Saturday, October 22, 2011

God's Brain, by Lionel Tiger and Michael McGuire

I can’t get enough of these books about the cognitive science behind spirituality. Let’s face if, if there’s a God, He is happening in our brains. If there isn’t a God, something is happening in our brains that makes us believe in one, or at least want to believe in one.

What exactly is going on when we believe? Is there a reason for it, speaking in terms of evolution? Does a belief in God and religion serve a positive brain function? It would seem so, think Tiger and McGuire.

Basing their theories on the latest in neuroscience, brain chemistry and primate behavior, they find that God IS in and He/She/It serves a very important role -- something they call brain soothing. In living our lives, our brains endure stress,The brain needs to be satisfied chemically and, God beliefs and interacting with other people with such beliefs performs that need. They do a great job developing this interesting theory and show how it works.

Whether one believes in God or not, one will come away with a deeper respect for human belief and all but the most dogmatic believers from either camp will find some illumination here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand, by Scott McConnell

There have been several biographies that have come out about the enigma who was Ayn Rand, but this one not your average biography. Sort of a Rashoman meets 60 Minutes, this is a collection of 100 interviews with people who knew her, worked with her, or just met her or heard from her.

The people range from celebrities like Raquel Welch to maids and fans.It is a terrific collection of perspectives on a very fascinating woman.

The one thing that impressed me the most is the thing I have always gotten from Rand, from interviews and videos. Regardless of her shoot-from-the-hip prose and her rather dismissive and arrogant manners on the subject of ideas, she was still a little Russian woman like a million grandmas I knew growing up in Brooklyn and on Long Island.

Or as Patrick O’Connor, her Trotskyite editor at NAL said, “After lunch I went back to my office and reported to my bosses, ‘She’s just a lovable little lady from Leningrad.’”

She was a complicated, real woman, and a very sweet one, even if she was a Class-A freak when you got her going philosophically.

The only criticism I have the book is not enough negative interviews, The author obviously paints a flattering picture here, and I suppose that’s his intention, but I would rather have read a book with more anti-Randian views.

I hope someone does a book like that in the future, but for now, this is a an invaluable addition to any study of Rand.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth - Book Trailer

Trailer for the second book in the adventures of Nathaniel Cade - Chris Farnsworth's entertaining Vampire Secret Agent series which started with Blood Oath. Visit his site for more news on the series.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

I believe I have found my favorite Christopher Moore book. Having read most of his work by now, and finally getting to Lamb, I think I have reached the book I'll read a few times, and always think of as "the one." I’ll still have to check out one or two more, but Lamb is so funny and so wise, so full of love and snark, plus speaks to me so personally that I doubt Moore can outdo this.

It’s a terrific book and definitely one of his best by any standard. Charming, witty, with that natural inner goodness and love of people found in all of his work, Moore’s Joshua is first of all a man in his time -- sort of. History blended with nonsense blended with Biblical fun creates a memorable, very real Jesus in Josh. Goodness shining through humanity is done in a way that I simply have not seen in all those inspirational Jesus books, Moore’s Joshua is a truly human Son of God.

Biff is the ultimate sidekick -- a warrior cynic who truly loves his friend. Moore delights in human relationships and the humor it entails to love and trust one another, in Lamb he creates the true buddy.

If you have never read Christopher Moore before, this is a great start. If you ever wanted to know more about Jesus, and can't handle reading those Bible not the best start, but a fun one.

Either way if you want to smile aplenty and think a lot, read this book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

At the Queen's Command: The First Book of the Crown Colonies

July the 4th - the perfect day to recommend this fantastic alternate reality tale of the American Revolution by Michael A. Stackpole. The Queen's Command if the first book in what will be the Crown Colonies Series. It's setting is in a world of practical magic, domesticated flightless war dragons, semi-chameleon skinned native people, dark arts as science, and yes even zombies. It's has all the essential elements of the frontier adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper or Jack London - full of the mixed sense of danger and promise in the discovery of a new land. But additionally there is an underling  layer of political conspiracy and Court intrigue that promises to play out through the continuing book series. Mystria is the name of alternate young Colonial America that finds itself increasingly entangled in the concerns of the battling Old World Empires of Norillia (England) and Tharyingia (France). Captain Owen Strake is capable the young protagonist who lands in the New World ready to do his Royal duty and secure a future back home only to find he may have more in common with the colonists like the Wilderness Scout Nathaniel Woods and Native Prince Kamiskwa who aid him. And while there is obviously a lot of manly action and battle as to be expected for the time period - the female characters involved are well drawn -- portrayed as smart, independent minded and holding power and influence behind the scenes. The main storyline managed to have a satisfying resolution while an interesting character revelation near the end of the book sets the stage for some more of the Court intrigue aspect I mentioned -- and I look forward to next to the next installment. Visit the author's website for more info.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Star Wars Craft Book by Bonnie Burton

Chock full of whimsical crafts inspired by the characters, vehicles and creatures of Star Wars. The concept began with a few projects featured at the Kids area of by Lucasfilm's Bonnie Burton -- and here she includes those items and many more new craft ideas in book form. Most of the projects are simple, use found and recycled household materials, and are great for kids. But there are several more challenging items particularly in the home decor and wearables categories - like the famous Crochet R2-D2 Beanie (by Reynalyn Camoras) that are suited for more seasoned crafters. The book is visually appealing, with crisp photos accompanied by clear concise directions. But, what I really love most is the charming unfussy style of the projects, it's not about recreating critters and characters in exact detail but seeing the spirit of Star Wars in everyday items. This approach is great because not only does it leave room for personal expression in the crafts presented but it also leads the reader to looking at things creatively as well as to finding inspiration for their own projects. Highly recommended for kids, new crafters, experienced crafters in need of fresh inspiration, and of course Star Wars fans.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Andy Grammer - Keep Your Head Up - (Cover By The Towers)

A former barista at Borders in Southbury, Connecticut, regular performer in the cafe as well, Pablo Andreu and his brother Diego are The Towers. Two very talented young men. Here's Pablo doing a solo cover.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society, By Jay Bakker

I admire Jay and enjoyed his earlier book, Son of a Preacher Man, which I recommend to anyone who wants to see how a young man can find the love of God in the crazy TV world that raised Jay Bakker.

However, in Fall to Grace Jay takes his Grace trip to the next level. Part spiritual memoir like his first book, part bible study, Jay takes us on a tour of perhaps the most liberty-affirming book in the Bible, Paul's letter to the Galatians. Meanwhile he shares with us vignettes from life that show God's mercy and power in the unlikeliest of places.

From the mad world of PTL Ministries in Charlotte, North Carolina to Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn, New York, Jay has discovered an outrageous grace -- the infinite love of an infinite Abba.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Honorable Mention

Special shout out and thank you to author Paul Malmont for mentioning us in a blog post on April 22, "Borders Booksellers Won't Go Down Without Fight." Evidently his google search picked up on Madmohawk's review of his book, and he shared this sweet sentiment:

Sometimes, in our big-box-store era, you forget that sometimes the people who work there actually care about what they’re doing. My Google alert found this post about my first book on a site called Booksellers in Exile, described as a blog started by former Borders employees meant to be a home for people who love books, music and movies.

I appreciate that anyone is still taking the time to talk about my book, and Borders has always been very good to me. But it’s more important to point out that booksellers, be it at a chain, or at your local independent, really do care about books. They’re passionate enough about them to keep trying to help you decide what to read even after their store has disappeared around them. Take advantage of that commitment—before they’re extinct.

Thanks again Paul. We appreciate your appreciation!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Tiger's Wife: A Novel by Téa Obreht

This is a wonder of a novel! I was looking forward to it after reading two stories by Téa Obreht in The New Yorker, one of which turns out to have been an excerpt from this book. The stories were remarkable for their beautifully crafted language and sheer storytelling power and raised my expectations for the novel. I could not have been more richly rewarded.

Natalia, a young doctor in an unnamed Balkan country still suffering from the effects of a war that has torn the country apart, travels across a new border to vaccinate orphans. Learning that her beloved grandfather, also a doctor, has died far from home, and under pressure from her grandmother to find out the circumstances of his death, she makes a detour to the town where he died.

On this frame, Obreht builds layer upon layer of stories, stories told to Natalia through the years by her grandfather, stories that explain everything about his life and, she comes to believe, about his death. The first story takes place during an earlier war, when Natalia's grandfather was a young boy, and a tiger, freed from the city zoo by German bombs, makes his way to her grandfather's village. The second story is about an immortal man who meets Natalia's grandfather three times over many years, appearing where there is illness and war to gather souls.

Obreht tells these stories bit by bit, with vivid imagery and fully developed characters, interweaving them seamlessly with Natalia's journey. Ultimately, they help her understand her grandfather's life and death while they illuminate a people's dreams, fears and superstitions. At 25, Téa Obreht writes with self-assurance well beyond her years. This is a dazzling debut.

Friday, May 6, 2011

World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde by Christie Golden

Every once in awhile a book comes along that changes everything for you. World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde is not that book, but it's a fun read.

Set in the universe of World of Warcraft, this book serves as one of the several prequels to the insanely popular MMO and gives some interesting background information of one of the two major factions, the Horde. Players of the game will enjoy something akin to a "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" experience as we meet legendary characters from Orc history and follow them through the dark choices made and the terrible results - which of course sets up the situation that players enjoy every day in game.

What's fun is, even if one knows nothing of WoW and it's many plots and subplots, it's an interesting story of how fear and war can corrupt a people.

Again, if you want a book that'll change everything, I'd say try Atlas Shrugged, perhaps The Stranger, maybe even Little Heroes by Norman Spinrad, but if you want a fun little book that will take you away and enrich your WoW experience, World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde by Christie Golden is the right book.

For the Horde!

Book Trailer - The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross.

Great looking trailer for first book in the new Young Adult novel series -- The Steampunk Chronicles.

Girl in the Steel Corset - publish date May 24, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

To Say Nothing of the Dog

My all-time favorite book. Willis deftly handles time travel, comedy, romance, adventure, historical drama, the truth about cats and dogs, mystery and a touch of metaphysics. Clever and hilarious, To Say Nothing of the Dog follows the historian Ned Henry in a comedy of errors as he travels between Victorian England, the Blitz, and the not-so-distant possible future on a quest to find the Bishop's Bird Stump, solve (or save) a calamity, defeat the Nazis, and possibly stop the universe as we know it from being destroyed. Willis weaves an intricate plot into a creative, cohesive tapestry that defies any attempt at doing it justice in a short description. I've read this book to ragged shreds and still find something new in the story each time. Cleverly constructed, laugh-out-loud funny, likeable characters... to say nothing of the dog.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont

"What's real? What's Pulp?" is the heated debate started by ambitious young writer L.Ron Hubbard one evening at Greenwich Village's White Horse Tavern between the genre's rival icons Walter Gibson(The Shadow) and Lester Dent(Doc Savage). And very soon after they are all embroiled in a mystery that cleverly uses this theme by mixing real details from the authors' lives with bold Pulp story devices. There are many rich details not only of the writers' lives and the publishing business but of the of the era in general; including cameos by a young Orson Wells, Blackstone the Magician, as well as other Pulp writers - even a bit of contemporary Chinese History. Oh, and of course the mystery wouldn't be complete without some unusual events regarding H.P. Lovecraft's death and a surprising enigmatic stranger. A great tribute to the genre written by Paul Malmont.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

For years, people have told me, dude, you'll really love this guy, he has your kinda sense of humor, and he loves the same sh*t we do.

I have read dozens of snippets from Lamb and while I had never sat down and actually read the whole book (I do plan to now), I loved the goofy religious satire, and in world with far too little religious humor, that book seems to be one of the best -- charmingly blasphemous, well written, and just plain cute.

Anyway, Bloodsucking Fiends. Loved it! Funny, a cool little story, believable characters, nice use of fan service to the vampire genre, and did I mention it was funny?

Without really going into too much detail, the story of Jody the vampire is my kinda vamp tale: she becomes a vampire and just deals with it. No big oh my God I can't believe it; much more like wow, vampires ARE real now how do I deal with it?

Just like a real person who has seen a few movies and experienced popular culture would be. I always hate it when in contemporary urban fantasy we have to suffer through pages and paragraphs of the characters NOT BELIEVING in what has happened and acting like they've never heard of a vampire before. Refreshing.

Add to that a collection of highly memorable characters, retail humor reminiscent of Kevin Smith, and you have a highly enjoyable, low maintenance novel. If you have some time, give this one a read. You'll be glad you did.

Review: Sailing to Sarantium

Guy Gavriel Kay has been a favourite author of mine since my mid-teens, when I lucked into a copy of his Fionavar Tapestry at my school's library. His eye for detail, even as he is creating worlds, adds depth and realism to his fantastical histories: this is an author who loves to research and create parallels to real events.

Sailing to Sarantium is the story of a craftsman, Caius Crispin, a mosaicist of skill, with a puzzle-solving and rather open mind. The Emperor in Sarantium is in need of skilled men to build and decorate for him a structure for their god, to replace one that was destroyed in an uprising a few years before. The book is mostly the story of Crispin's journey, with specific encounters that provide insight into his character and approach to the world. It touches on aspects of the history of our own Byzantine Empire, and the various philosophies, sects and schisms of the early Christian church. Crispin's Emperor shares characteristics with the historical Emperor Justinian, who had the Hagia Sophia built after its predecessor was destroyed in riots. The plague that took Crispin's family echoes the outbreak of the bubonic plague midway through Justinian's reign.

Throughout his fantasies, and using that unique quasi-historical perspective, Kay gives insight into aspects of life that affect his modern audience: mob mentality for one memorable example, or how small events in a life can shape it for years. Kay's writing doesn't pose questions and give pat answers: it's meaty and rich and feeds the thinker, with both larger theological issues, like whether one man's experience of god diminishes those of other men; and smaller more personal ones, like how one copes with grief or a loss of innocence.

In Crispin's world, “sailing to Sarantium” means taking a big step on a bigger journey, the making of a life change. Reluctant at first, he commits with intensity to the changes, once he sees that he has really no choice but to go. His journey, not much of it by actual ship, takes him through two soul-shaking encounters – with the old “pagan” ways of the tribal forest folk, who make blood sacrifices to their forest-dwelling, animal bodied deity, and with the roots of his own religion of the sun-god, Jad, though a mosaic in an old shrine.

I am very fond of stories about ordinary but extraordinary individuals: warrior kings and mastermind evil geniuses are all well enough, but both Bilbo and Frodo were simple folk, and the tales that allow simple folk to be heroes are the most accessible, I find. Crispin is not so much a simple man: he's layered with complexities of thought and his past haunts him, but he is a labourer who happens to love and be very good at his craft. I know many people much like him, and admire them as well.

Kay's earlier work, the Fionavar Tapestry touched on the universality of certain myths, and how echoes can be found across many cultures: he did so by making the origin of those myths (and the final resolution to several great tragedies within them) one source world, much as Amber is the source of the shadow-worlds that spin from it in Zelazny's celebrated series, the Chronicles of Amber. In Kay's works, that source world is known as Fionavar.

It's very interesting to me that his first work was about Fionavar, and all his subsequent books make fleeting reference to this legend/heretical philosophy. Even as the Fionavar series introduced the readers to the philosophy of multiple universes and certain theological conundrums therein, each subsequent work has a different theology, religion or philosophy as a recurrent theme. Kay doesn't use the religious ideas thus displayed as a bludgeon of his own beliefs, (indeed, with the varied perspectives of his characters, his own beliefs are anyone's guess), more as a incisive look into our own culture's religious history. The comparisons are less with the historical people or the events of the time, than with the theologies and flavour of those contemporary tensions.

One great grace of Kay's characters is that they never feel too modern. At no point does he snap the reader out of the atmosphere of the time, with overly modern language, attitudes or responses. Even his inventive cursing rings true to the setting and timeframe.

In Sailing to Sarantium, schisms within one belief are highlighted. Eastern and Western philosophies have collided, and through Imperial intervention, come to an uneasy truce. Our craftsman hero is brought to a cosmopolitan and unutterably subtle court, ruled by an ambitious and ruthless workaholic Emperor and his equally ruthless and inspiring Empress. Heathens from the desert threaten in the east, the once-civilized southern states are fractious under the new rulers, and in the West barbarian tribes have only just been conquered. Crispin's story, his companions, and the story of the Empire itself are laid like a tiles in a mosaic into this rich and historically fascinating setting. I am greatly anticipating diving into Book II, Lord of Emperors.