All posts by jbair

Pain—The Divine Mystery – Review

Elmer L. Towns. Pain—The Divine Mystery. Wheaton IL: Tyndale, 2007. E-book.

I picked up this book because I had liked what I read from the author back in the eighties when I worked in a Christian book store. Towns was one of the founders of what is now Liberty University and, judging from the books of his I had read, an influence to have Liberty minister to Christians outside of the Fundamentalist churches that Jerry Falwell identified with.

Pain—The Divine Mystery did not disappoint. Though the title suggests Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, it is really different. It has short chapters, each based on one or two Scriptures. It is written especially for people who are in pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional.

It is clear that Pain—The Divine Mystery was written from the author’s own experience. He tells of his cancer diagnosis and how both the disease and the cures gave him pain that truly immobilized him. Indeed, this book is as much his testimony as anything else. He gives instructions on how to pray for healing, but also encourages those whose conditions remain.

A few helpful quotations here give a sense of how Towns ministers to his readers:

If we stayed virile, stunning, and desirously young, we’d hate death, fight death, and never look forward to heaven. (8)

God is more interested in our response to pain, than our understanding of why pain comes. It is not God’s purpose to reveal the cause of things; it is God’s purpose to reveal himself. (24) [Think of Job].

One of the most honest and helpful sentences in a section that notes the connection between fear and pain tells us:

When fear makes you surrender to pain, then the pain intensifies. (61)

Similarly, Towns notes that a person’s confidence that the pain will be relieved is more effective than the pain reliever itself.

As a matter of research, a patient’s confidence will actually help block more pain signals to the brain than the morphine-medicine itself. What does that say to you? Our fear make us hurt a lot more than we actually do. And our confidence reduces our pain—we don’t hurt as much as we should. (63)

The chapter on Jesus’ calming the storm while his disciples were afraid has really excellent teaching. And it is not just theoretical or theological. Towns is speaking from experience. He has been there. There is nothing simplistic here.

He also takes an honest look at the story of Jesus healing the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda. The lame man and some of the other people who witnessed this miracle made excuses. Jesus had an answer or an action for each one of them. We can learn something from this.

Pain can be hard to take, but Pain—The Divine Mystery is worth sharing with anyone who is experiencing pain in his or her life.

God never intended for the night to be permanent. He has divided a 24-hour day into light and darkness. (84)

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
Amen.

Smyrna, September 1922 – Review

Lou Ureneck. Smyrna, September 1922. New York: Harper, 2015. E-book.

The title of the book caught my attention because of Hemingway’s collection of short stories In Our Time. The first story in this, his first published fiction book, is titled “On the Quai at Smyrna.” There is also one of the entr’acte vignettes in this book set at Adrianople at what was then the Greece-Turkey border. If nothing else, Smyrna, September 1922 gives a lot of background to these stories as well as an understanding of a flashback described in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

An earlier edition of the book was entitled The Great Fire, a little more ambiguous name than the newer one, but what made Smyrna in 1922 even more horrible than the general attempt of the Turkish nationalists to extirpate Greeks and Armenians was that the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city were deliberately set on fire by Turkish army.

It takes a certain stomach to get through this historical chronicle. There is so much violence and death. Virtually every woman except for the very old and very young (and I mean younger than three) were raped, some many times. Often after the rape, they were killed, whether shot, stabbed, or beheaded.

All men determined to be between the ages of eighteen and forty-six, “of military age,” were rounded up and sent to the interior to concentration camps. Most of them died on the way, and the few that made the entire trek were killed anyhow, including the favorite uncle of Smyrna native Aristotle Onassis. In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” there is a description of Greek soldiers being routed by the Turks and “things that he could never think of and later still he had seen much worse.” The horrors of Smyrna may be included among those things.

Smyrna, September 1922 focuses on a few people, especially a couple of American naval officers, a British officer, and an American missionary. Americans were in an unusual position with respect to the Turks. The United States had been allies of the British and French and others fighting the Axis powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. However, America and Turkey never declared war on each other, so Americans were not involved in fighting the Ottomans in World War I.

Much of Smyrna, September 1922 tells of an Admiral Bristol, who was the chief American naval officer in Constantinople and who served as the liaison in the Turkish capital with the State Department. He was the unofficial ambassador to the country. He also was terribly bigoted against both the Greeks and the Armenians. This made him get along well with the Turks, as he basically felt that getting rid of inferior races like the Greeks was a good thing.

Though set in New York, it would be easy to imagine the admiral speaking a line from one of the Hemingway entr’actes in In Our Time when an Irish New Yorker kills two Hungarian immigrants: “They’re wops, ain’t they? Who the hell’s going to make any trouble?”

The remarkable thing is that some Americans and a few Brits, with some French as well, were able to organize humanitarian relief and an evacuation to nearly 250,000 Armenians and Greeks who were either from Smyrna or fled there. Probably a lot more could have been saved without Bristol’s foot dragging and indifference, but eventually Washington put enough pressure on him to do something.

In the meantime, an American based in Smyrna named Asa Jennings and men from two American navy ships anchored in the harbor tried to do what they could to feed refugees and protect more people from being killed by the nationalist army. Their nearly untiring efforts through the whole month eventually enabled action to help many refugees escape.

In the course of the book, we hear accounts of many people. There is a wealthy Armenian businessman who loses everything but does escape with most of his family. The nine-year-old girl who survives the massacre of her entire family except for two younger sisters and how she managed to survive. We also learn of the Onassis family. Many of them were killed, too, but eighteen-year-old Aristotle was out of the country at the time and so survived to become at one time the wealthiest man in the world and husband to the widow of the President of the United States.

The geographical focus of the book is the quai. It was a two-mile long wharf along Smyrna harbor. It became the safest place in a very unsafe city for fleeing Greeks and Armenians. The fire destroyed most their part of the city, but a few buildings near the quai and the quai itself were spared. This was the place, then, where those who survived the destruction and depredations of the Turks ended up.

Because this was an area with a certain number of foreigners and a number of foreign ships, the Turks were less violent here. They still would go here looking for women to abduct and for men of military age to go to the interior, but they were more subtle about it for the most part and tended to leave many of the people there alone once they had been robbed of any goods they had.

The challenges of finding food and fresh water for so many people were challenging. Many died. Bodies floated in the harbor daily. In his short story “On the Quai at Smyrna,” Hemingway writes from the perspective of a British sailor on one of the ships anchored in the harbor. Every midnight they would hear screams, but the screams would stop when the ship’s searchlights would scan the quai.

That is all the story tells us. Recall Hemingway’s dictum that good writing is like an iceberg, seven-eights below the surface. Smyrna, September 1922 shows some of what was lying below the surface.

Because of its location, Turkish soldiers would wait until the middle of the night to rape women who were on the quai. They also did not necessarily want people from other countries to be aware of their behavior, so when the spotlights would shine on them, they would usually stop. As the Bible says, “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20)

The Hemingway story also mentions a change of command as “Kemal came down and sacked the Turkish commander.” Kemal Ataturk, the nationalist leader, was indifferent to the plight of the refugees. Indeed, while in Smyrna he was entertained by the woman whom he would marry. The Turk in charge of the military in the area was notoriously cruel. He had even been court-martialed for his violence by the Turks. Kemal Ataturk did not care for him, he knew the kind of man he was, but he let him and his men have pretty much free reign to do what they wanted to the city and its non-Turkish people. Hemingway’s comment is not trivial.

Like Hemingway, Ureneck describes how there were indeed among the refugees women giving birth and even hanging onto dead infants. He also mentions briefly the evacuation of Adrianople, described briefly by Hemingway in one of the entr’actes in his book. Greeks had lived in this region since around 1700 B.C. Now they would be gone.

Ureneck uses the term genocide, which he says was coined by a scholar describing what happened to the Armenians during the decade ending in 1922. He also quotes Hitler when sharing his idea of attacking Poland to “annihilate the enemy physically,” reminding his hearers, “Who today still speaks of the Armenians?” (9) His model for extending and securing German “living space” was what the Turks did to non-Muslim minorities in their land after the Great War.

This also relates to our contemporary world. The Young Turks were really the first ultranationalist movement in a traditionally Islamic country. They justified their genocide both from national identity and religious jihad. While Ataturk went in a more secularist direction, it is clear that today’s jihadists kill and terrorize according to a similar twisted morality to those soldiers who terrorized Smyrna nearly a century ago. No, Ataturk was not interested in maintaining the caliphate, but ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Iran, and the present-day Turkey of Erdogan are. We already know in each case that the end justifies the means to these people as well. Smyrna was one of the early steps of something that continues just as relentlessly today. God willing it will meet with less success.

Still we cannot help admire the people who at least helped save many lives and in a few cases were able to appeal to consciences that still functioned.

Inconvenient Facts – Review

Gregory Whitestone. Inconvenient Facts. Silver Crown Productions, 2017. Print.

A few years ago I reviewed a book by Rud Istvan which challenged popular thinking about the so-called population bomb. Istvan also wrote a book called The Arts of Truth about global warming which I have read but have not reviewed, though it is a pretty thorough book that I would recommend to the technically minded. Inconvenient Facts also challenges the received academic tradition concerning global warming. It is presented in such a way that most people will be able to grasp it even without a technical background.

Since calls twenty-five years ago that because of the fall of the Soviet Union, communists and socialists would have to use the environmental movement if they wanted to maintain power, this reviewer has been skeptical of environmental claims that call for more government regulation. Inconvenient Facts builds up that skepticism to an even greater degree.

The author does a very effective job of presenting information from real science, not uncertain predictions. Some are even humorous. For example, polar bears are actually healthier in the Chukchi Sea of Siberia than Alaska’s Beaufort Sea because there is less sea ice there. The waters are warmer so there are more creatures for them to eat. Studies have shown that the polar bear population has increased. (Istvan also wrote about polar bears in his collection of essays Blowing Smoke).

He points out that earth’s air needs a certain amount of carbon dioxide, the so-called greenhouse gas some people worry about. At one point in earth’s history, the proportion was so low that many green plants died. That was dangerous for life. The more carbon dioxide in the air historically, the better crops grow and the better the animals that eat the plants live. Carbon dioxide is necessary for photosynthesis and producing oxygen.

As many people have noticed, the media used to use the term “global warming.” (The media worried about “global cooling” in the seventies.) In the last ten years the term is the very vague “climate change.” Well, we know that the climate is always changing. Wrightstone shows that the world has gone through several warm and cold periods in recorded history. For example, in Roman times citrus fruits grew up to around what today is the England-Scotland border. By the late Middle Ages after the so-called Little Ice Age began, the Vikings abandoned their Greenland settlements and Iceland’s population halved. The warm eras were far more productive and innovative. During the cooler eras, mankind’s main concern was survival.

Even recent predictions have gone unfulfilled. The United Nations said in 2005 that low-lying islands would be flooded by 2010. The population of many of these places has actually increased. You get the idea.

All told, Wrightstone lists 60 “inconvenient facts” that refute the climate doomsayers. Each one is backed by scientific or historical data. There are a detailed bibliography and very effective charts, graphs, and pictures to make the data clear.

Her is one simple one that really should be obvious to anyone. We see pictures of sea ice from the Arctic or Antarctic breaking apart and newscasters warning us about this causing the sea level to rise. Sea ice is ice formed from the sea. When it melts, it simply changes its material state. Ice floats, so when it melts it becomes denser and the sea level does not change. You can observe ice melt in a glass of water, and the water level never changes. It is the same thing at sea.

Wrightstone also notes that very little of the atmosphere is actually made up of carbon dioxide. The more abundant gas that does cause more of a greenhouse effect is water vapor. And the water vapor in the atmosphere is not a bad thing. The more water vapor, the more water and the more rain. This also helps crops, moisten soils, and reduces drought and wild fires.

Inconvenient Facts is written simply enough that most people can understand it. I would especially encourage people to give it to elementary school teachers. From my experience it has been elementary schools that have been most exposed to climate change propaganda in films and news items. At the very least we need a balance. And we certainly do not need the government to tell us what foods to eat or what cars to drive.

Isaiah 53 Explained – Review

Mitch Glaser. Isaiah 53 Explained. New York: Chosen People, 2010. Print.

This book is not what I expected. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Chapter 53 of the Bible’s Book of Isaiah and some surrounding verses contain one of the most direct prophecies about the ministry of the Jewish Messiah. It describes a man called the suffering servant.

Believers in Jesus have always pointed to this passage as foretelling Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. Jews are often not familiar with it or explain it by referring to the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of many different people groups over the centuries.

Though anyone can benefit from this book, Isaiah 53 Explained is aimed at contemporary Jewish readers. Glaser notes that a majority of Jews identify with their ethnicity but do not believe in any God. Still, most observe Jewish holidays and are aware of some of their culture. A minority are to varying degrees diligent to observe the Jewish Law.

Approximately the first third of the book explains why the Hebrew Scriptures are reliable and worth reading. One chapter also presents the idea that, whether or not the reader considers it inspired, the New Testament is historically reliable.

Once these things are established, then Glaser begins taking a look at Isaiah 52:13 through the end of Chapter 53. First, he takes a look at what the Bible generally means by the word servant since these verses describe in detail a man called God’s servant.

Finally, Isaiah 53 Explained shows the remarkable connection between these words and the life of Jesus. More than one testimony of a Jewish person in the Appendix expressed surprise when the writer found that it was part of the Hebrew Bible written some 700 years B.C.E.

The primary argument against these verses applying to Jesus is that they apply to the Jewish people in general. The book makes five major points to deal with that objection. Interestingly, Glaser even quotes some traditional Jewish sources that interpret this prophecy applying to one person, not a group, and referring to the Jewish Messiah.

The reader should note the brief testimonies near the end of the book that tell of Jews who came to believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah partly under the influence of Isaiah 53. One perhaps described it best when describing Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering servant:

He seemed to me to be the embodiment of Jewish experience for all time—destined to suffer at the hands of the world, yet finally to be vindicated by God. (132)

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth – Review

Lindsey Lee Johnson. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth. New York: Random, 2017. E-book.

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are.

  • “The Rich Boy” Fitzgerald

I was not sure whether to review this book. Not every book I read is worth sharing. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, if anything, is sadly too real. The main characters are mostly teenagers—teenagers with foul language and few morals. If the reader can put up with those things, then the story is worth sharing. If nothing else, the author is a skilled storyteller.

There are numerous short sections narrated by different characters in the story, mostly students. It follows the students from eighth grade, then to eleventh, and finally to twelfth grade. There are two notable things about these students: (1) They live in Marin County, California, and (2) Most lack any type of self-control or ethical framework. The book is sad, pathetic, and infuriating all at the same time. It is similar to The Art of Fielding with people who are less sophisticated (i.e., teens instead of twentysomethings, public school teachers instead of professors).

The tale begins with Callie and some other eighth graders. Tristan, an overweight social outcast, develops a crush on Callie, who at least treats him as a human being. Without giving too much away, Tristan dies tragically and Callie blames herself.

When we see Callie again in her junior year of high school, she has a completely different set of friends, does drugs, and goes by her given name of Calista. She is one of a number of kids in whom the young English teacher Miss Nicoll sees potential but who themselves seem indifferent to school.

This indifference frustrates some of the parents because Marin County is very affluent and they expect their kids to go to good colleges, viz. Berkeley, Stanford, or one of the prestigious technical or East Coast schools.

Most of the kids’ families have lots of money. Even the high schoolers drive BMWs. One student makes good money taking the SATs for other students. (The College Board should read how he does it, if they have not already!)

We meet two teachers who seem to take an interest in the students. Besides Miss Nicoll, there is Mr. Ellison, though it turns out that he takes an interest in students in order to seduce them. He attempts the same with Miss Nicoll.

The culmination of the novel is a wild, senior-year party at the house of Elizabeth on a weekend her mother is out of town. Elizabeth has done some modeling and is gorgeous. She has learned to distance herself from people so as not to be taken advantage of. The story hints that she may have had a #MeToo moment at a photo shoot.

Elizabeth herself really does little at the party except to try to keep the over 100 kids in her house from trashing the place. The book alludes to The Great Gatsby a few times, and while this is wild and loud like a Gatsby party, it is more crude. Some might call it an orgy.

By the end of the book one cannot help but think of what The Great Gatsby says about the spoiled rich people in that story:

They were careless people…they smashed things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made…

There is a great deal of sadness about the story. The kids have nothing to live for, and they know it. Their parents are either indifferent and distant or smothering. Many are divorced like Elizabeth’s. The one teacher who seems to take an interest in them is rebuked by the principal for becoming too friendly with them.

Religion is pretty much dismissed. Christians are blown off in one sentence because they do not believe in abortion. (We can probably guess that some of the characters in our story have had them.) There is a vague Left Coast affection towards Buddhism, but it is mostly symbolic. The only hope is even a vaguer humanistic wish that maybe a few Calistas will emerge somewhat whole.

There is not a single sympathetic male character except possibly the mother-smothered Tristan. All the other boys and men, including fathers, are at best indifferent and at worst pigs and cads. Some like Mr. Ellison and M.C., a hustler from Los Angeles, can only be called predators.

If this novel is to be believed, the hard-core urban high school portrayed in the novels by J. E. Solinski gives students a better chance than the affluent Marin County school portrayed here.

In the background is the Internet, notably Facebook. Facebook, like Elizabeth’s party, is another dangerous place where the students lack any restraint. Anyone familiar with teens, Facebook, and cell phones in general already know this, so the story is not shocking. It is simply sad.

As with The Art of Fielding, I am reminded of the line from Tim Buckley:

Godless and sexless directionless loons
Their sham sandcastles dissolve in the tide…

America, where are your grownups?

Paul: Apostle of Christ – Review

Paul: Apostle of Christ. Film.

We usually do not review films here. I can only think of one exception. I did, however, want to share a few reflections on this film.

First and most of all, it was well written. It was Shakespearean—not in its language(!), but in its plotting and execution. I was expecting something along the lines of the Sholem Asch novel The Apostle. Paul:The Apostle of Christ was much more focused. It could easily be adapted to a stage play.

The main character is actually the Gospel writer Luke. He visits Paul in prison prior to his execution to get his take on what becomes the Book of Acts in the Bible.

Paul here is a tragic hero. He is a victim of irrational persecution. The Emperor Nero blames Christians for the fire that destroyed much of the city of Rome, and Paul is one of their leaders. We do get flashbacks, but they are nearly all concerning Paul’s early life as a persecutor of Christians himself.

The story is not ironic, though. The story is about the possibility of change. Besides Luke and Paul, the third main character is Mauritius, a fictional character, the Roman officer in charge of the prison where Paul is kept. Mauritius is reminiscent of the character Zerah in Jesus of Nazareth, arguably the best film about the life of Jesus.

Zerah is an observant Jew who argues forcibly and effectively that Jesus is a troublemaker and should be executed according to Jewish law. However, we also realize that Zerah understands and even agrees with much of what Jesus has taught. We last see Zerah in front of Jesus’ empty tomb after the resurrection.

Is Zerah convinced? Will he become a follower of Jesus? We do not know. The audience is left, however, with a challenge—was the tomb empty? Did Jesus rise from the dead? If so, then shouldn’t we pay attention to what he has to say?

So Mauritius and his wife are becoming frustrated, if not skeptical, about the Roman gods in spite of their belief that the Roman gods must be superior since they have helped Rome conquer so much of the world. They have a very sick daughter that no one seems to be able to heal. Paul tells the jailer that Luke is a “great physician.” (I think of Colossians 4:14, where Paul calls him the beloved physician.)

There is no Ben-Hur style miracle. Mauritius humbles himself enough to ask Luke to take a look at his daughter. The well-traveled evangelist tells him he has seen something similar on the island of Rhodes. The girl recovers, not by a supernatural miracle, but by Luke’s medical knowledge.

Indeed, the overall theme of the film is really love. Not the cheap Hollywood love, but the willingness to give in spite of circumstances, to even help your enemies when they are sick. Will Mauritius convert? We do not know. Like Zerah, he has seen the evidence and lifestyle. So have those of us who watched the movie.

That is also Shakespearean, historical figures that act the way the historical record treats them. In some cases Shakespeare may got it wrong; for example, Macbeth most likely was not into witchcraft, but the history book Shakespeare used accused him of it. So Paul: Apostle of Christ presents the community of believers in the early Church the way the Bible presents at least some of them.

In one almost humorous scene, a turnkey has discovered the manuscript Luke has been transcribing in the prison from Paul’s recollections. Mauritius reads it, and says that he cannot understand why anyone would be interested in such a story. It has no wars, no heroes. It is about ordinary people. Ah, just so.

One scene is almost out of Richard III. In flashbacks, Paul remembers some of the people he persecuted, people like Stephen, often called the first martyr (see Acts 7). They do not haunt him the same way they haunt Richard III because Paul knows he is forgiven—indeed Stephen forgave the men who were stoning him. (Acts 7:59-60) Still, it is most interesting to see how the film treats these figures.

Paul: Apostle of Christ can be brutal in places. It is not the most pleasant movie to watch. What we know about Nero even from secular sources tells us there will be some horrors. Luke is a key figure here because he is helping all who need medical attention because of the injuries, disease, and anarchy in the aftermath of Rome’s fire.

Unlike many other similar films, it does not emphasize the supernatural very much. As mentioned before, Luke heals because he is a doctor, not because he has a healing ministry. About the only miracles we see are the circumstances surrounding Paul’s conversion, the bright light, the voice of Jesus, the healing from his blindness.

I do not want to give too much away, but Paul: Apostle of Christ is dedicated in memory of those who have suffered persecution for their faith. It is a message of justice and hope, and presenting a very appealing image of what Christianity can be even in the worst of times.

Nelly’s Case – Review

Andy Siegel. Nelly’s Case. New York: Rockwell P, 2018. Print. A Tug Wyler Mystery.

People of a certain age may recall the popular television show Perry Mason. Raymond Burr played a canny lawyer whose clients were always accused of a crime they did not commit. Mason had to overcome a lot of incriminating evidence, but he always discovered who really committed the crime at the show’s end. Part of the fun was trying to see if we could figure out who really did it before Mason. Sometimes we felt a little sorry for the D.A. Hamilton Burger who seems to have never won a case in his life.

This TV show was based on a series of novels by the very prolific Erle Stanley Gardner. Each episode, like each novel, began with the words The Case of, as in The Case of the Perjured Parrot. Lawyer Andy Siegel seems to be doing something similar with his titles. Each is simply “So and So’s” Case. In this case, that means Nelly.

Nelly sounds like she truly is a victim of malpractice. Like many people, she fears the dentist, so she visits a dentist who claims to be “the painless dentist.” The reason that he is a painless dentist is that he anesthetizes his patients to knock them out, more than a local shot of Novocaine. Unfortunately, when he sets up Nelly on the intravenous anesthetic, he leaves for a few minutes asking her half-sister Jessie to keep an eye on her. During that time, Nelly stops breathing. They have to call 911. She is revived, but suffers brain damage.

As we follow attorney Tug Wyler, a specialist in medical malpractice, we see him actually juggling several cases at a time. If one thinks about it, that would be more typical of a lawyer’s job. For example, we also get a lot of details about the case of Adora, who was born normal, but suffered brain damage before she left the hospital after she was born.

Adora’s case is complicated because the statute of limitations is almost over when her parents are convinced they need legal help. They are getting older and realize she will probably outlive them and will need constant care.

Part of the fun of Tug Wyler is that he is the narrator and is very frank with the readers. We know what he is thinking. He favorite expression to us is “At least I admit it.” He’s not going to perjure himself.

Wyler connects with a number of interesting characters. His partner Henry seems to bring trouble to him, but most of the time cleverly knows what he is doing. Trace is an ex-convict who seems to have connections everywhere. When Tug needs to find some information but may not be able to get it legally, Trace is his man.

He consults Roscoe, an specialist in legal ethics. Roscoe tells him what he should do as a lawyer; he is direct and clear but is concerned primarily for the lawyer—his client—rather than the well-being of the lawyer’s clients. There is also Trudy, a meticulous and highly motivated insurance investigator.

Trudy says that her insurance company used to sell life insurance policies where the customers simply checked off boxes on a medical questionnaire. There was no physical. It was very easy for the customer. In nearly all the cases, the insurance company would later be able to prove that the customer lied on the form, so they did not have to pay out.

We learn, for example, that Nelly’s mother had a terminal illness, but since both her and her husband’s bodies were burned, there was no evidence of misrepresentation, so Nelly got the insurance payout. It seems as though Jessie has some control over Nelly and has been able to get Nelly to give her much of the money.

Nelly was trapped in a room in the house on the night of the fire but managed to be rescued. She remembers nothing of that night. However, when the second brain trauma occurs from the anesthetic, she starts to remember bits and pieces of that night, but she confuses them with what she recalls about the dentist’s office.

Even Tug’s clients are complicated. Adora’s mother is a great Italian cook, but does not want her husband to know that both she and Adora were diagnosed with herpes. That diagnosis is why the hospital is reluctant to claim any responsibility.

Nelly’s family life is, uh, nontraditional. She and Jessie have the same father, but he married Nelly’s mother and Nelly lived with them. Jessie is a few years older (both are in their twenties) and lives with her single mother. However, a few years ago, when Nelly was a teen, she lost both her parents in a house fire of suspicious origin. She thinks Jessie may have set the fire, but she has nowhere else to turn but to her sister and her sister’s mother.

Nelly’s Case is delightfully complicated. There are multiple mysteries concerning both Nelly and Adora. There are complex relationships. What will happen if Adora’s father learns his wife and daughter have herpes? Is Jessie out to get Nelly? Do either Adora or Nelly have a case? Can Tug Wyler find the truth and stay within the law? And Dr. Grad, the dentist, is so very helpful. Why cause him more misery since the state is now coming after his license?

Like the Perry Mason stories, Nelly’s Case is more of a mystery than anything else, but people who enjoy legal thrillers will like it, too. Wyler turns out to be quite clever. And maybe also a bit lucky.

This book might not be for everyone. There is some sexually frank language, though because our narrator Mr. Wyler is happily married, he does not exploit the sexual material.

The Land Lord – Review

Cheryl Colwell. The Land Lord. Inspired Fiction, 2017. Print.

The Land Lord was interesting to read for one reason. It was a political “technodude” book like those from Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, and their ilk, but written by a woman. While it did have the political intrigue and a certain amount of suspense, it also had elements more typical of a romance marketed to women. It was interesting to see that combination. The plot was imaginative and entertaining.

Our protagonist is Dain Ryder, a Secret Service agent who had been involved in Treasury Department work like counterfeiting, but was reassigned to the presidential protection detail. The President is a former Marine whom Ryder worked for back when they were in the Corps together. President Bradley believes that someone or some power is trying to start a war between the United States and China, and he knows he can trust Ryder.

The title The Land Lord comes from the well-known statistic that Chinese investors often buy interest in American real estate. There have been some mysterious killings, and an anti-Chinese political movement in growing in the United States while a similar anti-American movement is growing in China.

Ryder is assigned by President Bradley to look into some Chinese organizations including a high-level martial arts studio and the secretive Wen Chang Institute which seems to centered in the laboratories of George Washington University in Washington DC.

The plot of The Land Lord is ingenious. There are a few surprise twists. Ryder falls for a martial artist and dancer from China who also teaches at GWU. We learn, however, that she has a hush-hush and fairly intimate relationship with the President, who is a widower. We learn that the President is a Christian and does try to convert both Dain and Chen Lian, the Chinese dancer.

While much of the story has echoes of a Clancy or Thor story—though I suspect the technology in this story is more like science fiction—the way Ryder and Chen fall in love has more of the elements of a Love Inspired or Harlequin romance. It does actually make it distinctive and fun from a slightly different perspective.

Statistics also show that women interested in science are more likely to go into the life sciences such as biology or medicine while men interested in science are more likely to head towards engineering or computing. The technology here is strictly life sciences: Wen Chang was a Chinese hero who supposedly found the secret to a long life. There is no unusual Red October propulsion system or anything similar in The Land Lord.

There may be a few rough spots in the book, but its ending is certainly entertaining and worth it to the reader. I believe this reviewer received a pre-publication copy of the book for there were many spelling errors. I thought Marshall Law [sic] was a person since it seemed like most of the characters had first names that are commonly last names (like Dain Ryder) and was capitalized. After puzzling over it, I realized that it was meant to be martial law. Also the book did not really understand the way the Chinese use names and the way they address each other. These annoyances are easily fixed, and hopefully they will be when the final copy comes out.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s CFR Title 16, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Story of French – Review

Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow. The Story of French. New York: St. Martin’s, 2006. Print.

The Story of French is not what I expected. I had taken a course in English linguistics back when I was in grad school, and I guess I was expecting more of a linguistics text. Instead, it did remind me of the PBS television series The Story of English. Yes, there is a decent amount of history of the language in the book, but it is much more about the state of French in the world today.

The authors tell us that even in the 1600s there were about seventy distinct languages spoken in what is France today. The French Academy and then the French Revolution began attempts to standardize the language, but it was not really until the 19th and 20th centuries, that there was a kind of universally recognized French language. As in England, printers and the law did more to make the language more uniform than anything else.

Both authors are Canadian, so there is quite a bit of emphasis on French in North America. They note that it is somewhat remarkable that French in Canada survived in spite of being separated from its mother tongue for over 200 years. The book notes that New Brunswick ended up with many Acadians driven out of Nova Scotia, so that is why that province also has many French speakers. It also notes that the Cajun French in Louisiana has taken on many English grammatical forms. And here I thought “Laissez les bons temps rouler” was standard French!

Much of the book is devoted to the influence of French around the world. In most places it is the second most studied foreign language next to English. In the United States it is now third behind Spanish.

One thing which The Story of French makes clear is the background of French spelling. Occasionally one will read rants about English spelling. In my mind, it is pretty consistent most of the time, but French also has many silent letters and pronunciations that surprise readers. Writers in both languages from the time of the printing press to the present often used spellings based on the history of the words, not on the phonetic pronunciation. That is probably even more pronounced in French because it is derived from Latin which was the language of the the literate in Europe until the Modern Era.

A good example is the word phonetic itself. It begins with a ph rather than an f to show its Greek origin since Latin (and French) showed the Greek letter phi (φ) with a ph rather than an f or a p. French actually does the same in phonétique. That qu is a holdover from Latin that English usually does not bother with except in words that come from French like antique or technique.

When Spain began standardizing spelling, it spelled words phonetically. So phonetic becomes in Spanish fonetico, spelled with an f. Why Spain was different? I suspect there may not have been as many different languages in renaissance Spain, so it was more readable to everyone. (Even today Gallego and Catalan are usually considered separate languages).

The Story of French notes that English is one of the few major languages that has no Academy or institution of that ilk to describe or define the language.

The British tend to understate their institutions; their constitution is unwritten and their legal system is not codified as a whole. Strangely, their attitude towards language reflects this. The English language has rules (and many exceptions), but English speakers downplay the rules, especially when they are comparing their language to French. The French, meanwhile, proclaim and embrace their institutions with all their officialdom—and their language with all its rules. (142)

The book also notes that other sources ultimately have had more influence on both languages, notably their dictionaries.

As with The Story of English, most of The Story of French is about how it fares today. We read about the way it is spoken around the world. We learn about slang, and where much of it is coming from. We see how immigration to France has altered the language.

We learn how former French colonies have dealt with it. For example, French has become a Creole in Haiti and likely will become one in the Ivory Coast, but probably not in Senegal. More than half the population of Algeria speaks French, but because of the bitter war for independence fought against France in the fifties, it is unlikely French will be an official language of the country any time soon.

There is also quite a bit about the Francophonie, the French speaking world today. There is an organization by that name, but even apart from that, there are interesting and curious ways French speaking countries relate to one another. While French is widely spoken in Africa and is a kind of lingua franca there, for most speakers it is not their mother tongue.

One other similarity to what is happening in English, the authors note that in France the vowels are beginning to sound more similar to one another. This is especially true with the nasalized vowels before n and m. In modern France an, en, in, and un sound pretty much alike, while in Canada there is still a distinction. (I am old enough to have been taught that there was a difference.) Of course in English, pronunciation of unaccented vowels often becomes a schwa (“uh” or ə) regardless of what vowel is written. Will English and French eventually become tonal like many Asian languages?

One big difference in the way French affects the world is in what the book calls cultural diplomacy. French institutions, some government-sponsored, though many not, have consciously for about 150 years tried to export French or promote the use of French around the world. This includes French schools of various types in major cities throughout the world sponsored by the French.

This reviewer once received a bronze medal from the French consulate for his French ability. That was a long time ago. Readers of this blog know that I still occasionally read books in French, but I am not as fluent as I was when I was using it daily and even dreaming in it.

The only thing vaguely similar in English is the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is often asked to help teach English, but its role is not promotional. We are pretty sure no American or British government sponsored entity gives out medals to foreigners for their English ability.

If you are curious about the state of the French language in the world today, you should find this book most satisfying. It also brings up a number of interesting scenarios that apply to anyone who is depending on someone else to translate for them—diplomacy can be among countries or between individuals.

The Steel Wave – Review

Jeff Shaara. The Steel Wave. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Print.

Though his father’s The Killer Angels on the Battle of Gettysburg won the Pulitzer and may be the best known of the Shaaras’ historical novels, this reviewer believes that son Jeff is as good a writer as his father, if not better. The method started by Shaara senior works well for Shaara junior.

The Steel Wave describes the events surrounding D-Day. Featured in particular are Generals Eisenhower, Gavin, Bradley, Patton, and Rommel. We are reminded that in an unplanned stroke of historical irony, Rommel was on leave back home in Württemberg when the invasion began.

We get scenes and scenarios leading up to the invasion—lots of politics, both Army-Government and Intra-Army types. It appears that Eisenhower and Churchill got along well, but certain military and political leaders seemed to cause problems for others. That was just as true for the Germans, as by 1944 Hitler was micromanaging the war far from the battle lines.

The Steel Wave also gives us a perspective of the enlisted men, the “grunts,” the guys actually doing the fighting. Fictional characters include a paratrooper who is dropped behind the lines and a soldier who is among the first on Omaha Beach. There is plenty of horror to go around.

The beach assaults were brutal. Especially, as it turned out, on Omaha Beach, which one of the best veteran German units was defending. Parachute drops rarely go quite as planned, so we get a sense of what the paratroopers endured as well. The invasion also included many gliders (“flying coffins”) going behind enemy lines. Many of them crashed, but they also carried necessary supplies, weapons, ordnance, and even jeeps.

What looked like checkerboard farm fields from the reconnaissance photos turned out to be bocage—a network of small fields, each separated by twelve feet of dense hedge. This slowed things down for the Allies once they got beyond the beaches, but also hindered the Germans and forced their vehicles out into the open more.

Some things succeeded well. The Allies had Patton command a nonexistent battalion in England and had double agents convince the German command that they were going to attack at Calais. The D-Day attack was truly a surprise attack, and the Germans did not have the supplies and troops along the Normandy beaches as they could have. Even after the invasion began, the Germans were slow to move their forces from Calais because they still believed a second wave was going to attack there.

Some things, at least from an Allied perspective, did not go well. A number of Americans including a general were killed by friendly fire when British planes bombed the wrong area. Patton and Bradley had the main German Panzer group in Northern France nearly surrounded and could have probably finished them off, but Eisenhower told them to hold off so that Montgomery could catch up. Montgomery did not move. Patton watched thousands of German troops and many tanks escape east through a gap that he could have plugged but was not permitted to in order to keep Montgomery happy. (I should note that in the book Killing Patton, General Patton is repeatedly frustrated by orders telling him to wait.)

While this is a fictional account, it is based on interviews, diaries, memoirs—many first person accounts. The story, then, comes across as realistic. Eisenhower and Churchill could have had the conversations in this book even if they actually did not. Here is one great quotation from Churchill to Eisenhower explaining why Patton was in hot water with politicians in both England and America:

Your General Patton caused a big d___d row, all over the place. His crime? He said we were destined to rule the world, you, me, and the Russians. B___y gigantic mistake. Not because he was wrong. His crime was he told the truth. Stupid bastard.” (114, emphasis in original)

If Killing Patton is true, that famous frankness may have gotten Patton killed.

The Steel Wave also quotes one of the paratroopers after the war. While Jesse Adams is a fictional character, it takes little imagination to understand a D-Day paratrooper saying something like what he said. Perhaps one of Shaara’s interviewees or memoir writers did.

I’m not a hero. I just like to jump out of airplanes. It didn’t matter much along the way I had to kill Germans. They shot at me, and missed. I shot back. And didn’t. (491)

Shaara’s last book of his original Civil War trilogy, The Last Full Measure, ends with the death of Jeb Stuart, a key Confederate leader who could not be replaced. Ditto with the second book in the trilogy, Gods and Generals, which ends with the death of Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general whose tactics are often credited for the CSA’s army’s early successes. So The Steel Wave concludes with the death of Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, who understood what the Allies were doing but was unable to get the high command to listen to him.

The account of Rommel’s death is different from what I remember being told in junior high school, but Shaara assures us in an afterword that it is based on “the most reliable and the most oft-quoted perspective on the extraordinary drama of [Rommel’s] death.” (487) Shaara presents both Jackson and Rommel having doubts about their cause, but not about the loyalty and duty of the soldier.