July 12, 2016

Review: Black Light by Martha J. Allard

Black LightBlack Light by Martha J. Allard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmm..what to say? The writing was beautifully done, the characters compelling, and the plot interesting. As I read, I found myself reliving a bit of my teenage years where parachute pants and big hair bands helped shape my fashion and music preferences. Although I enjoy a great deal of today's music, I must admit sometimes I just need my Def Leppard, Poison, or Motley Crue fix. (Thankfully, I've not had the urge to don parachute pants outside of playing dress up for the local 80s Festival.)

Black Light did an admirable job of imagining the lifestyles of an upstart band rocketing to fame. There were drugs and alcohol, outrageous outfits and larger-than-life behavior. There was also a great deal of tragedy. The moments of joy were fleeting and hard-won, and often overshadowed by the emotional battlefields the band members and their lovers traversed.

One little warning for the lover of in-your-face paranormals, though. The magic here is subtle. There are no blood-sucking vampires, howling werewolves, or poltergeists threatening the well-being of our cast and crew. Instead, as you read, I recommend considering either the lore surrounding succubi or emotional vampirism; it might help explain the paranormal tag.

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June 13, 2016

He Did It!

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been busy working around the house.  Well, I should clarify, Ken and the boys have been busy stripping and re-staining the front porch and back deck, tearing up flower beds and reloading them with more workable soil, and, finally, planting or transplanting flowers and a tree.

Meanwhile, in the house, I've been working on a slideshow and scrapbooks.  I know there's no way I will get the scrapbook done in time, but I hope I can at least come close.  I have this weekend and all of next week to work on these two rather time-consuming projects.  

Why the rush?  Well, KC's graduation party (a.k.a. open house) is quickly approaching.  Yes, that's right.  We're throwing the boy a party because he graduated high school!  

It wasn't always an easy road to travel.  KC had his fair share of struggles, some legitimate and some manufactured by his own inattention to detail.  I can't tell you the number of times he would complete his homework only to have it sit moldering in his locker or, worse yet, sitting unnamed in the teacher's "in-box".  Of course, there were a few classes that truly challenged him and made him work for every point.

Frankly, I hold him responsible for all my gray hair.  So much stress involved in getting this child through school!

But he did it.  He got the grades he needed and he graduated.

I am so very proud of him. 


May 3, 2016

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders

My Rating:  5 Stars
Goodread's Average Rating:  3.78 Stars

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders 

Here's how I use the five star rating feature on Goodreads:

1 star = I seriously disliked this book.  I may not have even finished it.

2 stars = Eh. This book left me feeling rather ambivalent and I'm not even sure why I read it.

3 stars = While I may not have liked everything about this book, I still found a good deal of pleasure in reading it.  I might even recommend it to a friend or family member if I think they'd enjoy it.

4 stars = Sure, there may be a few things that I found problematic, but there's so much I loved about this book that it just didn't matter!  It's characters were interesting, the plot was sound, and/or it offered me a welcome escape from reality.  I am already thinking about who else should read this book and how I can convince them of it.  It's also being added to the keeper shelf.

5 stars = I love this book.  It's heading directly to the keeper shelf and likely will not be loaned out because I am a stingy book hoarder. It will also become well-worn from numerous re-reads.

Basically, the stars are reflective of my emotional response to a text. 

Why did Thomas Jeffer's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders get five stars?

This wasn't a fun and easy read.  It offered little in terms of entertainment, although I must admit my interested was piqued during the bits surrounding the Barbary pirates.  That could be a Pavlovian response, though, created by years of romanticizing pirates. Of course, I know the pirates showcased in historical romance novels and on the big screen shared little in common with those that plagued merchant ships during Jefferson's lifetime and Spellberg's work helped me to put aside my romantic notions and focus on some less-than-glamorous facts. Furthermore, she challenged me to press beyond what I assumed I knew about Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries.  She asked me to consider America's founding years in the milieu of world religions and politics that extended beyond our break with Britain.

As someone who appreciates history and what it can teach mankind, I already knew a great deal about the religious persecution our forefathers and -mothers were escaping as they set out to colonize America.  I knew our country was shaped just as much by the desire of its citizenry to follow their own religious leanings as it was to avoid paying an unfair tax and being beholden to a distant king. What I hadn't really stopped to consider until I read Spellberg's work was how the world's religious landscape beyond Christianity influenced some of our most celebrated founders.  I certainly never considered Islam's role.

Spellberg's work has re-framed my understanding of the debate surrounding our country's most influential political documents, namely the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  I better understand the two opposing forces, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, that battled with words and sentiments to create a nation they could envision succeeding in the distant future.  I understand now, in a way that I did not previously fully grasp, how a segment of our founding citizenry feared and reviled Catholics more than they did Jews, Pagans, and Muslims.  (Think about that for minute!  The mind boggles!)  Likewise, I understand the opposition to any type of religious oppression made men like Jefferson put aside their personal prejudices to uphold the notion of complete and total religious autonomy free of any sort of government influence.

I learned.  A lot.  That, in combination with an relatively pleasing writing style, earned this book a five star rating.

But how do I know what I learned isn't more left-leaning propaganda?  

While I have no way of knowing this for sure, I think it's a safe bet that Spellberg put a lot of time and effort into exploring this critical piece of America's founding history.  I say it's a safe bet because Spellberg is quick to provide her source material, of which there is a great deal.  There is a rather extensive index and supplementary note section to be found at the end of the work.  By providing information on how and where this gathered evidence can be found, she invites the reader to explore the evidence themselves and draw their own conclusions.

I must admit I didn't follow the evidence, but some what I read in Spellberg's work I had read elsewhere and knew the National Archives housed some of the very letters and treaties that were discussed.  I also did a quick search for any negative academic reviews. While Goodreads provides me with the opinion of other readers, some of who are very intelligent and amazingly articulate, having been a part of academia for so long I knew the most damning contradictory opinions would be found among her peers.  Other historians, especially those interested in religious studies or early American history, seemed the most logical voices to be raised in protest if she had misrepresented Jefferson or his contemporaries.  I found nothing of note, certainly nothing that undermined her premise or conclusion.

So, yes, I believe her when she suggests that Jefferson did not initiate military involvement with the Barbary states because the pirates were Muslim.  The evidence presented seems to support her contention that Jefferson engaged the pirates because they were interfering with America's economy. If the merchants fell prey to the pirates, trade was interrupted.  If ransoms were paid for captured sailors or if America agreed to pay for protection from the rulers of the African countries involved, money was still being hemorrhaged by a fledgling country that could little afford the financial hit. Military action seemed the most logical way to protect America's economic interest.

Further, I also believe that Jefferson was a critical voice in the fight for freedom of religion and that he meant to be wholly inclusive of all religions.

I've highlighted so many passages in this book, I fear I will never be able to find the exact quote I am looking for when and if I ever feel the need to do so.

March 22, 2016

What Happens in Vegas...Ends Up in My Camera Roll

The last time Ken and I went with another group of people to Vegas it was back in 2005.  We arrived that year on Ken's birthday, which means he did considerable liver damage that day as everyone kept buying him drinks.  It all started with a champagne tower as soon as the plane touched down.

That was a great trip.  We had so much fun and made memories that will last a lifetime.  We saw a pair of amazing Prince impersonators.  We found out taking the cheapest of the public transportation options could result in being stranded on a bus that had the unfortunate luck to be the victim of beer bottle projectiles; luckily, we had our very own medical professional who professed that someone in our group was having a medical emergency and needed to be let off the bus immediately.  We learned that Terrible's (or was it Horrible's) was not as close as the map made it appear - we should have worn hiking boots for that little excursion!  

Yes, it was fun.  There are so many memories from that trip, memories I treasure not only for their hilarity, but because someone very special had not yet left this earthly plane for a more spiritual existence. 

Having come to terms, as much as anyone really can, with the fact that life is too short and oh, so very fragile, I'm so grateful to have a husband who is eager to create new memories with the friends and family we love so much.  Although, I have to say, I'm just as grateful for the memories we create with just each other.

Most recently, we just spent a week in Las Vegas with a bunch of Ken's high school friends.  I'm not 100% positive that I was the only non-Mayville person in attendance, but if I wasn't, I was certainly in the minority.

Let's see...

My hubby, Laura, Ken B., and Gina were not only from the same school, they were in the same grade.  Jeff, Laura's husband, was a few years older, as was Laura's sister, Chris.  Chris's husband, Mark, is really the only one I'm not certain was a Mayville original.  Like me, he may have married into the community.  (Now I'm going to have to ask...not knowing will bother me to no end!)

I have to say that for being an "outsider", I certainly never felt like one.  This is probably due to the fact that while they may have been Ken's friends first, I've known these people for a long time and consider them just as much my friends as they are his.  

The time we spent together went by much too fast.  This was probably due to jet lag and shenanigans. I took a bunch of pictures but some of them I just can't bring myself to share, not even here on the blog that gets hardly any traffic.  

Those seemed safe enough to share.  I spared you the bared asses, banana hammocks, and barely-there nip covers.  You're welcome.

Now I just wish I could go back in time and tell my inebriated self to avoid the more disturbing brands of crazy populating Freemont Street.  I should have stuck to my geeky kind of fun instead.

Of course, I can't close this post without mentioning the motivating force behind this trip.  In the very early planning stages this wasn't just an excuse to get together and drink too much while losing heavily at the slot machines and tables.  Laura proposed the trip as part of her and Jeff's 25th wedding anniversary celebration.  Early on there was talk about renewing vows.  In the end, Jeff bought her a new ring and did a little proposal on the waters inside the Venetian.

How sweet was that!