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Pig Island
Pig Island
by Mo Hayder
Edition: Hardcover
65 used & new from $0.01

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Her Best, But Still Mo, March 1, 2007
This review is from: Pig Island (Hardcover)
Pig Island is a fictional island off the western coast of Scotland, and it's the title of Mo Hayder's latest release. It's a great story with perversion, death, mystery, and some good surprises. Hayder started her career with two wonderful novels, Birdman and Treatment, told in the classic police procedural framework. She then wrote The Devil of Nanking; and although I didn't enjoy that as much as the first two, it was still fun to read. Pig Island is just plain spooky until the very end, when a plot twist spoils the effect she tried so hard to create through the rest of the novel.

"Oakesy", or Joe Oakes, makes a living as a journalist who debunks paranormal claims and beliefs. A video taken by passengers on a small cruise ship shows a beast with a long tail walking on Pig Island's beach. Oakesy finds a way on the island so he can prove to the world that there's no satanic beast roaming the island and sacrificing wild pigs. When he gets there, he realizes there's a madman on one side of the island with a very sick psyche.

The book is really worth reading, and I had a hard time putting it down. When I finished, I just wanted to say "Oh, come ON!" I could immediately think of five better endings for the book, and then it would've been an easy five stars, right up there with her first books. Keep at it Mo--I wish you'd publish more frequently!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 3, 2011 9:01 AM PDT

Handmaid of Desire
Handmaid of Desire
by John L'Heureux
Edition: Paperback
54 used & new from $0.01

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dumb and Self Serving, February 25, 2007
This review is from: Handmaid of Desire (Paperback)
Handmaid of Desire is a ridiculous tale of lust, greed, and murder set in the Ivory Towers of Northern California academia. It is light reading, and unwittingly, the author gives support to those who criticize "English" as a useless university major and department. This book seems like it was written for the author and his friends as an inside joke--"Ho ho ho! That jibe at Foucault was hilarious!"

The novel is centered around Professor Olga Kominska, who can read minds and knows the deepest secrets of the English professors with whom she works. She thinks her time as an invited guest professor should be spent helping the other teachers with their personal problems. I honestly can't go on reviewing something that doesn't deserve the time or space. Skip this one at all costs.

The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at Byu
The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at Byu
by Bryan Waterman
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from $15.08

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Brigham Young Seminary, January 21, 2007
Two BYU alumni, Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel, have written an interesting summary of controversial firings at BYU in the 1990s. While only Mormons, BYU alumni, or those with an interest in religious universities' battle with academic freedom will read this journalistic narrative, it is nonetheless an important expose of the way the Mormon church operates.

Cecilia Konchar Farr (now at St. Catherine's College in the Twin Cities), David Knowlton (independent writer), and Gail Turley Houston (Univerity of New Mexico) were fired under murky circumstances while the authors were students at BYU, and their unhappiness at the way these firings were organized and carried out prompted them to use the resources at their command to tell the professors' side of the story. They do so convincingly, and the reader gets a scary glimpse of the way the churchmen in Salt Lake City run the university.

Also of interest is the way the BYU administration forced out Brian Evenson (now a successful novelist and on faculty at Brown) of the English department. Professor Steven Epperson and David P. Wright's (now Dept. Chair of Near Eastern Studies at Brandeis) mistreatment also gets a cogent explanation. Waterman and Kagel also give a brief history of feminism at BYU and a careful account of the September Six excommunications in the Mormon church. The book is well written, well documented, and even handed in its treatment of these unhappy events at BYU. The book is too long and repetitive--many characters have their full names mentioned dozens of times in the stories, and some of the main characters are briefly introduced in several chapters. On the flip side, these writers wanted to "state for the record" both sides of the firings so the reader can make her/his own conclusion regarding their fairness.

The unavoidable conclusion is that BYU cannot be considered, at least in the present climate, a true center of higher learning. The General Authorities in Salt Lake City have the final say in what can and cannot be taught or published at BYU, and you risk being fired if you cross them. What is really puzzling after reading this book is why any of the professors mentioned would take a job at such an institution. Perhaps many LDS teachers at the school long to stay in Utah for family, social, or other reasons.

For these professors and others who feel oppressed in their classrooms and writings, why do they stay loyal to the church directed by such leaders? The idea that the church is off course and that being a crusader will somehow be to your benefit is ill advised--they hold all the power, and you will lose every time. Waiting for them to excommunicate or fire you besmirches your name and stains your dignity. Why not leave the church and publicly give your reasons? It will do more to further your quest to encourage independent thinking, and you won't be part of an organization that tramples free thought and objective truth.

BYU, these authors suggest, exists to shield students in their intellectually malleable years from truth in science, critical thinking, and scholarly debate. It will keep the church membership strong, so goes the reasoning. If a university exists that will punish you for declaring humans evolved from lower primates and that there was no universal flood, then it doesn't deserve the title of "university".

1973 Nervous Breakdown: Watergate, Warhol, and the Birth of Post-Sixties America
1973 Nervous Breakdown: Watergate, Warhol, and the Birth of Post-Sixties America
by Andreas Killen
Edition: Hardcover
78 used & new from $0.01

26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling and Misdirected, December 30, 2006
1973 was a seminal year in US history, and Andreas Killen (City College of New York history professor), correctly identifies it as such in his book. Some of the more interesting sections of his book deal with the end of the war in Vietnam and the return of the POWs, Watergate, and the legitimate questions about Nixon's psychological health. He includes a lot of seemingly adulatory material on Andy Warhol and the transvestite punk-rock culture. In a boring and overlong chapter, Killen spends a great deal of time ruminating about how important the Loud family was in their TV show, The American Family. Killen's writing style is strained throughout the book, and his sentence structure is overly complex and sometimes disjointed.

I felt Prof. Killen should have heavily edited the sections on The American Family and the drug hazed Warholites. In wallowing about the forgotten movies of the midseventies and breathlessly praising the Hollywood directors of that year, he overstates the importance of these entertainers and seems to think they were cataclysmic contributors to US history. This sort of attitude is embraced today by the People magazine culture, uninterested in reading anything more than a caption under a celebrity's photograph. Instead of giggling about the New York Dolls, where's a mention of Led Zeppelin or Dark Side of the Moon (which came out that year)?

In getting caught up in how wonderful American Graffiti and Francis Ford Coppola are, Killen grossly under-represents or fails to mention Roe v. Wade, the downing of Libyan Airlines Flight 114, Nixon's visit to China, the showdown at Wounded Knee, the founding (and reasons for the founding) of the DEA, the conclusion of the Thalidomide class action suit, the Houston Mass Murders, the Saturday Night Massacre, and the APA's belated removal of homosexuality from the DSM. What was happening in the art world at that time, or in classical music?

Prof. Killen's main idea was right--1973 was an important year, and maybe it did represent the death of the Sixties and the birth of a neurotic, conspiracy-minded era in modern US history. However, he overemphasizes the above-mentioned subjects and too narrowly defines the important events of that year.

The Trouble with Christmas
The Trouble with Christmas
by Tom Flynn
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from $40.00

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Idea, But Impractical, December 29, 2006
I enjoyed reading Tom Flynn's The Trouble With Christmas! He concisely debunks the myth of Jesus and all the cute little fairy tales invented by the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Flynn also explains how Christmas was celebrated in the UK and the US many years ago and where modern Christmas pasttimes and decorations come from.

Next, we learn about where the story of Santa and Rudolph originated. He gives many references, most of them quite old, of psychologists and others who believe telling your children there's a Santa Claus is lying to children and not moral. The last segment of the book deals with how we should face Christmas today. I sincerely agree with his stance on keeping Christmas and all religious symbols out of public schools. Keeping trees, red bows, stockings, and other such paraphernalia in schools is a silent endorsement of Christianity, and this is inappropriate. I also think that the government and major corporations giving employees these days off is a silent endorsement of Christianity and should cease.

Flynn goes to work on Christmas and treats it as any other day, and I really admire him for doing this. He encourages other freethinkers to do this as well, and no doubt many more should. In the real world, however, many of us can't do this. Clients would be offended, even though we all know they shouldn't care whether or not a business they patronize doesn't believe a baby with magical powers was born on exactly the same day the Sun God was purportedly born. Mr. Flynn works for an atheist publication; his job by its very nature will not be in jeopardy because he doesn't buy in to silly superstitions.

I think we should, as in many instances, follow Richard Dawkins. He claims Christmas is a time when family and friends get time off together; they eat, drink, and exchange gifts. It has nothing to do with the Babe Born in a Manger. He says Merry Christmas to people too. I would love to be a polite curmudgeon and tell people no magic god was born at this season; that mangers and resurrections are as likely as flying reindeer. But as long as the majority of Americans are befuddled by the junk their parents taught them as children, we'll never be able to safely come out of the closet.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2011 8:05 PM PDT

Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine
Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine
by Richard P. Sloan
Edition: Hardcover
52 used & new from $1.41

18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Till the Last Two Chapters, December 5, 2006
Will attending church or reading the Bible help you live longer? Help you have less complications after surgery? Help your blood pressure go down? Columbia professor Richard P. Sloan introduces us to the major players in this new area of Christian evangelism. The studies purporting to show any health benefits from going to church or "being religious" are all so flawed as to render them useless. Using his epidemiological knowledge, Sloan carefully shows the reader how one should analyze claims from the media and claims in journals that purport to show a connection between religious behavior and improved health. In an organized, straightforward approach, Sloan one by one rips these shoddy studies and their charlatan authors to shreds. It's just beautiful, and Sloan should be applauded for using common sense, caution, and science to analyze this growing movement. He's right--trying to bring religion into medicine is a very bad idea with all sorts of negative consequences for patients, physicians, and the general public.

Somehow, after a beautiful twelve chapters, something goes horribly wrong. Professor Sloan bumps his head, is pressured to soft pedal to sell more books, or something--but the rational, sensible flavor of the book just goes out the window. He has just taken us on a very pleasant journey using a clear head, reason, and science to find the truth of this important matter. But now, we must throw all those tools away because we're going to talk about religion.

We must keep religion away from medicine, we read on p. 241, because we might "dumb down religion by eliminating what is distinctive about different religious traditions." Tradition is right--that's all there is to any religion; and therefore, there is nothing really distinctive at all to lose. Better still, "...religion and science are independent approaches to knowledge, and neither can be reduced to the other" (p. 253). What? We can't or shouldn't use science to see if the Earth is the center of the universe? We can't use science to see if the world was destroyed by a universal flood six thousand years ago? You bet we can, and we should.

As if he hasn't already hasn't weakened his argument enough, Sloan tells us that "religious truths are considered to be enduring and not subject to change. Scientific truths, on the other hand, are completely dependent on evidence, and as new evidence merges, scientific truths change accordingly" (p. 254). This is pretty misleading. Religion is a set of stories invented to explain thunder and lightning (when we didn't yet know how they come about), a set of stories to quell our fear of dying. That's it; and implying that religion is the one constant in life while science is always changing its mind is incredible. Scientific truth is real and lasting; it is like a building that keeps getting taller--very, very infrequently do we ever adjust anything in the lower levels of the building.

On p. 260, we are told that if we use religious practice as another recommendation to improve health, "a great deal will have been lost" and we will "strip [religion] of its transcendence". The only thing (of value) that will be lost is religion's pretense to reality. Losing some Bronze-age myths is certainly nothing to bemoan. "[It is a] fact that religion and science represent different approaches to knowledge, wisdom, and truth, each with its own operating principles. This does not make one superior to the other" (p. 264). Stephen J. Gould's overlapping magisteria again. The reader should remember that religion has usually been an obstacle to truth--real, palpable truth--like evolution, cosmology, geology, archaeology, and anthropology. Religion is not an even remotely valid approach to obtaining knowledge or wisdom of any kind, as history has shown since the Enlightenment.

On a different tack, Professor Sloan tells physicians that if a patient tries to bring religion into a medical encounter, they should refer patients to specialists (clergy of some kind). This seems to insult specialists like oncologists, radiologists, or gynecologists by lumping them in the same boat with more "specialists" like palm readers, crystal gazers, and tea-leaf readers. Being well versed in debunked and mythological creeds won't help anyone, sick or not. In summary, the last two chapters of this book are so incongruous with the rest of the book that I can only hope Sloan was forced to include them. This is a great work, but skip the last two chapters!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2009 4:43 AM PDT

The Devil's Feather
The Devil's Feather
by Minette Walters
Edition: Hardcover
142 used & new from $0.01

10 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Misandrous Suspense, November 26, 2006
This review is from: The Devil's Feather (Hardcover)
Connie Burns is our determined heroine, a war correspondent in Sierra Leone and then in Iraq. While in both places, she witnesses the public barbarous behavior of a UK mercenary named MacKenzie. A spate of rape/murders surfaces in Sierra Leone, and Burns wonders if perhaps this mercenary could be responsible. She voices her concerns tentatively at first, and then with a few supporting suggestions, to the police. Beginning to fear for her safety, she tries to return to England, only to be kidnapped and held hostage for three days. Connie thinks she knows who held her hostage and tortured her; and after she's released, she's scared to death that he'll come for her again.

She hides in Dorset in a large, rambling house that hasn't been kept up well for the past few decades. She meets some eccentric characters that form an interesting and very Rendell-like subplot. As usual, Ms. Walters writes easily, fluidly, and very well. The pacing and dialogue are smooth and skilled by this experienced author. Overall, the book is interesting and quite scary in a few parts. It's definitely one of her better outings, especially since she published her disappointing Disordered Minds.

Two things bring this novel down from a four-star effort to three stars. First, her anti-Bush/war-in-Iraq comments are ill advised and detract from the story. Although any reasonable person will find the Abu Ghraib prison scandal deplorable, it is not comparable to the horrors of Nazi genocide or the My Lai massacre--but Walters lumps them all together. She seems so reasonable most of the time, but a few rabid remarks really deter from an otherwise fun read. This next paragraph from p. 176 gives a similar feeling:

"I was thinking how debased language has become. 'Collateral damage' for civilian death, 'shock and awe' for relentless bombing, 'coalition of the willing,' 'surgical strike'--that's propaganda. It's all designed to put a spin on the truth. Do you know that every time I wrote 'Iraqi resistance fighters' the subs changed it to 'insurgents.' The words are synonymous but the connotations of 'resistance' are laudatory. It makes people think of the French Resistance, and the coalition didn't want that connection made."

Second, there is a pervasive and florid misandry in The Devil's Feather. Burns mentions a few times that she wonders if, in conversation, "a man" would understand her subtle meanings where any woman surely would. Walters also reminds us that "men are useless in a crisis". The senior police officer in the conclusion is a man who's portrayed as a somewhat thick-headed bully. As for Connie's legal representation: "If I had [a solicitor], don't you think he'd be a SHE?" In the height of the suspense and action scene, Connie's male friend is portrayed as significantly weaker than the two other women. This is suggested several times and is frankly stated just so no one could miss it.

Minette Walters is a real gem of the genre, and I hate to see her soil otherwise great novels with her disjointed socio-political mumbo-jumbo. Work these issues out in private, and then stick to what you do best--writing well crafted suspense novels.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2008 8:29 AM PDT

Dead Clever: A Lily Pascale Mystery (Lily Pascale Mysteries)
Dead Clever: A Lily Pascale Mystery (Lily Pascale Mysteries)
by Scarlett Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.09
63 used & new from $0.16

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated Teen Fare, November 24, 2006
I was quite disappointed upon finishing Dead Clever. After all, two august UK writers went to bat for Scarlett Thomas--Val McDermid and Reginald Hill--by allowing pleasant mumblings of theirs to be printed on the back cover of the book.

Lily Pascale is a young woman who's just finished her contemporary literature studies at the university level; and since then, she's been wasting her life by not getting a sensible job or boyfriend. When she finally adds things up, she runs back home to mom in rural Devon. Finding a bit of luck, she quickly lands a position at the local university teaching 1st and 2nd year students. Yet Lily was soon to discover that things are not as they seem in this sleepy little village!

What follows is a mildly interesting and somewhat silly tale of drugs and teachers acting unethically with their students. The science aspect to the book is wholly unbelievable and quite annoying--it almost seemed like Ms. Thomas was making fun of the genre in which she wishes to excel. Making her cat a character in the book, her sweet younger brother, and her disheveled but guileless gray-haired mother are all just cookie cutter stuff. It's a cute little chick lit book, and very unmemorable.

Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects
Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects
by Bertrand Russell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.92
206 used & new from $1.11

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like It Was Written Yesterday, November 22, 2006
Why I Am Not a Christian (WIANAC) is a splendid essay, here published alongside treatises with related topics, on how unreasonable christianity really is. Russell is often witty and always logical in his arguments and conclusions. He is well versed in the science knowledge of his day (1957), and it is fascinating to see that all the science needed to toss out christianity with all other religious myths was available back then as well.

A few of the essays included in this paperback aren't that relevant to atheism or the topic of religion, but students and fans of Russell will be happy to see them included here. Something that tarnishes Bertrand Russell the man (though by no means his writings!) is his multiple marriages and disjointed family life. Although it is wrong to assume his conclusions must be bad because of his personal troubles, many will do so. Ingersoll was happily married all his life, and this drove his critics nuts! They kept saying you'd be a horrible sociopath if you weren't a christian, and Ingersoll proved 'em wrong. His speeches were the more powerful for his fidelity in his personal relationships.

Still, WIANAC is a gem in a freethinker's library. I wore out a highlighter marking deftly put phrases and paragraphs that said what I've been trying to articulate to myself and others. Give it a read!

The Dead Yard: A Novel
The Dead Yard: A Novel
by Adrian McKinty
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from $0.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Irish Dirty Harry Undercover, November 14, 2006
This review is from: The Dead Yard: A Novel (Hardcover)
Showing a better sense of characterization and pace than in his previous novels, Adrian McKinty has spun a violent tale of lust and terrorism in The Dead Yard. Our protagonist is Michael Forsythe, a.k.a Sean McKenna--he's been arm-twisted by MI-6 and the FBI into infiltrating a deadly IRA splinter group in Boston. To do so, he must befriend the blue-eyed daughter of the group's leader. What follows is a quick and entertaining read where justice is served Dirty Harry style.

There are a few distractions, however. One is the unrealistic and somewhat cliched presentation of Kit and McKenna's handler, Samantha. The women in this novel are subservient and awed by the men around them; they are sexy and drawn to the alpha males that abound in this thriller. A "touch" more realism would have been welcome--after all, this isn't the 1950s. The writing is acceptable, and it seldom detracts from an otherwise thoughtful first-person narration. McKinty surely was thinking of Hollywood when he wrote the script, but this isn't too bald as to be disappointing.

The violence is not overdone, and it seems like the true actions that dedicated IRA types would employ to achieve their goals. McKenna's actions in response are therefore believable as well. As in many books of this type, reality must be suspended so our hero can survive the unsurvivable treatment of his enemies. But by the time this minor issue surfaces, we're in the throes of the plot and couldn't care less. This is an assured novel from an accoladed young writer, and The Dead Yard is fun escapist fiction for someone who enjoys James Bond and Dirty Harry.

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