Thursday, 24 February 2011

The three-ringed circus of Christian Churches

The Prodigal ProphetThe Prodigal Prophet by Dylan Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think the expression 'Oh My God' was coined to describe this book. I cannot work out whether it is horrifying, hilarious, laughable, insightful, informative, or just plain bizarre.

Whatever it is, it is hard not to be transfixed by some emotion or another.

And, actually, it is definitely informative because I have no doubt it represents the gospel truth about how aspects of Christianity are exploited to nefarious ends. The Christian Church - whatever the denomination - has a horrible history of subverting a beautiful theology / philosophy for personal gain. Dylan Morrison's 'The Prodigal Prophet' incontrovertibly demonstrates that while the Christian Church is a bit short on burnings, torture and indeed genocide nowadays (beyond the activities of a few mass suicidal sects), vainglory, power and the obscene accumulation of wealth are very much still where it's at.

The only question I have is why the author fell for these cheap tricks time and time again when he appears to be a perfectly sane (beyond the avowed depression) and highly astute observer of his own Calvary at the hands of a series of rank charlatans.

I suppose that is th skill of the professional conman. You may even know you are being defrauded, but somehow you want them to succeed, even against you.

If you suspect that the leaders of the Christian Churches aren't very Christian and, by analogy, that the leaders of the Spiritual movement aren't very spiritual, this is a book to bolster you in that faith - that nothing, but nothing, is sacred once the all-too-humans get it in their sights.

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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

This should be a game

Lord CragusLord Cragus by John R Brade

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you start reading 'Lord Cragus' it is all nicey-nicey - Peter and his mum, all cosy.

But as soon as he goes through the wall, it is something else. Who knows what the hell is going on, but it isn't anything nice. Well, Sal is nice, but is she to be trusted? And Peter soon finds himself cornered.

As the real situation emerges, the whole thing becomes absolutely intriguing, except that 'the real situation' is yet another mirage leading up to a blistering ending.

Quite superb. Don't be fooled by its YA-sounding opening. This is adult stuff and it will haunt you for some time to come.

It could also found a business or strategy game. Any gamesters out there?

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

An extraordinary, extraordinary story

Empty ChairsEmpty Chairs by Stacey Danson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply put, this book is a classic - a superbly written gruesome real life horror story - and self-penned to boot, no ghost writer in sight (they would never write as well as Stacey anyway). It is direct, it is transcendent, it does not shut its eyes for a single second. Stacey Danson does for child abuse what Primo Levi did for the Holocaust - she survived it and rose above it (although Primo Levi committed suicide in the end).

Talking of suicide, you can see those chairs of the title emptying as apparently 13 out of the 15 people in the street gang Stacey joined at the age of 11 are now dead.

I am not easily reduced to shock. I used to volunteer for Amnesty International and know well enough what people are capable of doing the other people, but this is something else.

How do you prostitute a toddler of 3? How do you allow man after man to rape your daughter at the age of 5? How can you allow them to mutilate and torture her at the age of 10?

Rumour has it that Stacey Danson wrote this book because of a promise she made to a friend who subsequently committed suicide before she had put one word down on paper.

I have read the interviews. Stacey had to relive every moment in writing this book and, absolutely extraordinarily, it is not a bitter book, it is suprisingly uplifting, as Primo Levi's 'If This Is A Man' was.

There are lists out there of books to read before you die. This is a book to read to stop others dying.

It describes a continuing outrage, a living hell, outragously well. This is one hell of a book.

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Saturday, 25 December 2010

Seriously volatile. Handle with care (but soon)

ExploitsExploits by Poppet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read many books I would classify as all-time favourites over the last year, and here comes another one - Poppet's 'Exploits'.

It is chick-lit in structure, but it has been artisticly coated in sensual nitroglycerine to deliver the most explosive of authorial rub-downs on opening.

It is raw, spontaneously honest, and skin-tinglingly exciting, wrapped as it is around twists and writhings of plot and bodies.

It is about personal enslavement and the physical and emotional enjoyment that makes that enslavement possible - thus the pun of the title. It is also about being stripped to self-loathing by others before rebuilding your own sense of validity.

In short, it is about a young woman laid aggressively bare who doesn't necessarily want to be clothed but who does want to be safe and at home.

My only reservation - I cannot imagine the heroine Stef as a blonde. Definitely brunette, I would say.

And, very fortunately, I have another Poppet book to hand - 'Seithe' (a dark romance). Can't get enough.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

It's quiet - it's excellent

Surfacing (Descending Surfacing)Surfacing by Catherine Chisnall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Catherine Chisnall's 'Descending' and this is the sequel.

She apparently feared that 'Surfacing' might not be as good as 'Descending' but in fact, if anything, it is even better.

Not that it could fail. Catherine's quietly precise voice coaxes you along the sense of searching, of coping, of outrage.

A wonderful book.

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You call it Vietnam; I call it Iraq

How Can You Mend This Purple Heart by Terry Gould

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most terrifying things about life for me is that a child can be damaged at an early age and then is mutilated or disfigured for life. That is what Stacey Danson's 'Empty Chairs' is all about - being prostituted from the age of three in her case - but it is also the gist of 'How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?' where young men of 20 have stood on a landmine - or their mate has - and they have lost one, two or even three limbs. One minute they are lithe young men at the peak of their physical prowess, the next they are angry cripples, in this case publicly derided for taking part in one of the most unpopular wars in history.

This is an extraordinary book for the way it describes how these Vets came to terms with their appalling injuries. Apparently during the First World War only one person ever survived a triple amputation. During the current occupation of Iraq I am told there is one a week, so this book is still highly topical.

It reads a bit like a theatre piece or TV series and, sure enough, next year it will be premiered in a playhouse in Pittsburgh.

It is also outraging and funny. You may well laugh and sneer until you cry.

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Friday, 17 December 2010

Typically West Coast

Becoming Johnny NovaBecoming Johnny Nova by David Kupisiewicz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young lad, I was very into the West Coast bands - Jefferson Airplane / Starship, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver et al and I would have loved to have been out there lazing in the sunshine, dreaming to the music, basking in the casual amiability and maybe even choking on the weed (I have always preferred wine myself, but California has a few gallons of that too).

David Kupisiewicz's 'Becoming Johnny Nova' is a generation later than my fantasies and somewhat less fantastical, but it is still from another world of impromptu mass parties and irritatingly intrusive policing. I didn't even have the over-controlling parents.

You really do get a sense of being there in this life lived on Planet David, surrounded by some very dodgy friends, a very reliable girlfriend who isn't, drugs galore and academic rebellion. Then its all off to the hills - or the streets - to mill, drink, smoke and play, and occasionally to fight.

It is one of those books where you simply pick it up and read another couple of chapters at a time until you have soon finished it, with the thought that you have been living in somebody else's skin.

I don't believe that people are jerks, but I do believe in playing a little bit of rock 'n' roll.

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