Thursday, May 29, 2014

'The Blackberry Bush' by David Housholder

The Blackberry Bush
Who are you, and what are you doing here? Two babies Kati and Josh are born on opposite sides of the world at the very moment the Berlin Wall falls. You'd think such a potent freedom metaphor would become the soundtrack for their lives, but nothing could be further from the truth. Despite his flawless image, Josh, an artistic and gifted California skateboarder, struggles to find his true role in the world, and his growing aggression eventually breaks him. Kati, a German with a penchant for classic Swiss watches and attic treasure-hunting, is crushed with disappointment for never being enough for anyone most especially her mother.Craving liberation, Kati and Josh seem destined to claimt heir birthright of freedom together. After all, don't the chance encounters transform your life or are they really chance?

It's clear this is no ordinary novel from the moment Angelo introduces himself as our guide and tells us the story may change our lives. In his 'behind the story' interludes all through, he encourages us to search our family pasts for our own back-stories.

The main characters are two babies who were born simultaneously in 1989 as the Berlin Wall was being pulled down; Kati, a girl in Germany, and Josh, a boy in America. Although their paths rarely cross, they share the same great-grandfather.

My heart went out to Kati. She's a plain, shy girl whose loved ones (with the exception of her grandfather) always want her to do better, 'because they want the best for her.' Although willing to fulfill her mother's expectations, she feels she lacks the capacity. 'It's hard to like eye contact when other eyes aren't looking warmly at you.'

I like how her envy is shown as a natural, human emotion rather than the sin of self-pity. Girls like Kati find it hard enough to cope without being saddled with that accusation. I remember trying to live with the same feeling of reproach. She was inundated with comparisons all her life, first with her sister, Johanna, and later with her best friend, Zara. Her spirit is simply crushed.

Josh, by contrast, is a good-looking boy with a natural talent for art and extreme sport. His dilemma turns out to be obeying the implicit rule to pull back to the level of his companions and avoid excellence which shows them up by comparison.

The story scoots around in space and time. One moment, we're with either Kati or Josh, and the next, we may be sharing a moment at the other side of the world with their grandparents, Harald or Adri in the 1960s, or their great-parents, Walter or Nellie in the 1940s. Blackberry bushes make their appearance all through, tying the stories together. I'm sure there is loads of other symbolism too, and we could read the book ten times before we get it all. It's good that not all books are like this one, because they'd tire me out, but I enjoyed finding a story that sticks to no fixed paradigm.

As they were born in 1989, I was thinking the main duo would still be pretty young by the end, forgetting this isn't your average book. It takes us right to the year 2031. No such thing as time restrictions.

There are so many good lines to take away, uttered from the mouths of every character, but I'll just mention a few final conclusions from Kati and Josh which were good summaries.

'I no longer index my decisions around pleasing people and meeting impossible expectations. I decide based on an audience of One.... 'Special' always carries comparative baggage. Every human is infinitely and equally valuable. We don't raise that value by achieving more than others.'

4 stars

The Blackberry Bush available from Amazon

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

'Under the Sassafras' by Hattie Mae

Under the Sassafras

Nestled between the Atchafalaya Basin and Sugar Island lies Bon Amie, a friendly, quiet town, where nothing exciting ever happens. Until Joelette Benoit’s two sons find a man washed up in the murky water at the edge of the swamp.

Joelette Benoit, a widowed single mother, has sworn to never believe the promises of another sweet talking man. Fiercely independent and determined, she’s hidden away her heart, while struggling to provide for her two sons and lively mother-in-law. She swears the stranger will stay one night, and one night only, until she discovers he has no memory. Now duty-bound to aid him, Joelette decides to offer him a place to heal in exchange for his labor.

Against the colorful backdrop of life on the bayou, she watches as he immerses himself not only in her family but also in her town. She can do little to prevent her sons from bonding with the only man they’ve come to trust since the death of their father. Though she, too, is drawn to his kindness and vulnerability, she will not risk the heart of her family because without a past, this man cannot promise a future. But when his memory returns and he realizes he has blood on his hands, he knows he has unfinished business to attend to before he can claim the family he has grown to love.


Joelette Benoit's two young sons discover an unconscious man lying on the banks of their swamp. Although life has given her many reasons to distrust men, it seems Joelette has no choice but to help this one, before the alligators get him. When he turns out to have complete amnesia, his time with them is prolonged. As he appeals to her other family members with his winning ways, she does her best to convince herself that he's not growing on her too.

Although this is a contemporary novel, it comes across as historical to me at first, in the remoteness and simplicity of the Benoit family's life. The author writes lovingly of her setting, obviously well-acquainted with it. I love nothing more than when authors highlight their own unique environments in the pages of their novels. This one is embellished with folk tales and local lore, making it a very entertaining read.

Joelette's mother-in-law, MaeMae, is a wise old character, but the two boys won me over, causing me to shed a few tears. 9-year-old T-Boy is so vulnerable, in his fixed resolve to be the man of the family, while 5-year-old Ozemae has such an open-hearted, welcoming attitude to the newcomer. Joelette herself seriously annoyed me at one stage, when she jumped to a totally hare-brained and irrational conclusion. You'll know when you get there. Given what she's grown to know about Mansir after all that's happened, what the hey? At least the heroine's occasional silliness is balanced by a hero whose decent instincts are always reliable, even in the confusion of his amnesia. I don't think he ever made one move we could disapprove of.

What struck me most about this book is the contrast of the different worlds portrayed. How amazing that such completely different existences can take place on the same planet simultaneously, and neither is superior or inferior to the other. Poor Joelette almost convinced herself that her way was backward and inferior, while we readers have been talked around to know better. You can't help taking a step back to reassess your own way of living too. At least, that's what I found.

It's the sort of novel I wish had a cook book at the back! The description of all those yummy Cajun recipes was getting me hungry. I probably wouldn't have a hope of pulling off the gumbo, jambalaya, bread puddings, cornbread, collard greens and all the seafood, but I wouldn't mind trying, they sounded that good.

4.5 stars

Under the Sassafras (A Bon Amie Novel) available from Amazon

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reading - Borrowing somebody else's brains

I was reading an article about Kurt Vonnegut, who talked in a very gruff and straightforward way about the importance of reading. I couldn't help smiling at his approach. Whenever people tell me they aren't readers, I usually say polite things while thinking to myself, Suit yourself, but I'm glad I'm not missing out on all the extra life experience I get through reading, while those people possibly look at me and think, I'm glad I'm not missing out on living because I'm too busy reading about it. I can see both sides for sure.

Kurt Vonnegut said something like this. Here is my paraphrase. 'You'd be mad not to read. Do you know all that it does for you? You get to ponder the words and ideas of people who are (or were) smarter and deeper than you. Then you get to meditate on them and benefit from someone else's smartness. You can choose to stay limited in your own dumbness if you want to, but I don't know why you'd choose that.'

That's telling 'em. After a good laugh, I started thinking how true it may be. I've written hundreds of blog posts, and many have been sparked by something I've read. Scrolling down through the entries of my 'Just Occurred to Me' blog, it's evident how many reflections were triggered that way. I've benefited by thinking about something which somebody else's brain has placed into my head. This post itself is a good example.

It's a ripple effect, I think. Many of my 'Wow, yeah' moments of reading might well be the result of that particular writer coming to grips with something another person had written in their own way. And then, just maybe, somebody may read one of my blog posts or books which will strike something in them. They may feel led to jot it down in writing somewhere, and on it will go.

What if Kurt was right, and we dummies can take on board something written by a smarty which might not have occurred to us otherwise? As we reflect on it, it may come to be part of us, as if we'd thought of it ourselves. If you add enough 'a-ha' or 'I like that!' thoughts from your reading list to a dumb brain, that brain has no choice but to expand, to hold them all. Even if it never becomes the brain of an intellectual, it still has to become smarter and sharper than it would have been, if we'd never read things.

I, for one, am happy to keep reading, getting ideas which are bigger than I could have comprehended on my own. When you think about it, that's what scholarly learning is all about, anyway. Our celebrated smart people study lots of text books, think further ideas based on what they've read, then gradually become smarter. I'm glad to think the same thing can also happen when we kick back with a good novel to relax. I think to think I'm always getting little brain-changes for the better through reading fiction. Maybe it's not always our intellect which is being stimulated, but our empathy and the broadness of our outlook. It's a wonderful thing that even the wisdom in novels can do this for us. We think we're just enjoying ourselves, and as a bonus, we're taking on things which can change our lives for the better.

Something serendipitous happened. Just a day after jotting down my original thoughts for this reflection, I chanced upon this ancient quote by Confucius, who said, "No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." So the thought turns out to be far older than Kurt Vonnegut, but the wisest thoughts last longest.

Friday, May 23, 2014

'The Prayer Box' by Lisa Wingate

The Prayer Box
When Iola Anne Poole, an old-timer on Hatteras Island, passes away in her bed at ninety-one, the struggling young mother in her rental cottage, Tandi Jo Reese, finds herself charged with the task of cleaning out Iola's rambling Victorian house.Running from a messy, dangerous past, Tandi never expects to find more than a temporary hiding place within Iola's walls, but everything changes with the discovery of eighty-one carefully decorated prayer boxes, one for each year, spanning from Iola's youth to her last days. Hidden in the boxes is the story of a lifetime, written on random bits of paper--the hopes and wishes, fears and thoughts of an unassuming but complex woman passing through the seasons of an extraordinary, unsung life filled with journeys of faith, observations on love, and one final lesson that could change everything for Tandi.

Tandi Reese discovers the body of her 91-year-old landlady, Iola Anne Poole, who'd quietly passed away in bed. Worried about the future for herself and her children, Tandi agrees to clean out the old lady's big old house in return for continued board at her cottage. One day, she makes a stunning discovery. Iola had left a floor to ceiling stack of boxes, each full of hand-written prayers from her girlhood in the 1930s to shortly before her death. The content of those historical letters helps Tandi to turn her own life around.

The story was a little slow to get moving but I still enjoyed it because Tandi's kids, Zoey and TJ, reminded me of my own two youngest and Iola's house was just like an old mansion my sister and nephews used to rent a wing of. I think I was about one quarter through before Tandi discovered the prayer boxes. Until then, the story was all about clearing out rubbish and reflections on the heroine's dysfunctional past. I found myself growing irritated with Tandi for getting out of a situation with one controlling man who treated her like a possession to walk straight into something similar in her new place. As her sister, Gina, said, 'You tend to go for tall, dark and hard to manage.' Yet as we get deeper into the pages of the book, we grow to understand why she fell into that pattern and come to see that judgment (yeah, from people like me) is not what she needs, but rather acceptance and love in the truest sense of the word. So it's one of those powerful books which convicts the reader.

Iola Poole's boxes really drew me into the story. What a historical treasure. Although dead at the start, Iola turned out to be one of the best examples of a true Christian character I've come across. She kept a low profile, shunned by several people, but did good secretly from a heart filled with generosity, expecting no credit whatsoever. She's also a great example for any type of author. Her writing was shown to nobody in her lifetime, but how life-changing it turned out to be posthumously for one young woman and several other people. (Well, maybe that's a bit illusory in this case, as Iola Poole's writing was really penned by Lisa Wingate and intended for the wider market, but the point still stands)

It's hard not to love Tandi by the end of the book. She's a big-hearted heroine with a sort of Erin Brockovich appeal about her, in her background and eventual mission. The romantic element turned out to be really sweet. One of the best messages for all to take away from this book is "Other people's judgment doesn't have any power unless you offer yourself up for trial. Remember you are God's, not theirs" followed by Tandi's revelation, "I'd offered myself for trial my whole life, determining myself by what people said about me."

4.5 stars

The Prayer Box available from Amazon

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

'Beast-Speaker' by W.A. Noble

Beast-speaker (The Flight)
In the city of Midrash everything serves the military machine. Even the dragons – noble beasts whose world-view is governed by their honour – have been manipulated and deceived. They do not realise this will lead to their eventual extinction as a species. The Midrashi also kidnap children from other cities and force them into their army. When Seeger and Boyd become their latest victims, they struggle to maintain their humanity in this cruel and corrupt city. Will their friendship endure? Will they ever find their way home?
Boys like Seeger and his best friend, Boyd, are happy in their homeland of Seddon, except for one thing. Young children are sometimes mysteriously kidnapped without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. One night, although they are older than most victims, being in their early teens, it happens to them. Finding out what it's all about opens up a world of horror they'd never imagined.

Midrash is a foreign nation whose brutal militia steal the innocent children of foreigners to train as soldiers in their army. This way they are able to spare their own juveniles as well as weakening the morale of the nations whose children they have taken. The child-soldiers serve as a diversion to their enemies, giving the mature army a chance to move in. And perhaps the biggest benefit to Midrash is that some of the foreign children survive to be obedient and fierce fighters. Sacrificing some sensitive children as examples to the others is to their benefit.

I was shocked and horrified several times. My youngest is ten and the thought of this happening to him is horrendous to contemplate. Usually I shy away from descriptions of atrocities happening to children, but I pressed through the emotions and found a celebration of the human spirit's resilience in this book. Even when evil appears to triumph because it's big, bad and ruthless, there's something about love and its side-effects, such as loyalty and goodness, which can't be snuffed.

The story is all about Seeger making friends with the dragons, who are noble beasts with a similar history of exploitation by the Midrashi. Although he'd known his father was a 'beast speaker', one who can communicate telepathically with the animals, he didn't realise he possessed the skill too until he needed it. There is an element of humour and mateship, despite the heinous conditions, and even a bit of romance.

The narrative switches back and forth between Seeger and Boyd. We see Boyd consciously harden himself and quench his softer side, as becoming like his captors seems the only way to stay alive. Even so, he recognises the innate goodness in his friend, Seeger, remembers the pact they made to look out for one another, and can't deny the hope he inspires.

Perhaps my favourite line came from the camels, who were also friends with the dragons. 'It doesn't matter how, or where you die, it's how you live that's the important thing.'

4 stars

  Beast-speaker (The Flight) available from Amazon

'All My Belongings' by Cynthia Ruchti

All My Belongings
Jayne Dennagee has spent her life running from the doctor death legacy of her father. His Kervorkian-copycat methods of euthanasia ruined her childhood, covering it in shame. She won t let him steal her future, too. After changing her name to Becka, she assumes a new life and new job caring for the ailing mother of a handsome young businessman, Isaac Hughes. Becka struggles to sort out her feelings for her new boss just as her patient passes away under unusual circumstances. Suddenly, her past catches up with her and the unnerving details of her heritage make Becka look like a murder suspect. Worse, all sense of home and all hope for love vanish.

Even if she could clear her name, a phone call from prison wraps a suffocating shroud around her heart. Her father is out and he needs her help. Can Becka open her new life to the man who has prematurely taken so many? Or will her father s legacy make it impossible to open her heart at all?

Jayne Dennagee's father, Bertram, was a doctor who used euthanasia on his patients when he thought it best, but he would take the decision entirely in his own hands, with no apparent regard for what patients and their loved-ones thought, or allowances for surprise turn-around recoveries. When he made the decision on behalf of his own wife, his daughter reported him to the authorities. Now she is shaken by the repercussions of the very public case and wants to be out of the limelight. She accepts a job offer as private carer for the ailing mother of a handsome young businessman, but feels it best to change her name to Becca Morrow, so nobody will connect her with Dr Death.

It becomes clear that Becca is a compassionate person, creative in her approach to her job. Isaac, the sick woman's adopted son, can't help feeling drawn to her, and the feeling is mutual. But when Aurelia Hughes, his mother, passes away, and Becca's father contacts her anxious for help, the plot thickens.

The writing style is full of long, complex metaphors, such as Becca, 'pulling her napkin apart as if making fodder for a flea circus', or 'her skin felt mismatched, as if the tag on the neckline had been removed and God grabbed the wrong size from the rack' and 'her jeans recorded the length of the bus trip like rings on a tree measured years and floods and droughts' and 'she bit her lower lip as an addict might snap a rubber band on his wrist to remind him of his weakness.' These are only a few. They just keep coming. 'Her words tasted like wet cement licked from an underdone sidewalk.' Enough, I'm sure you get the point.

Some people may love them, thinking they are part of the author's style and unique voice, yet others may get irritated after a while, finding they interrupt the flow of the story. That's how I came to feel about it. When imagery pulls my attention away time after time, it becomes a bit heavy-handed.

I was torn about this book. On the one hand, there's this rambling quality caused by the excessive imagery, and on the other, Jayne/Becca is a lovely heroine of a fresh and interesting plot and her relationship with her dad is very thought-provoking. I really did want to get drawn into the story. It will be interesting to see what other reviewers think about this, as I'm sure opinions will differ.

I received a copy from NetGalley and Abingdon Press in return for an honest review. 

2.5 stars

  All My Belongings available from Amazon

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The one constant thing is reading

I've been thinking about all the identities I've clung to over the years, which no longer apply. I've been baby sister, shy school kid, English tertiary student, newlywed, mother of toddlers and babies, and currently, mother of teenagers. I know that phase will be transitory too. The empty nest syndrome, which I've heard so much about, will come sweeping through our house all too soon. I know this isn't an original thought, but I can't believe how the years fly. I've been a little sad, to think that I've plowed through each of these identities so quickly, like levels on a computer game. I wasn't intending to hurry, and it makes me wonder if I appreciated each stage to the full while I was in it.

I feel a little ache inside to think each of the old identities is gone, never to return. Trying to grasp them is like trying to snatch a wave in your hands, as it rushes past on the banks of a creek. I wish there was one thing which had stayed constant through it all. (I know there are other aspects, such as being female, Australian, Christian, but to my way of thinking, these are more tied up with what I 'am' rather than what I 'do', so they are a bit different.)

Then I remember, hey, there is one thing. It's the thing which has meant such a lot to me and filled many happy hours. I'm a reader. That has never changed through all those years. As a child, I was known as a bookworm, and I'm still just as avid a reader every chance I can get. If you like visiting reading blogs such as this one, you might well be the same.

In my case, the little girl who'd pore over Little House on the Prairie and Trixie Belden turned into young teen who loved L.M. Montgomery and developed Regency novel fever. She's the same young adult who had Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Middlemarch and Villette lined up to get through within a certain amount of time for English. That person became the young mum who took every chance to read Harry Potter while her young kids were busy. And now, the mother of teens wakes up each morning keen to get a look at the freebies and discount books for e-readers from sites such as Inspired Reads and Pixel of Ink. That's me. They are all me.

Whew, what a relief that something has stayed constant, and what a worthy identity it is to retain. If you are a reader too, you'll know what I mean. It is great fun as well as being beneficial for your mind. I wouldn't expect it to ever change.

But just after coming to that conclusion, I chanced upon an elderly friend in the supermarket who said, "I'd love to read your new book, but I'd better be quick to do it while I can. My eyesight is fading and the doctor said I might not be able to read for much longer. I'm squeezing as much in as possible, but oh boy, after a lifetime, I'm sure going to miss it."

That came as a bit of a blow, just after figuring this out. Even that identity may slide away down the waterfall of life along with all the others I've had to let go. It may well be the hardest to farewell. Please let me keep my eyesight into my senior years. Then I remember that it's the 21st century, so no reader really needs to be faced with the threat of having to relinquish reading. Listening to recorded books would surely be better than nothing, and e-readers are set so that you can make the print very large and very dark.

Here's to reading, and to those of us who remain readers to the end.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

'Unconventional' by J.J. Hebert

YOUNG JAMES FROST just knows, deep in his bones, that he's a writer. He writes far into early mornings, after his wearying hours of scrubbing toilets and sweeping floors. He loves writing that much. But it's not only the joy of words that keeps him grinding; it's his desire to retire the janitor's mop. He sees being published as the key to living an improved life. James has another deep-seated conviction: that he's not good enough. He secretly longs to be accepted. However, the conventional others in his life seem all too willing to remind him that he's wasting his time. Then he meets and falls in love with Leigh, the one bright spot in his endless misery of self-doubt. A quiet but resolutely religious girl, she has to fight off disapproval of her own from overly critical parents, whose insults are countered by James's often-voiced admiration of her. Likewise, Leigh's faith in his talents begins to build his confidence, eventually allowing her to introduce him to a different way to help himself: relying on God. Ultimately, James's newfound faith is sorely tested to the point of doubt when his dream to be published seems to melt into a mirage, smothered by countless rejection slips from agents and publishers. His faith is also battered by having to fight highly emotional battles and suffer fear and loss. Just when James appears hopelessly sapped by devastating events, one last door opens, and he's rocked by an epiphany. UNCONVENTIONAL is designed to inspire readers to reach for their dreams. Buy this book. Read it. Share it with everyone you know. You - and they - will be glad you did

James Frost is a young man who works as a janitor in his father's business, but really wants to be a published fiction author. James has done what many wannabes have never achieved and produced a quality 100 000 word manuscript. He thinks the hard part is over but has a lot to learn about the nature of the journey to getting published.

He is a hero I can appreciate. James has a chip on his shoulder the size of a log and isn't afraid to have a good cry - two qualities that don't usually characterise the typical novel hero, yet he's definitely a real man. He dusts his book off every time he receives rejections or negative feedback and keeps sending it out. He really shines most when he reaches out of his self-focused world to other hurting people, such as Leigh and Meranda.

The story makes me want to encourage people whenever I can as it proves we can never underestimate the impact of a few heartfelt words. Those supportive people in James' life such as Leigh, Mitch and Arthur are great but I'm thinking of Barbara Johnson, who was only in the story for one episode, yet her meeting with him was pivotal as he'd been thinking of giving up. Her telling him that he obviously was a 'born natural' was the impetus he needed to keep his dream alive.

Poor Meranda Erickson's story is an example to us that even being a Pulitzer prizewinning author doesn't shield our lives from heartache and loneliness. Apparent success and apparent failure can come to the same person, even at the same time. Perhaps James' dealings with her, expecting help but being more of a helper and support, is one of the book's highlights.

The ending may be a bit misleading. James' eventual publishing contract seems to be painted in an overly-rosy light. In reality, he may not have been able to give up his janitor job quite so soon, if ever. One deal doesn't necessarily guarantee that more will be following. And 50 people lining up at a signing to see a debut author isn't the norm for many either. This ending may leave other writers with the idea that one publishing contract is like a holy grail, which can be far from the truth. The title is "Unconventional" and James thought that true of himself in many ways, yet it never seemed to occur to him that pursuing the traditional path to publication was not necessarily his only option, yet it did say a lot about his super dedication.

Overall, I think this a great book for all fiction authors to read as we know just where he's coming from. During those discouraging moments, which are bound to keep coming, I'm sure I'll remember James Frost and his attitude that writing stories is his calling so there's no way he's ever giving up.

4 stars

Unconventional available from Amazon

Monday, May 12, 2014

'You are the Placebo' by Joe Dispenza

You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter
Is it possible to heal by thought alone—without drugs or surgery? The truth is that it happens more often than you might expect. In You Are the Placebo, Dr. Joe Dispenza shares numerous documented cases of those who reversed cancer, heart disease, depression, crippling arthritis, and even the tremors of Parkinson’s disease by believing in a placebo. Similarly, Dr. Joe tells of how others have gotten sick and even died the victims of a hex or voodoo curse—or after being misdiagnosed with a fatal illness. Belief can be so strong that pharmaceutical companies use double- and triple-blind randomized studies to try to exclude the power of the mind over the body when evaluating new drugs.     Dr. Joe does more than simply explore the history and the physiology of the placebo effect. He asks the question: “Is it possible to teach the principles of the placebo, and without relying on any external substance, produce the same internal changes in a person’s health and ultimately in his or her life?” Then he shares scientific evidence (including color brain scans) of amazing healings from his workshops, in which participants learn his model of personal transformation, based on practical applications of the so-called placebo effect. The book ends with a “how-to” meditation for changing beliefs and perceptions that hold us back—the first step in healing.     You Are the Placebo combines the latest research in neuroscience, biology, psychology, hypnosis, behavioral conditioning, and quantum physics to demystify the workings of the placebo effect . . . and show how the seemingly impossible can become possible.

This is a very hopeful book combining science and spirituality with the author's own experience and that of several others. He convincingly writes that the state of our health may not be as much out of our control as many of us have been brought up to believe. Basically, he says, the body experiences what the mind believes to be true, although it's more complex than that.

The book begins with a story from the author's past. As a 23-year-old cyclist, Joe Dispenza shattered and compressed six spinal vertebrae in a freak accident in which he was dragged along the road. Surgeons suggested radical surgery and planting a rod in his back as the only solution. This would mean lifelong pain, but it seemed a choice between that and certain paralysis. Dispenza chose a third option which seemed more like a fantasy than anything reasonable.

With faith and concentration, he gave his body mental instructions and a template for health, and refused to let any thoughts slip through of scenarios he didn't want to experience. Although his return to perfect health seemed like a miracle, he's sure there's more to it. He believes that as he selected one of several possible futures (of his choice) and experienced the appropriate emotions in anticipation, the cells of his body began to accommodate him.

He believes negative emotions raise our stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline), and changing our internal state through our thoughts, attitudes, emotions and habits can change our external states. This sort of practice has even been given the name of self-directed neuro-plasticity. We direct the formation of new neural pathways and destructions of old ones through what we chose to allow in our brains.

As a Christian, I'm excited to see how this lines up with principles in the Bible (of belief and faith preceding outcomes). I've read several other, Christian-based healing books in the past which suggest similar outcomes, and it's great to see a book based on scientific studies agree. Although I'm a dunce when it comes to science and quantum physics, I could just manage to wrap my mind around this if I took it in small doses. I'm hoping to see these medical developments, which seem to back up what many people of deep faith have already known for centuries, herald an exciting future for healing.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Hay House in return for an honest review.

4.5 stars

 You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter available at Amazon

Thursday, May 8, 2014

'All in Good Time' by Maureen Lang

All in Good Time (The Gilded Legacy, #2)
Dessa Caldwell has a dream: to open Pierson House, a refuge for former prostitutes in Denver’s roughest neighborhood. But after exhausting all charitable donations, Dessa still needs a loan, and nearly every bank in town has turned her down. Her last hope hinges on the owner of Hawkins National Bank.

Henry Hawkins has a secret: though he owns the most successful bank in town, his initial capital came from three successful raids on Wells Fargo coaches. Now he’s the most eligible bachelor in Denver, but to protect his criminal past, he’s built a fortress around his heart. Not even the boldest matchmaking mother can tempt him . . . until the day Dessa Caldwell ventures into his bank requesting a loan.

Though he’s certain her proposal is a bad investment, Henry is drawn to Dessa’s passion. But that same passion drives her to make rash decisions about Pierson House . . . and about whom she can trust. One man might hold the key to the future of her mission—but he also threatens to bring Henry’s darkest secrets to light. As the walls around their hearts begin to crumble, Henry and Dessa must choose between their plans and God’s, between safety and love

Henry Hawkins is the sort of guy we might nominate for Young Achiever or Young Businessman of the Year, if he lived in modern times. Only 30 years old, he is a wealthy and successful bank founder and handsome as well. Clients have never guessed the secret about his past, which keeps him always on edge. Twelve years earlier, he'd committed a couple of stage coach robberies to give him a head start in business. Even though he has long since anonymously donated it all back, guilt and fear of discovery drive him to live like a recluse, watch his back and trust nobody.

Dessa Caldwell is anxious to finance her dream to open a refuge house for working girls who long to start over with a clean slate. So far, all the banks she's approached have failed to give her a loan, and now she's about to try Hawkins National. She also wants to make up for a grievous mistake she committed years ago, with the brother of her mentor.

I liked the structure of this book. Although brimming with secrets, it is not a mystery novel. The reader is well aware of what both Henry and Dessa conceal. The intrigue is in watching them skirt around each other, each assuming that the other has always been a pillar of society. That was enough to keep me turning the pages to find out how all would be revealed. Dessa is a beautiful character, inside and out. Her impatience to change lives for the better, along with her warm heart and self-doubt made me want things to turn out well for her. The romantic element was very satisfying.

It was interesting to share her puzzlement and disappointment when young women didn't flock in droves to her refuge house, as she expected. Although set in the 1800s, there is a lot we can learn about advertising and promotion skills, motivation and patience. There were other good characters to support the main two. Henry's uncle and employee, the kindly Tobias Ridgeway is great. Then there is Turk Foster, the likeable rake who runs a shady business and plans to worm his way into politics, and Jane, the poor girl desperate enough to attempt something very foolish. I'd be happy to read more about all of them.

4 stars
All in Good Time available at Amazon

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"The Greener Grass Conspiracy" by Stephen Altrogge

The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence

With humor and honesty, Stephen Altrogge helps us do battle with discontentment by steering us back to the central truths of the gospel. He addresses issues such as complaining and idolatry, reminding us of all that we have, and will have, in Christ.

This is the best book I've read on seeking contentment. I love the comic drama Stephen Altrogge uses to explain the general human condition of discontentment. It's a conspiracy theory between the world, our hearts and Satan to steal our happiness. They do it by deceiving us into thinking we can find happiness somewhere other than in God. He has a wonderful way of creating word pictures to help us get it. A lot of this book is written with that terrific sort of humour that convicts us in a highly entertaining way.

I loved the description of his coffee shop meeting with King Solomon, who he describes as a combination of Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Donald Trump, Billy Graham, the president and Bill Gates. And it's hard to resist his imagery of idolatry. We hold a baseball-sized diamond in one hand and a mud-encrusted rock in the other. Being forced to choose between the two, we shockingly toss the diamond aside. In future moments of misery, I'll definitely take time to figure out which muddy rock I'm chasing after now. There is a whole chapter on all the reasons we have to be cheerful and grateful which I'm sure will be an instant bad mood buster too.

I was hoping Altrogge would take readers even further. People at many stages of their Christian walk will read this book. He convinces us that we must focus our worship on God alone, then leaves us to ourselves when it comes to figuring out how to love this being who may seem like thin air to many, as He can't be sensed with the five physical senses. Although he touches on this, someone with Stephen Altrogge's writing ability might have done a wonderful job in convincing readers why God is so worthy as a person. Even though this may be the subject of another book, an extra chapter focusing on His names and character may have really rounded this book out.

4 stars

  The Greener Grass Conspiracy available at Amazon

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Charter to Redemption" by D.J. Blackmore

Charter to Redemption
At the close of 1821, the penal colony of Newcastle looks to be every bit as black as it's painted. Emma Colchester charters a ride to Australia with a promise of marriage to a man she has never met. But appearances aren't always as they seem. And with a commitment unavoidable Emma learns that shackles are not always forged from iron. Tobias Freeman longs for redemption and hope. After a rough journey to New South Wales, Tobias learns the rations, the regulations, and the reprisal. But neither Emma nor Tobias expect the repercussions.

To help her family, Miss Emma Colchester intends to begin a new life far from home in the colony of Newcastle. Her aunt has arranged for her to marry Gideon Quinn, the young man in a miniature Emma has been sent. Not until she arrives does she discover she's been duped. The likeness is dated, and Gideon is now a grizzled man old enough to be her grandfather. Meanwhile, she can't help falling for Tobias Freeman, the handsome young convict who saved her life on their first dramatic meeting. Trapped in a seemingly impossible situation, Emma's only option seems to be to make the best of it.

Several things appealed to me about this book.

Firstly, it's interesting how much scope there was for people willing to live out their Christian faith in such tough times. Emma's decisions to help in the hospital (even though she had an ulterior motive at times) and later in the Sunday School, make her a good heroine. It gets 21st century readers pondering. General affluence may hide our needs, but stories like this help us think about what life is really all about.

Secondly, I liked how the brave settlers were like fish out of water, trying to adapt to life in a foreign place nothing like they'd ever imagined, from the wide spaces to the intense summer heat. They tried to get by on their old skills from the Mother Country, when what they really needed was a whole set of new skills. The many references to food from their old homes and the ladies offering convicts warm, woolly scarves at Christmas are good examples. It's good for those of us who have generations of Aussies behind us to get back to our roots.

There were frequent references to the wide, harsh beauty of the land, which I loved. The dialogue is another strength, with colourful characters like old Kevin, the convict. Not least, I liked the secrets, showing us that supposedly 'good' people may be really grasping and heartless while those labelled 'bad' are good-hearted and true.

At times I got a little confused about who was talking, as new speakers sometimes started on the same line as the person before, but I've come across this sort of flow before and got used to it again. If you keep your eyes on the quotation marks, you'll be right.

Overall, I appreciated the research which made this story so authentic.

4 stars

Charter to Redemption Available at Amazon