Friday, March 23, 2012

Out of the Flames, Indeed!

So I read another rather interesting book lately...another that I would have never chosen on my own but it was recommended by a co-worker and he hasn't steered me wrong yet. =) It was non-fiction - basically about a book that was almost lost to us forever. But it was about SOOOO much more. It takes place during the reformation and I have to tell you that it's made me want to do so much more reading on this period of time. I mean, I knew about Pope Leo and I knew about the Medici family but I had NO idea that Pope Leo was of the Medici family! And I found it so interesting to learn that Martin Luther went to the monastery because he "wasn't the brightest bulb in the box". But I digress...

The book is really about two men and a book...Michael Servetus and John Calvin. (yes, that John Calvin) Michael Servetus was a genius and at 13, his father sent him to university at Zaragossa. There Michael came to the attention of Juan de Quintana who latched on to Michael, and made him his personal secretary. When Quintana left Zaragossa for Toulouse, he took Michael with him. This put Michael in a unique position where he mixed with powerful people. While working for Quintana, Michael was able to attend the coronation of Charles V. This made Michael question some of the things his Catholic church was teaching and doing. So he learned Greek and Hebrew so he could read the original bible and see where the Catholic church could make changes and thereby serve the people more correctly. He wrote a book entitled On the Errors of the Trinity, which, of course, since it took issue with a little something the Catholic church called the trinity, the church and the Inquisition felt was heretical. So at 19, Michael Servetus was condemned to death. He Switzerland and then to France. He changed his name and enjoyed the freedom of humanism which was flourishing at Paris University. He studied and wrote and argued...with among other men, John Calvin. Now John Calvin had his own ideas about religion and wanted to show Michael the errors of his ways. And Michael, naturally, was convinced of his rightness (which, by the way, I was convinced of as well) so he was having none of it. John, seeing the "success" of Michael and his book, thought he'd write his own book and thereby gain the popularity and power that he craved. Calvin's book was NOT a bestseller and Calvin, who was apparently a gigantic narcissist, decided it was Michael's fault in some way and so would spend the rest of his life hunting Michael down in order to have his life and ideas destroyed. 

At some point, Servetus ended up back at the University of Paris and studied medicine this time. He later goes to Vienne and practices as a country doctor there. He also works on a book, Christianismi Restitutio, and corresponds with John Calvin, both of which would bring about his downfall. In the end, Calvin succeeded in his mission to destroy Servetus. He had Servetus burned at the stake along with all the copies of his book he could find. And he ordered that all Servetus' books be collected and destroyed. However, 3 copies miraculously survived...along with John Calvin's personal copy.

As a side story, Michael Servetus, while studying medicine at Paris University, actually discovered how the circulatory system worked...years before Vesalius, who is credited for the discovery. And if this book was never discovered, we'd never have known all the genius of Michael Servetus.

There is so much more to this story...the history of how the printing of books affected the reformation. How much of society that was under the control of the church. And how the church used the Inquisition to try to keep people under their rule while they themselves did things in such excess as to actually disgust those faithful who so loved the church and were so disgusted by the abuse they witnessed the church indulge in. Not to mention the history of how medicine was changed with the discovery of how the circulatory system functioned. And also the beginnings of modern medicine here in America. Oh, and also the history of a little branch of the christian church known as the Unitarian Church. I'm just barely scratching the surface in this review. 

This book was so informative and inflammatory (but in a good way) for me. And it also created more questions for me. Oh, I will have to read more books! So I hope you'll check out this book sometime. And let me know what you think!

Friday, March 16, 2012

It's About a Circus?

I recently read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. While at a swim meet, I had another parent see that I was reading it and ask what is was about. I had a hard time describing it, actually. I read it for book club with my co-workers and when we met to discuss it, I told them of this interaction. I said I kinda felt like this book defied definition. Although I'd heard it described as a romance a la Twilight, I don't think it fits in that category. It involves lot of magic but it's not really Harry Potter...So a few of my co-workers threw out their thoughts and I felt that one in particular described the book pretty well...a modern day fairy tale. So that's what I'm going with. =)

The Night Circus is primarily, in my opinion, an argument between two schools of thought fought on a world stage with players who haven't the slightest idea of the consequences of their actions (at least initially). Two men, one a teacher and the other once his student, have differing ideas on how best to teach magic and whether or not innate ability matters. They have been "challenging" each other for decades and a particular challenge is the focus of this story. 

The magician, Prospero, issues a new challenge to his old tutor, the "man in the grey suit". Prospero is using his six-year old daughter as his pawn. The man in the grey suit chooses a student/opponent, in a much more detached manner. and thus the players are in place. 

As the years pass and the "students" are groomed for their challenge, a stage is set. The place where this challenge will be played out will be in a circus...but not just any circus. A circus that defies the definition of circus; a circus that shows up out of nowhere, leaves while no one is watching and is only open at night.

Not part of the teachers' plans is for the opponents to meet and fall in love. And therein lies the flaw that will bring down the house of cards. Because neither party is willing to essentially remove the other from the playing field. So who wins in the end?

As I said, I really feel like this book defies description. And although I enjoyed it, I felt that the author could have done some things to draw the reader in a bit more. The book has a wide array of interestingly eccentric characters but because there are so many, we never really get to know any of them. I would have liked to know more about Prospero and the man in the grey suit. And I really would have liked enjoyed a more in-depth detailing of the relationship between Celia and Marco. Also, I felt Ms. Morgenstern's detailing of the circus itself as well as the other locations visited could have been done better. She took great pains to set up this whimsical world yet I never really felt a part of it.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. I just felt like it could have been so much more.

Soul Screamers II

I just finished My Soul to Save, the second in Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers series. And I was NOT disappointed!

This time around, Kaylee gets involved in NetherWorld-ly intrigue in order to save the souls of Tod's ex and her little sister...who both sold their souls for fame and fortune but didn't really know what they were signing on for. Kaylee feels obligated to help in recompense for the souls her aunt "sold" and also because she believes that these kids, selling their souls to a media mogul, really don't know what they're agreeing to. And if she can save just two from that, she's making a difference.

She and Nash have to deal with the typical teenage issues like consequences to skipping school or missing your curfew. And then there's the NetherWorld issues of flesh eating plants and monsters...and not drawing the attention of creatures who are not so fond of bean sidhes. And add in Kaylee's lessons in bean sidhe ability...well, it's a lot for a teenage girl.

I really enjoyed this book! It has action and suspense and drama. And I find I admire Kaylee's pluck. She's a strong heroine and that appeals to me. I like how Rachel is dealing with the estranged relationship between Kaylee and her father. And I'm enjoying the growth of Kaylee's relationship with Nash. I also like the setting since I once lived in Arlington/Dallas and am familiar with the landmarks and highways, etc., that Rachel uses. 

I can't wait to see what other mischief this pair gets themselves into!

Inspiration Found!

So this post is a little late as I read the book I'm gonna talk about awhile back but it was really good and I wanted to talk about it. =) Of course, not all the details are as clear now but the intensity of feeling this book brought forth is!

I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, for the book club I participate in with my co-workers. Unbroken is not necessarily a book I would have picked up left to my own devices...but I'm so glad that I did read it. Here's why:

I have long held the belief that a positive attitude...being a glass half full kinda person has a big impact on your life, both inwardly and outwardly. (Not that I'm always sunshine and rainbows =) I had this belief reinforced when my grandfathers were sick with of my grandfathers lasted longer (despite the cancer being further advanced) because his overall attitude about life was more postitive. But never have I seen a more shining example of this belief than in Louis Zamperini's story!

First of all, in my opinion, Louie was lucky to survive past 10. If I'd been his mother, I'd probably have killed him before then! The things this boy got into and did...ugh! His poor mom. =) But apparently Louie was meant for bigger things. Although, it seemed Louie's whole life revolved around doing outrageous things either for the thrill or to meet girls! Once he got into high school, his older brother had figured him out. He theorized that poor Louie had never had all his "energy" properly channeled and so got Louie involved in running track. 

Louie went from a kid who was always running from the law or an irate victim to running in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He was also set to break a world record for running the mile. When World War II broke out, Louie became a bombadier and saw much combat. And in one fateful mission, he, the plane, and his crew mates went down in the Pacific Ocean. For 46 days, Louie survived being afloat on a life raft...fighting exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, shark attacks...not to mention being shot at by Japanese planes. He and his pilot Phil, survived to land on an island that was Japanese occupied. From there Louie endured the hell of being a prisoner of war...where everything imaginable was done to him to break his spirit, his body and his mind. But Louie refused to be broken. Louie proved to be resilient in life and in his faith and I found this book to be so awe inspiring on so many levels. 

I like to think of myself as a positive person; however, I'm not so sure I would have the strength of character to survive all the Louie did. But his story is truly inspirational and completely reinforced my belief in the power of positive thinking. I hope you'll read it...and that you'll agree.