoy this. I don’t think it is as fast-paced as the book description implies, but it is well-paced. The author makes use of a somewhat simplistic left/right split brain idea to good effect. The creatures are interesting and the plot is original.

NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley with an invitation to write an unbiased review.

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Monday, 3 October 2016


The Painted BridgeThe Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: A spellbinding tale of secrets, lost lives, and a Victorian woman seizing her own destiny
Just outside London behind a tall stone wall stands Lake House, a private asylum for genteel women of a delicate nature. In the winter of 1859, recently-married Anna Palmer becomes its newest arrival, tricked by her husband into leaving her home, incarcerated against her will and declared hysterical and unhinged. With no doubts as to her sanity, Anna is convinced that she will be released as soon as she can tell her story.

But Anna quickly learns that liberty will not come easily. And the longer she remains at Lake House, the more she realises that -- like the ethereal bridge over the asylum's lake -- nothing is as it appears. Locked alone in her room, she begins to experience strange visions and memories that may lead her to the truth about her past, herself, and to freedom - or lead her so far into the recesses of her mind that she may never escape…
Set in Victorian England, as superstitions collide with a new psychological understanding, this elegant, emotionally suspenseful debut novel is a tale of self-discovery, secrets, and search for the truth in a world where the line between madness and sanity seems perilously fine. (Goodreads)

MY REVIEW: An excellent read. There was real tension as Anna tries to survive and escape from her confinement. The Victorian culture was very well described and I learned a lot about what that period believed about mental health and its treatment. The experiments by a doctor that tries to work out how to read photographs to diagnose mental illness were intriguing — and loosely based on phrenology which was considered to be a science at the time. It’s a beautifully written novel with great plot development and interesting characters. Liked it a lot.

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Tuesday, 6 September 2016


Beautiful to the BoneBeautiful to the Bone by P.G. Lengsfelder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Who can survive the siren call of beauty?

When four-year old Eunis Kindsvatter leaves her Minnesota farmhouse for the very first time, it’s because her mother drags her to a doctor . . .with the hope he’ll absolve her for Eunis’ face. It’s albino with a grotesque birthmark. “An unnaturally ugly thing,” according to Momma. Though the doctor finds nothing physically wrong, Eunis is kept isolated from the world, Momma filling her with tales of fearful gods, demons and prophecy.

Eunis begins to experience unpredictable hypersensitivity to people and places. She instinctively gravitates to water and to Freyja, the Norse goddess of beauty, Momma’s ideal. Determined to be of value, Eunis embarks on a journey to quantify beauty, to protect future generations from the pain she’s experienced, and someday “make everybody beautiful” —through science.

But Eunis’ obsessive research into beauty draws her into a world of unreliable voices, unforeseen pleasures, dangers and death. In Beautiful to the Bone, Eunis must fight for her sanity and reconcile the gap between the science of beauty and the incalculable qualities that draw us to it. (Goodreads)

MY REVIEW: I really enjoyed this book. The plot is quite different to anything I’ve read before and I was never sure where the story would lead me. The character of Eunis is deeply and richly drawn and I felt the pain of her need to pursue an objective understanding of beauty. The book is beautifully written with evocative language and genuine empathy for the characters. It was thought provoking and its exploration of beauty, and what it is, made me reflect on my own notions of beauty and the tendency I (and perhaps all of us) have to see beauty as only skin deep rather than what is at the heart and soul of an individual. An excellent read.

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Sunday, 31 July 2016


Divine Hiddenness and Human ReasonDivine Hiddenness and Human Reason by J.L. Schellenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Why, if a loving God exists, are there "reasonable nonbelievers," people who fail to believe in God but through no fault of their own? In Part 1 of this book, the first full-length treatment of its topic, J. L. Schellenberg argues that when we notice how a relationship with God logically presupposes belief in God, we have grounds to conclude that there would be no reasonable nonbelievers if theism were true, and thus given their existence grounds for atheism. This argument, he maintains, is not defeated by any of an array of counterarguments seeking to justify divine hiddenness drawn from the work of such writers as Pascal, Kierkegaard, Butler, and Hick, and from the author's own imagination arguments meticulously scrutinized in the book's second part. Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason has generated a great deal of interest and discussion since its first publication in 1993 and continues to set the agenda for work on its issues today." (Goodreads)

MY REVIEW: A fascinating argument against the Christian God's existence. This book is a challenging philosophical read but worth every minute. It's a detailed, rigorous argument. The author has an excellent understanding of the various Christian arguments and counter-arguments. In fact, in order to ensure he has considered every possible opposing arguments he even comes up with new ones that haven't been developed before - and then responds to them. This is a must-read for Christian and atheist apologists alike. Should generate a long and interesting conversation!

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Sunday, 17 July 2016

THE WARLORD'S SON by Dan Fesperman

The Warlord's SonThe Warlord's Son by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: In a riveting tale of intrigue and betrayal, a journalist and his aide infiltrate Afghanistan on the eve of the American invasion.  Skelly, a jaded war correspondent, is looking for one last scoop.  Najeeb, his translator and guide, is an educated young man from the Pakistani-Afghani border with a secret past, a history with the Pakistani secret police, and his own motives for this risky adventure. Together they join a Warlord’s caravan as he seeks to start an uprising that will liberate the country from the Taliban. Along the way, they stumble onto what they think might just be the story of a lifetime. What they find is a shady world of hidden agendas, shifting allegiances, and sudden betrayals--a world where one wrong move would get them both killed and the only hope for survival lies in their loyalty to each other.

MY REVIEW: Really enjoyed this engaging story. The writing is excellent and very evocative. The descriptions of the various aspects of Afghan culture, politics, and history are informative but never overwhelm the narrative which moves along at a good pace. The characters are interesting and the story is intriguing.

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Tuesday, 28 June 2016


The Fight for FreedomThe Fight for Freedom by Marcus Ferrar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The fight for freedom – waged by warriors, democrats, politicians, slaves, civil rights leaders, free-thinkers and ordinary human beings – has stirred passions for thousands of years. This moving narrative recounts the exploits of leaders such as Spartacus, Boadicea, Lincoln and Gandhi, through to heroes of the modern age – Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Their enemies have been despots – for example Persia’s Emperor Xerxes, Stalin and Hitler – but sometimes also religions, ideologies, and even liberation movement leaders who became new tyrants.

MY REVIEW: This was a great read and I learned a lot. It is disturbing that so many people in the world, through history, have had to live under such oppression and had their human freedoms ignored or deliberately taken away from them. This easy-to-read history read like a novel and I found it inspiring and informative.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016


Murder in WasillaMurder in Wasilla by Mary Wasche
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: A chilling tale of crime and romance in small town Alaska. A Boston law school graduate, new to Alaska and in over his head with his first big case, must defend an innocent man accused of murdering a kindergarten teacher whose naked, half-frozen body he spotted along the shoulder of an isolated highway. As Preston Mills adjusts to life on the Last Frontier, he falls hard for the defendant's spunky and appealing daughter. The crime very nearly goes unsolved due to the unique method of murder.

MY REVIEW: A fairly straightforward, easy to read, crime romance with more romance than crime. It’s a fairly mild read compared to a lot of modern crime fiction but it was enjoyable. The relationship at the centre of the story was more interesting than the crime itself — although the method of the crime was intriguing.

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Saturday, 14 May 2016

WASTELAND GODS by Jonathan Woodrow

Wasteland GodsWasteland Gods by Jonathan Woodrow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: After the brutal murder of his son is broadcast over the internet, Billy Kingston becomes consumed with alcoholism and thoughts of revenge.
But his outlook changes when a divine being named Dr. Verity offers Billy the chance to not only find the man responsible for his pain but to remove him from this world before he can commit the murder.
When the deal with Verity takes a wrong turn, Billy moves to the small, remote town of Benton Lake and the chance of a new life. Only Dr. Verity isn’t through with him yet. Not by a long shot...

MY REVIEW: A strange story. In one sense, you don’t really understand what’s going on until the last chapter. I would have liked more hints in the story pointing toward the ending than it being a complete surprise. The strength of the book lies in the exploration of the experience of loss and grief. There are moments of genuine suspense and horror but I didn’t find them always believable. The writing is good and I will check out the author’s next book. (NB: I received a free copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

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Friday, 6 May 2016


Ready for some goodies to watch on the big screen this week?


Top of the list this week is the story of FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice. I’ve seen the French movie about the same character which was ok — and this one is likely to be similar. Variety’s Guy Lodge describes this movie as, ‘… an audience picture first and foremost: one wholly sympathetic to its eponymous subject's delusional drive to delight crowds with or without the requisite artistry.’ Looking forward to it. People ***1/2 ◉ Critics ***1/2


MIA MADRE (My Mother) tells the story of Margherita, a director in the middle of an existential crisis, who has to deal with the inevitable and still unacceptable loss of her mother. For The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young, ‘Simplicity and maturity of vision are the virtues here, good qualities but perhaps a little too understated for major attention-grabbing.’ People ***1/2 ◉ Critics ***


THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY is another biopic about a famous man, this time, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar. He grew up poor in Madras, India, and earns admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy. It’s good to know about famous people that have flown under the radar for most of us. I have seen this one and will post my review soon. In the meantime, I agree with Empire who describes it as ‘Well intentioned and played, this shows flashes of what could have been, but is ultimately let down by its timidity towards the maths, and fails to make the case for its own hero's greatness.’ People ***1/2 ◉ Critics **1/2

If you saw Bad Neighbours then we probably know what to expect with NEIGHBOURS 2: SORORITY RISING. After a sorority moves in next door, which is even more debaucherous than the fraternity before it, Mac and Kelly have to ask for help from their former enemy, Teddy. Notice the phrase ‘more debaucherous’. Didn’t think that was possible — but there you go. Screen International ’s Fionnuala Halligan says it ‘… turns out to be an uneasy watch, awash with unconvincing performances, unfunny stereotypes, and dubious gross-out gags.’ Be warned. People *** ◉ Critics **1/2


See above and you decide! wink emoticon

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

NOTE Movie summaries are adaptations of movie summary on IMDB. Opinions are mine unless credited. People and critics scores are a rough idea of how movies are currently being rated on the “average”. These updates are written from an Australian perspective so openings of the movies in cinemas may vary in other parts of the world.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


BOOK DESCRIPTION: Far from being the work of a madman, Anders Breivik's murderous rampage in Norway was the action of an extreme narcissist. As the dead lay around him, he held up a finger asking for a Band-Aid.

Written with the pace of a psychological thriller, The Life of I is a compelling account of the rise of narcissism in individuals and society. Manne examines the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and the alarming rise of sexual assaults in sport and the military, as well as the vengeful killings of Elliot Rodger in California. She looks at narcissism in the pursuit of fame and our obsession with 'making it'. She goes beyond the usual suspects of social media and celebrity culture to the deeper root of the issue: how a new narcissistic character-type is being fuelled by a cult of the self and the pursuit of wealth in a hypercompetitive consumer society.

The Life of I also offers insights from the latest work in psychology, looking at how narcissism develops. But Manne also shows that there is an alternative: how to transcend narcissism, to be fully alive to the presence of others; how to create a world where love and care are no longer turned inward.
MY REVIEW: A very in-depth, richly textured discussion of narcissism. Of particular interest are the case studies analysing real people that have demonstrated narcissistic personalities. Like the best books, there are things to disagree with. The writing is engaging and easy to read. The greatest temptation in reading a book like this one is that of labelling people you know -- so take care! It is hard to disagree with the thesis that our culture is becoming increasingly self-centred.

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Thursday, 21 April 2016


Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the SaviorJesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus, one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today examines oral tradition and its role in shaping the stories about Jesus we encounter in the New Testament—and ultimately in our understanding of Christianity.

Throughout much of human history, our most important stories were passed down orally—including the stories about Jesus before they became written down in the Gospels. In this fascinating and deeply researched work, leading Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman investigates the role oral history has played in the New Testament—how the telling of these stories not only spread Jesus’ message but helped shape it.

A master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, Ehrman draws on a range of disciplines, including psychology and anthropology, to examine the role of memory in the creation of the Gospels. Explaining how oral tradition evolves based on the latest scientific research, he demonstrates how the act of telling and retelling impacts the story, the storyteller, and the listener—crucial insights that challenge our typical historical understanding of the silent period between when Jesus lived and died and when his stories began to be written down.

As he did in his previous books on religious scholarship, debates on New Testament authorship, and the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman combines his deep knowledge and meticulous scholarship in a compelling and eye-opening narrative that will change the way we read and think about these sacred texts. (Goodreads)

MY REVIEW: A brilliant book carefully argued. I found this very enlightening. I also heard Bart Ehrman recently debate an evangelical historian on this book’s ideas and Ehrman, in my view, definitely came out ahead. Ehrman writes with clarity and is very engaging to read. He makes sophisticated concepts easy to understand. Ironically, Ehrman is more respectful of the text as a critical historian than some fundamentalist Christians are when they try to make the biblical books perfect communications from God. If you are looking for a provocative, fresh approach to understanding the way in which the stories about Jesus developed over the decades following his death, check out JESUS BEFORE THE GOSPELS. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

FREEDOM TO DOUBT by Charles Shingledecker

Freedom to DoubtFreedom to Doubt by Charles Shingledecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: In his second book, Charles Shingledecker goes beyond The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy \[his first book] to look at the issues confronting all traditions of Christianity. He accompanies fellow believers on an entertaining and informative journey through the Bible, Church history, and the nature of Christian belief.

Narrow is The Way, Jesus said. It is a hazardous path, too, lined with obstacles and roadblocks that lurk in the shadows of naive fundamentalism. Chuck has bumped into many rough spots, surprised at the difficulties he never saw coming in a simplistic faith but also fascinated by the nuances of a more authentic one. Now he offers a candle to help light the way for others, to provide some comfort for those troubled Christians who feel isolated and alone in their doubts.

Chuck has discovered that the life of a Christian need not be plagued by guilt and fear. In this book, he shares his hard-won conclusion, that faith can and should be filled with the freedom to ask tough questions, the freedom to seek truth, and, yes, the Freedom to Doubt.

MY REVIEW: An excellent, radically honest, look at some of the troubling questions that thinking Christians struggle with — and that the author doesn’t resolve. This is not an apologetic book filled with contrived justifications, convoluted reasoning, or simplistic advice to bolster up preconceived beliefs. Shingledecker (what a great name!) is happy to have his readers honestly stare into the face of doubt and embrace it as an essential characteristic of faith. The author writes engagingly, transparently, with warmth and humour along with a deep understanding, drawn from his own experience, to wisely guide the doubting believer. This is a must read for anyone willing to be honest about the difficulties of faith or who has been burdened with guilt by believers who refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of doubt. An excellent read and highly recommended — even for non-believers in Christianity!

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Sunday, 20 March 2016

THE CREEPSHOW by Adria J Cimino

The CreepshowThe Creepshow by Adria J. Cimino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Wanda Julienne was the perfect employee. Until she had a baby.
Wanda, a thirtysomething single mother, returns to her job at an international financial services firm after maternity leave and finds her world turned upside down. The colleague who filled in for her made disastrous errors that should have cost him his position. Instead, management pressures Wanda to repair the damage overnight and take on new assignments that are a sure recipe for failure. Add in a dose of sexual harassment and Wanda, who can’t afford to lose her job, feels trapped.
Slowly, she discovers that other colleagues have experienced similar treatment, but no one wants to talk about it.
At home, the situation isn’t much brighter. Wanda struggles to balance her baby’s needs and her tough work schedule. Her best friend, Galina, and the ex-boyfriend Wanda never thought would return try their best to offer support, but the attention only suffocates her.
Wanda turns her back and isolates herself, submerged in a downward spiral, until Galina suggests a way out—but the exit won’t be without drastic consequences. (Goodreads)

MY REVIEW: I received a copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program so didn’t know much about it at all. As I started reading, I thought the themes were significant and contemporary — the treatment of women by employers after they have had time off work to have a child and various forms of oppression and harassment in the workplace. But I was ultimately disappointed in this novel. The book is written in a very simple style with what I would consider a quite low reading level. In the end, the story finished very abruptly just as it had the potential to move into a good legal thriller. The story has great potential that it just doesn’t achieve.

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Saturday, 5 March 2016


Random Reflections of a Looney BinRandom Reflections of a Looney Bin by Gordon M. Kerkham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Gordon Kerkham knows that some people will be offended by the term “looney bin,” but in his opinion, that’s what they were and what they are—and as such, that’s what they should be called. Too many “professional mental healthcare” centres, in his experience, are little more than dumping grounds for the people we don’t want to see or acknowledge in our world—those living with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.
As a nurse, director of nursing, consultant, and head of professional health education at a university, he has earned his opinion of the system. In Random Reflections of a Looney Bin, he lifts the veil that surrounds an area that most people are not willing to explore. Offering passage into a hidden world, this memoir shares his memories of life in a variety of mental healthcare facilities and his work with aged, handicapped, and psychiatric patients.
He writes in what he calls “true myth” style, meaning his reflections represent mostly the truth with some of the folklore and myth that accumulates through time. His aim is to show that these events all happened—and are still happening today in many parts of the “civilised” world. In his own experience and in those shared by caregivers in other locations, he has concluded that regardless of location, these facilities have more in common than most might want to believe.

MY REVIEW: Let me get this out of the way first: this book desperately needs a proper proofread and editing. There are punctuation and grammatical errors throughout that are incredibly irritating and detracts from the positive qualities of this memoir. Having said that, the stories are quite interesting and Kerkham can does a good job of telling them. This volume covers the author's training as a psychiatric nurse in the days when the main focus was on custodial care and up to the time when the transition was starting towards more professional approaches to the care of the mentally ill. The book is easy to read (apart from the poor editing). There are some pretty amusing moments and some pretty questionable staff. Check it out if you'd like a light, fun (and occasionally tragic) look at what mental health care used to be like. Let's hope the editing and proofreading happens in the next edition because, unless it does, I won't be reading the author's next volume about his experiences learning about general nursing.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

THE ZEN OF LISTENING by Rebecca Z Shafir

The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of DistractionThe Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction by Rebecca Z. Shafir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: TV, radio, traffic, telephones, pagers - our minds are bombarded daily by constant noise and clutter. No wonder so many people find it increasingly difficult to listen and comprehend. Simple pieces of information such as names go "in one ear and out the other." Poor listening may have tragic consequences such as the Challenger disaster and the Potomac River crash of 1982, or it can result in smaller tragedies such as lost promotions, stalled marriages, and troubled children.
Rebecca Shafir assures us that we can transform every aspect of our lives, simply by relearning how to listen. The Zen of Listening is grounded in the Zen concept of mindfulness, a simple yet profound way of learning how to filter our distractions and be totally in the present. Rather than a list of tricks, this book is an all-encompassing approach allowing you to transform your life.

Readers will be amazed at how simply learning to focus intently on a speaker improves the relationship, increases attention span, and helps develop negotiating skills. Learn the great barricades of misunderstanding, find out how to listen to ourselves, discover how to listen under stress, and boost our memory. This is a fun and practical guide filled with simple strategies to use immediately to enjoy our personal and professional lives to the fullest.

MY REVIEW: A very good survey of the practice of listening. What makes this book distinct from other books on listening is it’s location within the practice of mindfulness — which is a popular topic at the moment. Full of practical strategies to improve listening and apply mindfulness (meditation and living fully in the present) to this most significant of human activities. Everyone would benefit from reading this book — even if one didn’t wish to take on the meditative aspects. The author is clearly very experienced and writes in an engaging style.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2016


John The RevelatorJohn The Revelator by Peter Murphy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: A stunningly beautiful tale of a boy, his mother, and coming of age in southeastern Ireland.

MY (BRIEF) REVIEW: Stunning it is not. Some of the writing is quite beautiful but the story just never seems to go anywhere in particular — so I was completely unmotivated to keep reading and gave up on the book.

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Friday, 5 February 2016

DIE TRYING by Lee Child

Die Trying (Jack Reacher, #2)Die Trying by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Featuring Jack Reacher, hero of the new blockbuster movie starring Tom Cruise. Jack Reacher, alone, strolling nowhere. A Chicago street in bright sunshine. A young woman, struggling on crutches. He offers her a steadying arm. And turns to see a handgun aimed at his stomach. Chained in a dark van racing across America, Reacher doesn't know why they've been kidnapped. The woman claims to be FBI. She's certainly tough enough. But at their remote destination, will raw courage be enough to overcome the hopeless odds?

MY REVIEW: Very fast-paced, exciting beginning. However, about halfway through, got bogged down in detail and seemed to go nowhere for awhile. I finished the book but, overall, it felt pretty average. This is the third book I've read in this series and will probably leave it and move on to other things.

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Friday, 22 January 2016

VATICAN WALTZ by Roland Merullo

Vatican WaltzVatican Waltz by Roland Merullo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION:The new novel from the award-winning author of Breakfast with Buddha and Revere Beach Boulevard tells the story of a young Catholic woman jolted from a quietly devout life in pursuit of a mysterious calling.

Cynthia Piantedosi lives a quiet, unassuming life outside of Boston, guided by her Catholic faith. When she loses her beloved grandmother, she begins experiencing “spells” of such intense spiritual intimacy that she wonders about her sanity. Devoted to her elderly father and not particularly interested in dating and socializing, she develops a deep friendship with her parish priest. His congregation sees him as provocative and radical, but he encourages Cynthia to explore her faith—however it presents itself.

When he is killed in a mysterious accident, a message begins to emerge from Cynthia’s prayers: God is calling her to be the first female Catholic priest. Her revelation is met with ridicule by certain of the more reactionary officials she reaches out to within the Church. Unable to tune out the divine messages, she lets the power of unswerving faith drive her all the way to the Vatican in pursuit of a destiny she doesn’t fully understand—and a turn of events that will inevitably bring long overdue change to the Catholic Church.

MY REVIEW: VATICAN WALTZ was a gently intriguing read with a fascinating twist at the end that raises questions about the way in which believers accept certain doctrines as factual (I can’t say anymore without giving the ending a way). I imagine the book will be of particular interest to Catholics but there is much in it about the nature of spiritual experience in general — particularly that of mysticism and its connection with the reality of life. The story is written well with a genuinely unpredictable plot. More than that, it explores issues of the nature of spirituality and the way in which organised religion often undermines it. The story is probably not for those who have a rigid view of religion constructed around rules and ritual. But for those who are willing to allow a story to question the way they look at religion and spirituality, it is a rewarding read.

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Saturday, 2 January 2016


The Bad People Stole my GodThe Bad People Stole my God by Doug Philips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The true story of how a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a dog lover, a 40-year-Catholic, and a close personal friend of Jesus Christ became a full blown non-believer; but somehow remained a decent person.

MY REVIEW: This was a pleasure to read after the previous book I reviewed (Leaving the Quiet Room). There is nothing new in terms of the arguments offered against Christianity/religion. But Philips writes with great humour making this a fresh read. He takes the perspective a Catholic with a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and the “mistakes” he made in being seduced by the “bad people” atheists. (I kept thinking of C S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters although Philips is not as profound.) It’s short, witty, and well paced and demonstrates empathy and respect for those who disagree with him.

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Leaving the Quiet Room: My Rise from Religious Slavery to AtheismLeaving the Quiet Room: My Rise from Religious Slavery to Atheism by Joe Zamecki
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: One of "5 Awesome Atheists Under the Radar." (Steven Olsen, Leaving the Quiet Room chronicles the formative years of veteran atheist activist Joe Zamecki at a Catholic primary school. Insightful and often humorous, the memoir is a unique glimpse into the making of a champion for freedom of conscience. Having endured the abuse and absurdity of a religious education, Zamecki evolved from true believer to self-described "loudmouth for the Freethought movement." Joe Zamecki has since dedicated his life to countering the negative consequences of theism, with eight years as a full time employee of American Atheists, Inc and a stint as Texas State Director. His pioneering work includes helping to found Atheist Helping the Homeless, The Atheist Experience television show, and countless hours campaigning for the rights of atheists and the freedom of those shackled by religion.

MY REVIEW: From what the book description says, Joe Zamecki has done some good work campaigning for rights and being involved in humanitarian work. But the book description exaggerates the significance of Zamecki’s story. It reads more like a cathartic rant than a calm and rational telling of his story. There are some good insights. But reading through a detailed description of every single grade in his schooling was laborious and boring. The purpose of the book is to describe what Zanecki calls his “rise from religious slavery” to Atheism (with a capital ‘A’).

His story is from the perspective of a rigid and abusive Catholic education (he was not sexually abused) in the United States — a narrow perspective if there ever was one. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a story shared by many others. And no doubt they will relate to his story. But his capital letter ‘A’ Atheism is about getting rid of all religion claiming that there is nothing of worth in religion and indeed, is detrimental to society.

I became very uncomfortable when I arrived at the parts of the book where he blames his parents for his religious abuse without any sign of compassion or empathy for them. Most parents, I assume, make what they consider to be the best decisions for their children. Perhaps Zamecki’s parents didn’t — we don’t get enough information to make that judgment. But looking back from mature adulthood and blaming your parents for everything you consider to have been wrong with your upbringing, particularly in a culture which itself supported the type of religious upbringing he had, seems harsh and unforgiving.

Zamecki’s atheism seems as ideologically fundamentalist as the religion he grew up in. His understanding of the cultural role of religion in violence is simplistic and he believes that ‘[t]here are few violent conflicts in the world that cannot be traced back to the irrational thinking of theists.’ Really? When someone reduces a problem down to one cause then you can pretty much guarantee they haven’t thought about the issue in much depth.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Zamecki’s perspective is incredibly biased (despite the few nuggets of truth to be found in the book) and ideologically driven. Those features are bad enough but adding them to what is a laborious description of his education (I’m not interested in knowing the name of every teacher he ever had!) and religious rituals in Catholicism throughout his childhood made me glad when I arrived at the final paragraph which, by the way, reads in part: ‘I thank whoever first said these things: “May the last priest be crushed to death by the last falling stone from last crumbling church.”…’ Great sentiments!

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