Friday, February 27, 2009

'A Child's Journey Out Of Autism' by Leeann Whiffen

My first experience with autism was just a few months ago, when I attended a week-long program for parents of autistic children. I arrived there as an interpreter for a family from Poland and five days later I left as a changed, spiritually and mentally uplifted person. A Child’s Journey Out of Autism by Leeann Whiffen left me with the same feeling of awe and amazement I had experienced at the program five months before.
Leeann Whiffen and her husband Sean were suddenly thrown into the world of nightmare when their two-year-old son Clay was diagnosed with PDD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which is a form of autism. From that day forward, they went through the whirl of misinformation, doctors’ inadequacy and fellow parents’ misunderstandings, confused, sometimes cold and reproachful looks and comments. They hit every stumbling block, every wall and shutting door but they refused to give up. Because of the determination to win their son back from autism, they also met many helping angels on their journey: doctors who wanted and knew how to help, parents who suffered the same anguish, and people who wanted to help simply because they wanted to make a difference in one child’s life.
A Child’s Journey Out of Autism leads us through Leeann’s incredible path of always holding on to hope. Even though it is a real-life story, it reads like a first class action and suspense book. Even all the medical terms and description, that otherwise could bore a reader to tears, are surprisingly interesting because they are written in a language of deep emotions. Leeann turns out to be a fantastic writer. Her writing is clear, very straightforward and engaging, grabbing a reader’s attention from the first page and holding it to the very end. Probably the best part is that Leeann neither sanctifies nor victimizes herself. There are moments of doubt, selfishness and despair, but there are also moments of great joy, determination and courage to go on one more day. She is a normal mother who loves and cares for her children and who manages to win the battle despite being told that she never would. Precisely because of this ‘normalcy’, Leeann’s message of hope to other parents of autistic children is so powerful. I couldn’t help but care and cheer for every member of the Whiffen’s family: Leeann, her husband Sean and their two wonderful boys, Clay and Drew (who, by the way, is a wonderful, courageous brother and friend to Clay). I cried tears of sorrow and joy, and I guarantee that everyone who reads this book will too.
This book however, should be read by every parent, not only the ones with autistic children. It is a story of how to appreciate every little thing about our children, how to love them fully and unconditionally. It is a story of perseverance in the face of biggest despair, of determination to never give up, even if we are told that that’s precisely what we should do.

Favorite quote:

"He smiles his crooked smile and tilts his head until it touches his shoulder. His smile morphs into a giggle. Then, simultaneously, we laugh out loud – a deep, feel-good laugh right from the belly. We laugh together some more, and I cry, because I am so full of joy. A joy that is so deep it can only be felt when one has finally emerged from the depths of desperation and discouragement."


Special Thanks to Danielle J. from Sourcebooks for providing me with a copy of this book.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's time for the FIRST Wild Card Tour

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today we are doing something special for Wild Card. Since February is the month of LOVE, we have three (really four, one is a boxed set) books dealing with love. The authors are:

and the books:

Love as a Way of Life Devotional by Dr. Gary Chapman

WaterBrook Press (October 7, 2008)

I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)

For Couples Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

Multnomah Books (January 13, 2009)


Love as a Way of life Devotional by Dr. Gary Chapman

Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of twenty-six books, including Love As a Way of Life and the New York Times bestseller The Five Love Languages. An internationally respected marriage and family-life expert, he hosts the daily radio program A Love Language Minute. Dr. Chapman and his wife, Karolyn, live in North Carolina, where he serves on a church staff.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307444694
ISBN-13: 978-0307444691

I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs are the founders of Hope Matters Marriage Ministries, and for the past several years they have shared their incredible story of a marriage restored with audiences across the nation. Jeff is an account manager with OshKosh B'Gosh, and Cheryl has served as director of the Frisco, Texas, office of the Center for Christian Counseling. They live in Dallas, Texas with their two college-age daughters

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400074452
ISBN-13: 978-1400074457

For Couples Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn is a public speaker and the best-selling
author of several books. She contributes the conservative opinion for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's popular online "Woman to Woman" column, which is syndicated nationwide.

Jeff Feldhahn is an attorney and the CEO of the tech company World2One. Jeff and Shaunti each hold graduate degrees from Harvard University. They are active small-group leaders in their Atlanta-area and the parents of two.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.95
Publisher: Multnomah Books (January 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601422482
ISBN-13: 978-1601422484


Part 1

Love as a New Way of Life

Bedtime Stories

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

—ROMANS 8:38–39

When my grandchildren were toddlers, I read many books to them about farms, the alphabet, and how to have good manners. A more subtle theme among children’s picture books is unconditional love. “Mama, do you love me?” a child asks her mother. “How much do you love me?” a bunny asks his father. With a variety of settings and characters, countless books represent children asking, “What if I ran away? What if I hurt you? What if I traveled to the moon or broke a vase or hit my sister? Would you still love me?”

“Yes,” the parent says. “I will love you no matter what. I will always love you.”

These cozy bedtime stories reflect a universal need that we never outgrow: the need to know that someone, somewhere, loves us without restraint or condition. What a gift we give each other when we communicate that kind of love every day. We might not say it with words. In fact, we might choose to love by not speaking but by being patient in the face of frustration, kind when someone is rude to us, or humble when it would be easier to talk about our accomplishments. But every time we are purposeful about making love a way of life, we are affirming what we each need to hear— and what God speaks to us every day: You are loved. No matter what. Forever and always.


How would truly believing God loves you—no matter what—change your thoughts and actions in the next twenty-four hours?



October 1999

Do you, Jeff, take Cheryl to be your wife, to love her, honor her, and cherish her, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for as long as you both shall live?”

I looked into Jeff ’s eyes and held both of his trembling hands. He looked back at me, but neither of us could see very well for the tears—mine boldly streaming down my cheeks.

“I do.” Jeff ’s voice was low but strong. The words echoed in my mind.

I do. I do.

The minister repeated the words, this time to me, and it was my turn to say it.

I do. I meant it with every fiber of my being. I wanted to shout it to everyone within hearing distance, scrawl it on the walls, write it in the sky. “I do!” I glanced around me. The tiny chapel nestled in the Colorado mountains was awash with rainbow-hued sunlight streaming through stained glass windows, as if God was personally pouring down his blessings on our little ceremony. I felt a chill run down my spine.

“What token of your love do you offer?”

Jeff and I watched as our twin daughters, eleven years old and sparkling in off-white dresses with matching shoes and tights, stepped forward to offer the minister our wedding bands. Brand-new rings, simple and elegant, perfect for our brand-new life.

“With this ring, I thee wed.” ”We repeated the words, mindful that we’d said them before but knowing this time it was different. I could barely remember the ceremony seventeen years earlier when I’d first promised to love, honor, and cherish Jeff. I didn’t keep my promise. But this time I would. As Jeff ’s eyes locked on to mine, I knew he was thinking the same thing.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Such simple words: Now. Husband.Wife.

So familiar, yet so…unbelievable. How long had I anticipated this moment? Seven years, for sure. Or was it more like eighteen? my entire life? Jeff and I shared a kiss and then pulled our daughters into the embrace. A family hug. We squeezed each other tightly while our tears flowed, and it was all I could do to keep my knees from buckling. We stood there, embracing, wiping each other’s tears, and laughing together. I smiled at my incredible husband, my heart overflowing with gratitude. So much gratitude. A whole new life together. It couldn’t possibly be real. We were a family again. Who would have thought? Who in the world could ever have thought this would happen?




I don’t love him anymore.” Amy has barely gotten herself settled on the couch in my office when she blurts out her opening line. She is brunette, petite, and cute, wearing fashionable jeans and just a touch of makeup. She’s the picture of a suburban, got-it-all-together mom—every hair in place, her haircut the latest in chic. Only her expression gives her away. She stares at me, defiant. I recognize the anger. Been there, done that.

“Your husband. ”Who else would she be talking about?

“Actually, I don’t know if I ever loved him.”

Here we go again, I think, my stomach clenching. How many times have I heard the grief, seen the desperation, felt the rage? How many times has my heart broken for a despairing woman who’s come for counseling because she’s lost all hope of her marriage ever working? There are so many hurting couples, so many troubled souls.

“Okay. Let’s talk about it.” I open my notepad and prepare to hear the familiar words. She has no feelings left. She is numb. Wants out of the marriage. Never should have married him in the first place. What was she thinking? Picked the wrong guy. Amy takes a breath and hardly veers from the speech I’d anticipated.

“We’re separated right now. John doesn’t love me—he doesn’t even know me. It feels like he never wanted to know me. We don’t talk—we never have. He doesn’t care who I am.” She pauses. “I know this is wrong. I feel bad about the kids and everything, but I can’t take it anymore. I don’t feel like I can do this one more day.” She looks away. There is more, but she’s suddenly clammed up.

“Sounds like you’re in a lot of pain.”

She fidgets. Her stony glare has departed, and now her eyes flit around the edges of the room. I try again.

“Can you tell me why you don’t love him anymore?”

“I told you—he doesn’t love me. It’s dead. There’s nothing there. This

isn’t a marriage. I’m done.”

“Why did you want to talk to me?”

“I just… I didn’t know what to do. I want out. But I know I’m supposed to…you know, try. Everyone says get counseling. So here I am.”

“Are you looking for a way out, or are you hoping we might find a way to make your marriage work?”

The defiant stare is back. She looks at me, her eyes steely. “No, I… I

can’t do it.” She is suddenly looking at her lap. I consider her eyes, her body language. I try to listen to the words she hasn’t spoken. She’s clearly battered, beaten up emotionally. She feels unloved and worthless. And I wonder, Has she met someone who makes her feel loved again?

I’ve never met Amy before, but I’ve seen her countless times, sitting here on my office couch…or sobbing to me over coffee. Other Amys. Other women who find themselves at the same terrible crossroads. I was Amy once. And while my heart breaks for her, it simultaneously surges with hope. If only… Oh, God…My silent words are a prayer, both for Amy and for me.



August 21, 1992. The worst day of my life. Ten years after walking down the aisle as a young, hope-filled bride, I walked into a courtroom to claim a different kind of hope: liberation from my awful marriage. This was the day I’d obtain the freedom to be with my new love, the soul mate I thought I’d finally found. Today I’d hold in my hands the piece of paper I’d been coveting, the ticket to a whole new and much better life. I stood in front of the judge and told him I wanted a divorce. Earlier that morning, I lay in bed for a moment after shutting off the alarm, groggy with sleep. Something’s happening today. What is it? I tried to clear the fog from my brain, and then my heart lurched as I remembered. Today’s the day! I waited for the excitement to kick in. You’re free today, Cheryl! You’ve been waiting for this for so long! But I felt heavy and unable to move. What is wrong with me? The morning passed in a haze as I readied Brittany and Lauren for preschool and got the three of us out the door. I tried to ignore the dull ache in my stomach. Breakfast was out of the question, and it was all I could do to sip a cup of coffee. After dropping off the girls, I sat in traffic on my way to the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, Texas. With a few moments to think, I tried talking some sense into myself. Buck up, girl! This is what you wanted…the day you’ve been waiting for! You’re finally going to be happy. For the tiniest moment, I glimpsed a truth I didn’t want to see through a crack in the strong facade I’d built around myself. What if I was making a mistake? What if my traitorous stomach was trying to tell me something?

No. I won’t go there. I’m almost to the courthouse; I’m about to get what I wanted. I’ve always worked so hard, and getting what I want has never come easily. Right now, what I want is freedom, and by gosh, I am going to get it. I can’t allow any negative thoughts to distract me. The cold institutional hallway of the courthouse gave me shivers as I stood waiting for an elevator. Although the hustle and bustle of people surrounded me, I had never felt more alone. But I had on a classy suit, stylish heels, and my best determined smile, and I maintained my composure like a pro. Nobody would know I had the least bit of emotion in me. The reality was that feelings swirled in side my head and my heart, and I just wanted to go home, pull the covers over my head, and pretend my life did not exist. I met my attorney at the door of the courtroom.

“Good morning.” His voice was low and smooth, all business. “Today’s the day.”

I nodded, uncharacteristically mute. I don’t remember what happened next. I suppose there were other cases before the judge, other lives being turned upside down. All I know for sure is that my internal battle was raging and I fought to keep it quiet, to disregard it altogether, and make sure the cool detached expression remained plastered on my face. Finally it was my turn, and I stood, trembling visibly, next to my lawyer, facing the judge. Words were spoken; questions were asked. Did I want a divorce? Yes. But at the moment, I couldn’t remember why.

The judge wanted to know why my husband wasn’t there. How could I tell him that Jeff had not wanted the divorce? That he’d fought against it? Through tears of anguish he’d pleaded with me to change my mind. He prayed for reconciliation. He hoped for another chance. He yearned for my heart to soften. But he lost. At that instant, standing in the courtroom, I felt like a horrible person.

I wanted to turn to the strangers around me and let them know I was a good person. I really was. I loved being a wife and wanted to be a good one. I absolutely loved being a mom. Yet I could not go on in the emptiness…or in the dreadful lack of intimacy. I was dedicated and loyal, trustworthy and sweet. But I could not see any other way out of the chronic ache I had felt for years. I had worked it out in my mind and saw no option other than to escape and start over. I knew I would have a label now, even in Jeff ’s mind, of being an adulterer and a mean person. But the truth was that I was broken and hurting. How could I tell everyone this when my actions seemed to say the opposite?

“Jeff needed to work today,” I told the judge, who nodded. I don’t think he believed it for a second. Jeff was at the office, all right. I stood in front of the bench, wondering what was running through his mind as he sat at his desk attempting to work. Would he cry? Was he angry? How was he dealing with the fact that his marriage and family were being ripped apart? How did he feel knowing he would soon officially be a single, divorced dad? And what right had I to be worried about any of that? I was the cause of it. It was a little late for me to be worried about Jeff ’s feelings.

“Divorce granted.” The gavel went down with an authoritative thud.

Was it my imagination, or did the judge look a little sad? Perhaps disappointed. I wondered what it must be like to preside over the dissolution of families all day long. That word—dissolution—so cold and impersonal. I think the judge knew better. I think he knew he was seeing devastation… wreckage…sorrow…and there was nothing he could do but bang his gavel. The sound of that gavel nearly did me in. My hand went to my chest as I felt my heart explode into palpitations like I’d never felt before. The urge to throw up became overwhelming, and it took every ounce of willpower to steady myself and walk to the rear of the courtroom.

My echoing footsteps seemed to pound in my head as I walked down the dreary hallway. Next to me, my attorney was oblivious, moving quickly as always, focused on his dinner plans or his next case. He stopped when we reached the front entrance to the courthouse. At the top of the steps, he offered his hand.

“Congratulations,” he said, giving me a satisfied, I-just-won-a-case smile.

“Mmm hmm…” I shook his hand, but could not muster a response.

“Congratulations.” Did I deserve that? Did he? Something told me the answer was no. But this was what I’d wanted, fought for, worked toward. And here it was. As I drove away from the courthouse, I finally admitted to myself that I was confused. I had honestly expected to feel elated on this day, ready to break out the champagne and celebrate. I hadn’t allowed myself to doubt the course I was on. For over two years I had known in my heart that divorce was the right way to go. The only way to go. It was the single remedy I could fathom for my despairing hopelessness—the only way to find happiness. It was the only way to finally be with my new love, who was even now awaiting my phone call. I scolded myself for being so emotional and decided it was just the newness of the situation that was making me feel so desolate. Soon the excitement of freedom would kick in. Besides, I had no time for wallowing. I had to get to the bank. I stood in the crowded line, tapping my foot, my eyes darting around impatiently at all the people waiting to do their banking. Was anyone else here to divide up a shared existence? It struck me as odd that a relationship— a life—could be reduced to a few lines on a computer screen and declared finished as the numbers were separated and allocated. One life becomes two, just like that. Visions of my sweet family flashed in my mind—family portraits, candid shots—but I thrust them away, an expert now at doing so.

“How are you today?” the teller asked, as I pushed my paperwork toward her.

“Okay.” I managed a bittersweet smile. As she clicked her keyboard and took care of the details of financial distribution, she must have known better. But she gave me a perky smile right back.

“Let me go print out the checks.” She walked away as I nodded. Half an hour later I stood hesitantly at Jeff ’s office and gave a small knock. He looked up and slowly leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. His red and swollen eyes spoke volumes. But his face was hard, giving nothing away. If I had to say what I saw in his expression, I would have said disbelief. He truly could not fathom that this was happening. I inched my way toward his desk and held out the check for his half. I couldn’t say anything, and neither could he. Jeff looked at the check, then as he tilted his head, his eyes met mine. His hand did not lift to take the check. Slowly I lowered it to the desk, and Jeff ’s eyes followed it. He stared at the piece of paper. I read his mind and answered silently. Yes, this is what it comes down to. A number with a dollar sign next to it.

I turned and walked slowly toward the door. When I got there, I stopped and faced him again, my eyes brimming with tears and my heart aching with sorrow. I wanted to run into his arms but held myself back, briefly wondering at this crazy desire. What was wrong with me? The look on his face stung. I couldn’t believe that after all this time he could still appear so…shocked. I had to ask him a question.

“Did you really think this was going to happen?”

I don’t know what I expected him to say. Part of me harbored an irrational hope that Jeff would suddenly be happy about the divorce—that he would confirm that I’d done the right thing. I needed to hear it. I needed absolution.

“Not until this very moment, Cheryl.”

For a moment I stood paralyzed as the truth hit me. There is not a more heartbreaking sight in the world than a man whose spirit has been crushed. That was the man I saw in front of me. My ex-husband. I quietly opened the door and walked out of Jeff ’s office, out of his life. For good, I thought. My life and my family’s lives were changed forever.

Boxed Set:



Why you need a new map of the female universe

Like some guys I know, you might be tempted to skip this introduction and jump right to the sex chapter. And if you’re chuckling right now, it probably means you already did it. Or were about to. It’s not a bad choice, actually. Just a little self-defeating. If you’ve been in a committed relationship with a woman for more than, say, a day, you know that going just for what you want isn’t actually going to get you what you want for very long. A week, maybe? But let’s be honest—one of the main reasons you’re looking at this book is that you are trying to get something you want. Not sex (well, not just sex), but a more fulfilling, harmonious relationship with your wife, one that isn’t quite so hard or confusing. And the back cover gave you the wild idea that understanding her might actually be possible. Either that, or for some reason, the woman in question just handed you this book. Hmmm. Well, either way, take a look at the revelations we’ve uncovered. We think you’ll be convinced. Each chapter explains things about the woman you love that may have often left you feeling helpless, confused, or just plain angry. Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions. The only genius required is that you make a decision up front that you’re willing to think differently. This is a short book, but if you read it cover to cover, you’ll walk away with your eyes opened to things you may have never before understood about your wife or girlfriend.

__Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions.

That’s what happened with me—Jeff. And I’m just your average, semi-confused guy. (Actually, sometimes totally confused is more accurate.) And since us average, semi-confused guys have to stick together, that’s why, even though Shaunti and I are both authoring this book, I’ll be the one doing most of the talking.

First, Some Background

In 2004 Shaunti published For Women Only:What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, which quickly became a bestseller. Based on a nationally representative survey, scores of focus groups, and other research, it opened women’s eyes to things that most of us guys had always wished our wives knew. Things like, most of us need to feel respected even more than loved. Or besides just getting enough sex, men also have a huge need to feel sexually desired by our wives. I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked. To me, those revelations seemed obvious. But by the flood of letters from around the country—from both women and their grateful husbands—we’ve seen how much good can come when the opposite sex finally has their eyes opened to things they simply didn’t understand before.

_♦I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked by how men thought.

In this book, the shock is on the other foot. Now it’s been Shaunti’s turn to say, over and over, “I can’t believe you didn’t already know that!” When Shaunti’s publisher first approached us about doing a companion to For Women Only to help men understand women, I had two major concerns. First, I didn’t think guys would read a “relationship” book since, for most of us, the last relationship book we read was in premarital counseling— and then only because we were forced to. But more to the point, I doubted that a woman could ever be understood. Compared to other complex matters—like the tides, say, or how to figure a baseball player’s ERA—women seemed unknowable. Random even. I explained my skepticism to one early focus group of women:

Jeff: Guys tend to think that women are random. We think, I pulled this lever last week and got a certain reaction. But when I pulled that same lever this week, I got a totally different reaction. That’s random! Woman in group: But we aren’t random! If you pull the lever and get a different reaction, either you’re pulling a different lever, or you’re pulling it in a different way.

Shaunti: What men need is a sort of map to their wives. Because we can be mapped. We can be known and understood terrain.

Jeff: See, guys think of a woman as a swamp: You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand. And the more you struggle to get free, the deeper you get sucked in. So every guy on the planet knows that the best thing to do is just shut down and hope somebody comes along to rescue you. When I came to, Shaunti and the other women in the focus group assured me—and I have since seen for myself— that guys don’t have to live in a swamp. That realization led us to the eventual subtitle of this book: “A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women.”

∞_“Guys think of a woman as a swamp: You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand.”

The Seven Revelations

The most important key to “de-swamping” the woman in your life is to realize that some of your basic assumptions about her may be either too simplistic or flat wrong. By simplistic, I mean that we tend to operate with a partial or surface understanding of our wife or girlfriend. And to make matters worse, most guys have no idea how to make their limited understanding work in actual practice. For example, most guys have heard that women want security. Okay—but what does that mean, exactly? A regular paycheck? A big house? A growing retirement fund? It’s a huge shocker to talk to hundreds of women and find that while financial security is nice, it isn’t nearly as important to them as feeling emotionally secure—feeling close and confident that you will be there for her no matter what. And believe it or not, ensuring emotional security turns out to be a lot easier than ensuring the financial security you are probably busting your tail to provide. For Men Only will help you move from surface understandings to the all-important recognition of what those things mean in everyday life with your woman. Once you start testing out these findings, I think you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes for both of you.

__For Men Only will help you move from surface understanding to recognizing what those things mean in everyday life.

The book is organized around six major findings outlined on the next page. Some of these will be surprises to you. Some won’t, at least to begin with. (But that’s the thing about “swamps”—what you see is rarely what is really there.)





Women need to feel loved. Even if your relationship is great, your mate likely has a fundamental insecurity about your love—and when that insecurity is triggered, she may respond in ways that confuse or dismay you until she feels reassured.

Women are emotional. Women deal with multiple thoughts and emotions from their past and present all the time, at the same time—and these can’t be easily dismissed.

Women want security— in other words, financial security. Your woman needs emotional security and closeness with you so much that she will endure financial insecurity to get it. She doesn’t want you to fix it; she just wants you to listen. When she is sharing an emotional problem, her feelings and her desire to be heard are much more important than the problem itself. She doesn’t want much sex; she must not want me. Physically, women tend to crave sex less often than men do—and it is usually not related to your desirability. She wants to look attractive. Inside your smart, secure wife lives a little girl who deeply needs to know that you find her beautiful—and that you only have eyes for her.

How We Found Out: Our Methodology

For nearly a year, Shaunti and I worked to identify inner “map terrain” areas that are common to most women but that most guys tend not to understand. Besides conducting hundreds of in-person interviews, we gathered huge amounts of anecdotal information at dozens of women’s events where Shaunti was presenting materials from For Women Only. I spoke with stay-at-home moms, business owners, and secretaries; on airplanes, in focus groups, and over Shaunti’s book table as she was mobbed after women’s conferences. And I sifted through hundreds of e-mails and forum postings from Shaunti’s website. In all these venues, I was really just the “embedded male.” Like the reporters who rode with the armored cavalry divisions at the opening of the Iraqi war, I kept my helmet on, my head down, and my notebook handy.

_ I was the “embedded male.” I kept my helmet on, my head down, and my notebook handy.

After all that research, we did a scientific national survey. As Shaunti had done for her previous book, we worked with survey-design expert Chuck Cowan, former chief of census design for the U.S. Census Bureau, and professional survey company Decision Analyst. They came together to help us design and conduct a groundbreaking, representative survey of four hundred women all over the country. In the end, between interviews, surveys, events, and other input, we estimate that well over three thousand women provided input for this book. I know you’ll be fascinated by the results. While some of the findings may be challenging or difficult to accept, most men have been surprised by how helpful many of these truths are and how simple they are to implement for a better, easier relationship.

The Map Key

Before we tackle each of the findings, some pointers on reading the map:

• This book holds to a biblical world view. Our aim is to be relevant and revealing, no matter what your worldview is. But because Shaunti and I view life through our Christian faith, we have seen that these findings are consistent with biblical principles. We believe that relationships are most fulfilling when both people have a common commitment to serving Jesus Christ. We do not quote very heavily from Scripture, but we do draw from and reference it as the only truly dependable guidebook for relationships. For example, our starting-point assumption is that husbands need to love their wives just as Jesus does us—which means to love, serve, and be willing to sacrifice everything for her good, even above our own.

• This is not a comprehensive marriage book. There are already plenty of marriage books on the market—including many terrific ones from Christian experts. So we stay away from well covered topics and areas that guys already tend to have a handle on, and we leave the heavy-duty theological discussions for those books. (If you want to investigate those further, we list several recommended resources at our website, Also, while we are writing more for married men, these insights will be helpful for anyone in a committed male-female relationship. That said, if your relationship is seriously on the rocks, this little book will probably open your eyes in some important areas, but it is not designed to cover a real crisis situation. We encourage you to get the kind of counsel and support your marriage deserves.

• This is not an equal treatment. Just as For Women Only was purposefully one-sided—and if your wife read it, you may have benefited from that fact—so is this book. Yes, you have needs too, and there certainly may be relationship issues arising because she doesn’t understand you. But For Women Only addresses many of those, and this book is not about them. This is only about the inner lives of women, and we’re focusing entirely on how men relate to women, not the other way around. (That is also why the survey only polled heterosexual women.)

• There are exceptions to every rule. Recognize that when I say “most women” appear to think a certain way, “most” does not mean all. We make generalizations out of necessity to be helpful in the widest number of circumstances possible. Inevitably there will be exceptions.

• Our findings may not be politically correct, but we try to be true to the evidence. As a newspaper columnist on women’s issues, Shaunti sometimes receives e-mails from women complaining that she is doing exactly what we intend to do in this book—making generalizations about women. Add the fact that I, as a guy, am daring to make those generalizations, and we recognize the potential for controversy. We don’t quite know how to get around that, so we decided to just report what we learned. (For any woman sneaking a peak: We do not intend to be offensive; we just want to speak frankly to men, from a man’s viewpoint, about you. Our sole intention is to help your man understand and love you better. Even if we have to poke fun at the male preoccupation with sex to do it.)

_♦We decided to just report what we learned.

The Thing to Do Next

We think in the pages ahead you’re going to receive a lot of very promising invitations to try some new things. Most are incredibly simple, but they may not come naturally. At least at first. Of course, if all you read about here is already instinctive to you, you wouldn’t be troubled by randomness, confusion, frustration…and did I mention swamps? My encouragement to you: Give the process time as you retrain years of incorrect assumptions and counterproductive reactions. Bring a humble attitude. Be willing to practice. Believe it can be done. Because I’ve learned that it can be. After several months of being the embedded male, I was watching a movie with Shaunti one night. Halfway through, I casually mentioned that I didn’t like the way one female character treated another. Shaunti sat up on the couch, grinned, and said, “You’re thinking like a girl!” Now, she meant it as high praise, but in the small Midwest town where I grew up, that kind of talk could get a guy slugged. But then I realized: Maybe I had learned a valuable thing or two about the female universe, just by listening in. Here’s hoping that you do, too.


How I Woke Up to What I Didn’t

Know About Men

The other half of the people

on the planet already know what

you’re going to read in this book.

As newlyweds, my husband and I lived in Manhattan, and like all New Yorkers we walked everywhere. But I quickly noticed something strange. Quite often we’d be strolling hand in hand and Jeff would abruptly jerk his head up and away. We’d be watching in-line skaters in Central Park or waiting to cross the street in a crowd, and he would suddenly stare at the sky. I started to wonder, Is something going on at the tops of these buildings? Turns out, something was going on, but it wasn’t up in the buildings. Have you ever been totally confused by something the man in your life has said or done? Have you ever wondered, looking at his rapidly departing back, Why did that make him so angry? Have you ever been perplexed by your husband’s defensiveness when you ask him to stop working so much? Yeah? Me too. But now, after conducting spoken and written interviews with more than one thousand men, I can tell you that the answers to those and dozens of other common perplexities are all related to what is going on in your man’s inner life. Most are things he wishes you knew but doesn’t know how to tell you. In some cases, they’re things he has no idea you don’t know. This book will share those interviews and those answers. But be careful, ladies. You might be slapping your forehead a lot!

•I can tell you that the answers to dozens of other common perplexities are related to what is going on in your man’s inner life.


Let me tell you how I got here. It all started with the research for my second novel, The Lights of Tenth Street. One of the main characters was a man, a devoted, godly husband and father. Because I wanted this character’s thought life to closely resemble what real men deal with, I interviewed my husband, Jeff, and many other male friends to try to get inside their heads. It took me a while to figure out how to handle what I found. You see, in the novel my character had a secret struggle: He loved his wife and kids and was a devoted follower of Christ, but he liked looking at women and had a constant battle with his thought life. A constant day-by-day, even minute-by minute battle with the temptations that beckoned from every corner of our culture, from the secret traps of the Internet to the overt appeal of the miniskirt walking down the street. In short—and this is what was such a surprise to me— instead of being unusual, my character was like almost every man on the planet. Including the devoted Christian husbands I was interviewing. That revelation led to others, on a half-dozen other subjects, and following those trails led to the hundreds of personal and written interviews with men—including a professional survey—that form the core of this book. I interviewed close friends over dinner and strangers in the grocery store, married fathers at church and the single student sitting next to me on the airplane. I talked to CEOs, attorneys, pastors, technology geeks, business managers, the security guard at Costco, and the guys behind the counter at Starbucks. I even interviewed a professional opera singer and a former NFL offensive tackle with a Super Bowl ring. No one was safe.

Light bulb on!

It turned out that these men shared some surprisingly common inner wiring. At their secret inner core, many had similar fears and concerns, feelings and needs.

•oThese revelations were mostly things that my own husband always wished I knew, but couldn’t figure out how to explain.

I discovered that there were many things I thought I understood about men—but really didn’t. In several areas, my understanding was purely surface-level. Once I got below the surface and into specifics, everything changed. I felt like a cartoon character who suddenly had a light bulb over my head. Even better, it turned out that those revelations were mostly about things that my own husband always wished I knew but couldn’t figure out how to explain. And that was a common refrain from most of the men I talked to. Although I still make many mistakes in my relationship with my husband—and will continue to!—finally grasping these things has hopefully helped me to better appreciate and support him in the way that he needs. I want that light bulb to go on for you as well

••We all know, for example, that “men are visual,” but, well…what exactly does that mean?

Why was this surprising?

In a way, I was surprised to be so…surprised. We women think we know many things about a man’s inner life. We all know, for example, that “men are visual,” but, well…what exactly does that mean? It turns out that what that means in practice is the key thing—the specific insight that will help you be a better wife, girlfriend, or mother. Using the “visual” example, the difference is vast between having the vague notion that men are visual and knowing that the sexy commercial he just watched has become a mental time bomb that will rise up and assault him the next day. The difference is vast between helplessly wondering what is going on in his head and having the insight of hundreds of men to help you understand not only what is going on, but also how to support him. Actually, there was a kind of double surprise in this research. When I interviewed men and drew some conclusions, they would often say, “But women already know that…surely they know that.” All too frequently, I found myself replying, “Well, I didn’t know that.” I began to realize that there’s so much about men that we don’t understand— and that men don’t even know we don’t know. And that sort of misunderstanding is the stuff that gives birth to a lot of conflict.


So here are the revelations this book is going to cover— seven translations from “surface level” to “in practice” that you, like me, may not have realized before. As with all of us, the inner life of a man is a package, with these elements melded and wrapped up inside. Whether you are relating to a husband, boyfriend, or son, it is impossible to understand one part of his inner life in isolation. Every area affects every other area, and I’m only covering those few areas that I thought were the most important or helpful.

The survey

Thankfully, these revelations are also backed up by evidence— a groundbreaking professional survey of hundreds of men. Since I found no survey data like this on the market, two sets of experts, Chuck Cowan at Analytic Focus, the former chief of survey design at the U.S. Census Bureau, Our Surface What That Means Understanding in Practice and Cindy Ford and the survey team at Decision Analyst, came together to help me conduct this survey.

“Men need respect” ➺ Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected.

“Men are insecure” ➺ Despite their “in control” exterior, men often feel like impostors and are insecure that their inadequacies will be discovered.

“Men are providers” ➺ Even if you personally made enough income to support the family’s lifestyle, it would make no difference to the mental burden he feels to provide.

“Men want more sex” ➺ Your sexual desire for your husband profoundly affects his sense of well-being and confidence in all areas of his life.

“Men are visual” ➺ Even happily married men struggle with being pulled toward live and recollected images of other women.

“Men are unromantic clods” ➺ Actually, most men enjoy romance (sometimes in different ways) and want to be romantic—but hesitate because they doubt they can succeed.

“Men care about appearance” ➺ You don’t need to be a size 3, but your man does need to see you making the effort to take care of yourself—and he will take on significant cost or inconvenience in order to support you.

The survey was blind, done at random, and meticulously planned and executed. Four hundred anonymous men across the country, ranging in age from twenty-one to seventy-five, answered two dozen questions about their lives and about how they think, what they feel, and what they need. The survey stressed that we weren’t dealing with outward behavior as much as with the inner thoughts and emotions that led to their behavior. Later, because the survey itself inevitably led to additional revelations, I conducted a more informal follow-up survey of another four hundred anonymous men—this time, specifically churchgoers—to ask a few additional questions (and some of the same ones). And later yet, I validated several of those additional insights with a second Decision Analyst survey. Amazingly, across all these surveys there were very few differences. After all the surveying, the results of my personal interviews were confirmed. Not only had I heard the same things over and over—quotes that I will include in the following pages—but those anecdotal results were now backed up by statistically valid evidence. I hadn’t just happened to interview the hundred weirdest men on the planet! (Since I am an analyst and not a psychologist, and since my grad-school statistics professor might politely question the statistical skills of someone who needed a whole semester to learn regression analysis, I was quite relieved that professional statisticians confirmed my findings!)

••Results were backed up by statistically valid evidence. I hadn’t just happened to interview the hundred weirdest men on the planet!

In the end, the men I spoke with and surveyed appear to have been extremely transparent and honest about some very personal subjects. So, men—whoever you are—I thank you.



You’re probably rarin’ to turn the page, but before you get to look inside the inner lives of men, here are some ground rules:

• First, if you are looking for male-bashing or proof that your husband is indeed a cad, you won’t find it here. I honor the men who shared their hearts with me, and I hope that by sharing their insight, more women might come to understand and appreciate the wonderful differences between us.

•If you are looking for male-bashing or proof that your husband is indeed a cad, you won’t find it here.

• Second, this is not an equal treatment of male female differences, nor do I deal at all with how your man can or should relate to you. Yes, we women obviously also have needs, and many of the truths discussed in these pages apply to us too. But since the theme is the inner lives of men and my space is limited, I’m focusing entirely on how we relate to men, not the other way around. (That is also why the survey did not poll gay men.)

• Third, recognize that there are always exceptions to every rule. When I say that “most men” appear to think a certain way, realize that “most” means exactly that—most, not all. I’m making generalizations out of necessity, and inevitably there will be exceptions. One reason I did the professional survey was to determine what was an exception and what was normal.

• Fourth, I’m addressing what is normal inside men, not necessarily what is right in their outward behavior. And since these pages are not the place for a lengthy exploration of any one issue, you can always go to to explore more resources, including the entire survey.

• Fifth, I need to warn you that some of the enclosed insight may be distressing because it affects our view of the men in our lives and our view of ourselves. It was tempting to exclude certain things, but I realized that I was hearing things men often weren’t willing or able to say directly to their spouses or girlfriends. So it was critical to include these comments. But please realize that in most cases, these comments have little to do with us— they are just the way men are wired. And we should celebrate that fact. After all, it is because he is wired as a man that you love him.

•o The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved.

• Finally, and most important, I hope that this book is not just about learning fascinating new secrets. The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved. In other words, this revelation is supposed to change and improve us. So read on, ladies, and join me as we look into the inner lives of men.

Helen Hollick and how 'The Kingmaking' was written.

If you remember, a couple of days ago I posted a review of a wonderful historical novel, The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick. Today, I am giving you the guest post in which Helen answers a few questions as to how The Kingmaking was created. I hope you'll enjoy it.

1. Why King Arthur and not any other legendary character?

Until I became interested in Arthur I was a science fiction/fantasy fan – this was just before the time of Star Wars first time around! J

I hated history at school. I went to an ordinary all-girl’s school, and was not considered very bright or showing much potential. My school reports all read “Could do better if Helen was to show more interest.” Well, being honest, if the teachers had made their lessons more interesting then maybe the spark would have been lit for me much earlier on! The only lesson I looked forward to was English. Mrs Llewellyn brought passion into the subject, gave us really exciting books to read, and encouraged my writing. She spent an hour one afternoon after school showing me how I could have made one of my essays so much better. Unfortunately the History Mistress was the opposite. Her idea of teaching was to drone from a very boring history book.

I went to work as an assistant in a local library (I live in a North London UK suburb). There, I re-discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful novels set in Roman Britain – Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, Mark of the Horse Lord etc, and then Mary Stewart’s Hollow Hills Trilogy. And thus I discovered Arthur.

Until then I had disliked the Arthurian stories. I could never accept that the King Arthur of the Medieval tales was such a useless fool! He went to all that trouble to become King, found himself a lovely wife and then cleared off for years to search for the Holy Grail, abandoning everything else. And the dumbest guy could have foreseen the Lancelot/Guinevere scenario! I also detested Lancelot and all those goody-goody knights.

Years later, when I came to write my novel Harold the King (the story of the Battle of Hastings from the English point of view) I discovered the reason why I was so against these stories: they were Norman, based on the Norman way of life, and echoing the Norman call to arms for the Crusades. I am very pro-English and very anti-Norman. I am certain my ancestors were there at Hastings, fighting with Harold II against Duke William of Normandy.

Mary Stewart’s novels had an author’s note in which she said she felt Arthur, if he ever existed, would more than likely have been a post-Roman war lord. I liked that idea and started reading as much about the ‘real’ Arthur as I could.

I was hooked.

2. Did you use any of the Old English classics as an inspiration to write The Kingmaking?

I used the old Welsh classics! In particular the Mabinogian. I also used the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the early Saxon legends of Hengest, Horsa and Cerdic. I mostly read non-fiction work by the then eminent historian Geoffrey Ashe, who put forward some very convincing ideas about Arthur as a post-Roman.

3. You took upon yourself the task of writing about Britain's Dark Ages. Was it difficult to do research, considering that this particular time in history is shrouded in mystery, more legend than fact?
No, in fact it was easier because I had scope to write what I wanted and not be restricted by ‘facts’ getting in the way of my imaginative creativity.

I wanted to break away from the familiar Norman Medieval tales of Arthur – the Knights of the Round Table, the Quest for the Holy Grail, Lancelot, etc., and get back to the early British/Welsh stories about him. I soon discovered that this Arthur of the 4th / 5th Century was a very different man. A man who fought hard to gain power and fought even harder to keep it. This Arthur was not the all-round Christian King putting God before all else; in fact he was probably pagan, or at least teetering on the edge of Christianity. He was very much a war lord, a man of ambition who fought 12 battles in various places around Britain from Cornwall to Scotland. He was respected and loved; there was nothing of him being cuckolded by one of his men, and the early stories tell of him having three sons. None of these tales imply he was betrayed by any of his sons. The reference is “the battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell”. Medraut is Mordred – and they could just as easily have been fighting on the same side! Some of the much loved heroes are there in the early tales – Bedwyr (Bedevere), Cei (Kay) etc. But no Merlin – he was a Norman invention – and no Lady of the Lake. Morgause/Morgaine is there though, and Gwenhwyfar – Guinevere.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking the early legends and weaving them into a coherent and plausibly believable story. It was a challenge that resulted in my first three adult novels and the character of Arthur becoming a very real person to me.

4. While creating Gwenhwyfar, did you think of Boudica as another very strong, passionate and independent woman?
Oh yes, Boudica is one of my heroines! Legend says she died not far from where I live – very possible as I live North East of London on the Essex border, which is very close to her Iceni territory.
I have often been asked if I would write about Boudica, but I think there are several authors far more talented than myself, who have written her story so beautifully that I would not have the courage to try and do better. One version I adore is Rosemary Sutcliff’s Song for a Dark Queen. It was written for teenagers, but how could I possibly improve upon such wonderful writing?
There are many forgotten women in early British history, most of them ignored because history was written down by the monks – men! Æthelflæd, eldest daughter of King Alfred, for instance. She became the Lady of Mercia, built fortresses, led her army against the Vikings – and would have been remembered were it not for her jealous brother, Edward, who stole her kingdom after her death. And Queen Emma, who was wife to two Kings – Æthelred (the Unready) and Cnut (Canute) and mother to two Kings, the second of which was Edward the Confessor. Emma was a remarkable woman who chose to keep her crown and position as Queen when her first husband died during the Danish raids of the early 11th century. She ruled as regent for Cnut, and was possibly the first woman outside of any religious house to have her biography written. I wrote her story in my novel, A Hollow Crown.
As for Gwenhwyfar (the Welsh spelling for Guinevere) – when I began writing my first tentative ideas for a novel about Arthur I attempted Gwenhwyfar’s story. This came about because I had read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, The Mists of Avalon. Although an intriguing novel I took instant dislike to her Guinevere. At one point I threw the book across the room, shouting, “Oh pull yourself together woman – you are Arthur’s Queen!” That was it for me. No other novel could satisfy what I felt the story of Gwenhwyfar and Arthur should be - so I decided to get on with it and write my own. I saw them as two very passionate people – in thought, deed and romance. Arthur was a war lord, a bit of a rogue (and occasionally a right ba*tard)—a man who knew what he wanted and set out to get it. A real king. The woman he adored he had loved since childhood – Gwenhwyfar, the daughter of a Welsh Prince, Cunedda of Gwynedd. As with any people who have their own ambitions and possess a volatile temper however, their life together was to vary from intense love to deep hatred. My Arthur was not going to be a mild-mannered Christian King cuckolded by some chap in a tin-suit. My Arthur was fierce and dangerous – and very much the hero. My Gwenhwyfar was feisty, she knew her own mind, had a sword and knew how to use it.
I soon discovered, however, that Arthur was too strong a character to take a back seat. My first attempts at writing all went in the bin. It was only later when I altered course and decided to have Arthur as my lead character that the novel began to work. I also made the decision to have no myth, magic or fantasy whatsoever in my story. There is no Merlin, no questing beasts or holy grails. No Lancelot, stone-built, turreted castles or knights in armour going on various magical quests.
Instead, you get battles, conflict, love and passion. You also witness the end of Roman Britain and the coming of the Saxons, along with the confusion that resulted from that intense shift in power. I also had a great time learning about and incorporating the early Welsh legends into the narrative – of Arthur stealing cattle from a monastery, of Gwenhwyfar throwing her comb at him after a bitter quarrel. The Kingmaking is the first of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy – it is the story of King Arthur as it might have really happened.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

'Gauntlet' by Richard Aaron

For the past few years the writing market has been flooded with counter-terrorism thrillers. There is a multitude of authors who either want to get in on the writing scene with what’s almost a guarantee for reaping financial rewards, or who are already established writers but switch to this popular genre nonetheless. Among this cornucopia of “doom & destruction” books, there are a few gems worth paying more attention to. One of them is Gauntlet by Richard Aaron.

The plot seems familiar enough: another jihadist is plotting an attack on the U.S. and this time the threat is going to be bigger and better planned than anything that’s happened so far. During the operation of destroying 660 tons of Semtex in the Sahara desert, 4500 kilos of this highly capable explosive gets stolen. A few days later the world gets a first message out of the total of six transmitted via Al Jazeera network, promising a destruction of “the Great Satan”. And so the race against time and hell-bent terrorists begins. On the American side, we have a newly established TTIC agency, with top intelligence specialists and one very unique autistic young man, who also happens to be a mathematical genius; there is a CIA agent, Richard Lawrence, who is a broken man but also the only person best qualified to work undercover on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan and two Canadian law enforcement officials fighting drug trafficking. On the Middle East, there is Yousseff, a very powerful drug lord with his loyal but cruel and murderous friends scattered around the globe and “Emir”, the main guy behind the plot, who hates America and is bent on destroying it.

The beginning of Gauntlet is a little difficult to get through. There seems to be too many technical and medical descriptions that for an average reader might seem unnecessary and could be skipped. Fortunately, there is also enough action going on from the first pages. So much so that I wanted to keep reading in anticipation of what was coming next. And I definitely was not disappointed. The ending is truly shocking, even for a seasoned thriller reader like myself. The plot is not monotonous, the thinking and acting is quick and I could just sense the energy and anxiety coming off the pages.

The best part of the book, which is also what distinguishes Gauntlet from other fiction centered on fighting with terrorism, is a personal insight in to the minds and lives of both the heroes and the villains. Aaron skillfully weaves in Yousseff’s childhood, teenage years and his rise to power and wealth. Surprisingly enough, I found myself extremely interested and drawn into the mind of this anti-hero who’s a working force behind the attack. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have “the good guys”, who in many instances are not perfect at all. They are not being glorified, in fact their actions and their thinking gets to be quite frustrating. I found myself thinking: “Are kidding me?!”, “It’s right in front of you, you dummy!” or “Why can’t they just do something?!”. The book certainly got me emotionally involved.

Mr. Aaron’s approach to his characters is quite unique. Not one person is portrayed as “pure evil” or “pure gold”. The fact that the CIA agent is addicted to opiates, the top-notch counter-terrorism experts make questionable decisions or that the top scientists with their intelligence, knowledge and resources still scramble for answers to the last minute makes the book more approachable, the characters more endearing and realistic. By the time I finished reading the book, I knew that I would be getting the next installment since I want to know how they all will fare, both the terrorists and the superheroes.
Special Thanks to Lisa R. from Online Publicist
Carrie W. from Glass House Press
for providing me with the copy of this book.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bookshelf Meme

Julie from Joyful Days tagged me with this really nice meme. I liked the questions and for a minute there I felt quite important, even if only to myself. Oh, well. It was a lot of fun.

Tell me about the book that’s been on your shelves the longest...That would have to be The Famished Road by Ben Okri. It is the only book I brought with me to the United States from Poland seven years ago. I left tons of books back in my home in Poland but in this country The Famished Road holds an honorary place of the first one in my new home’s library.

Tell me about a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (i.e. a person, a place, a time, etc.)...The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by M. Joseph Bedier. I got it from my mom as a Christmas gift when I was I think 10. It is special because to this day it is the only book I have gotten as a gift. It is also special because before I had gotten it, I always thought my spending abnormal amount of time reading was looked down on and not really approved of by my family members. You can imagine my surprise when I got it, it seemed like a truce between my mom and me, a sign that after all it’s okay to read as much as I did.

Tell me about a book you acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity, in a used bookstore, prize, etc.)...When I worked in Borders, I noticed an unusual amount of people asking for or praising the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins. I got very excited about it and rushed to the shelves where they would be intent on buying it. My disappointment reached a new level when I realized there were 13 books there. I am a little obsessive about series, I have to have the whole set in order otherwise, I will not even start reading it. Well you can imagine that on a Borders employee budget I could not afford to buy the whole series. I truly felt “left behind” for another three years until one summer I was driving by a library that I did not visit very often and I saw that they had an annual sale going on. I went in with only $5 in my pocket and lo and behold, I left with the first ten books of the Left Behind series (now that I have them, I am no longer in a rush to read them but I am looking forward to the experience).

Tell me about the most recent addition to your shelves...The latest addition, not very recent really but it still counts, is George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. I am ashamed to say that I have not read any of her work and I am glad that I am finally giving myself a chance to experience Ms. Eliot’s writing.

Tell me about a book that has been with you the most places...I do not have such a book. If I travel I take with me books that are new to me to make it a new experience in all aspects of travelling.

Tell me about a bonus book that doesn’t fit any of the above questions...Les Miserables by Hugo is a book that I have read three times and it is a cause of my uncontrollable fits of crying every time I read it. I have already five people on my list: my parents, my daughter and my sister, who were direct witnesses to the crying or the effects of it (you know, swollen eyes, dark circles under my eyes from losing sleep while crying and all that jazz) and were absolutely terrified about my mental state. I have read it in two translations: Polish and English, both equally wonderful and I only wish I spoke French to read the original. Who knows, maybe one day I will.

'The Kingmaking' by Helen Hollick

I count historical novels among my most beloved genres. Rarely do I get disappointed with authors taking on the task of writing historical fiction. And The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick didn’t disappoint me either. As a matter of fact it greatly exceeded my expectations.

The Kingmaking is a story about one of the most mysterious, legendary characters, King Arthur. It tells the story of Arthur’s childhood, adolescence and his rise to the position of the king. It also tells the story of love between him and Gwenhwyfar, a beautiful and strong-minded woman. It all starts in 450 AD. It’s a period of British history of which not much is known and a lot is shrouded in legend and mystery. But Helen Hollick did a superb job giving us Britain with its villainous leaders trying to usurp power for themselves, with its customs, its brutality, the dawn of Christianity and fading of old gods. Simply put, she brings the Dark Ages to life.

Probably, the boldest move Ms. Hollick made was in giving us Arthur Pendragon as he was before he became King Arthur. His childhood was horrible. He was believed to be a bastard of suspected but uncertain heritage. He was hated by Morgause, a lover of one person that truly loved Arthur, Uthr Pendragon. Because of this one woman’s hatred and abuse, Pendragon grew up to hold all women in disregard, to use them for his pleasure and nothing more. What you’ll read, will be far different from the chivalrous King Arthur of the legends. It is a breath of fresh air, however, because we finally have a chance to take what used to be a subject for fantasy tales, with Merlin heading the company, as a very real and very rich part of the British history.

Another character, just as important as Arthur, is Gwenhwyfar. She is a wonderful woman. I couldn’t help but keep comparing her to Boudica. Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s one and only love, might be insolent at times, however, one can’t help but side with her. She is strong, stands her own and is very independent, in deed and mind. That is no small feat considering she lives in 2nd century Britain, when women were generally no more than servants and bedmaids to their husbands.
Ms. Hollick fully displays her talent with this first part of The Pendragon’s Banner trilogy. There is enough action and nail-biting moments in there to sit up late at night reading. With her imagination, knowledge and apparent passion, the author pulls the reader into the whirl of life, warring, revenge, loyalty and love.

Special Thanks to Paul S. from Sourcebooks for providing me with a copy of this book.

Visit the authors MySpace page dedicated to the Pendragon's Banner trilogy here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

'Reading Lolita In Tehran' by Azar Nafisi

How much do most people in the Western world know about the difficult lives of people in Iran? Personally, I think not that much. Our knowledge is based on preconceived notions and news reports flooding our brains on a daily basis. Being separated by thousands of miles and an abyss between our culture and theirs, it is quite difficult to truly grasp the trials and tribulations of ordinary men, women and children living in Iran. In my opinion, the most credible source of information regarding any experience is a personal account. That’s why Reading Lolita In Tehran is such an important book.

Azar Nafisi returned to her beloved country of Iran after spending several years, including attending college, in the United States. When she left Tehran, it was a modern, democratic city with happy, intelligent people, with women sharing equal rights with men and all enjoying their country and their freedom of religion. Years later she came back to Iran she didn’t recognize but still had no idea what would really become of it. Reading Lolita In Tehran is Nafisi’s memoir, depicting the seventeen years of living under the fundamentalist regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She is a brave and very bold university teacher, who first gets expelled from University of Tehran and then resigns from another university before they get a chance to expel her. Instead, she creates a regular meeting at her own house where seven former female students of her meet weekly to discuss one of the greatest writers in the literary world. In between the accounts of every meeting, Azar describes Iran’s quick descent into tyranny, where women are refused any rights, jailed and put to death of the smallest offenses and all the intelligentsia, every academic that refuses to submit to censorship and regime is quieted or eradicated.

Reading Lolita In Tehran is not an easy read. Nor should it be such. You cannot write down in any easy terms memories and experiences that defined these women and became their everyday terrors. However, it is a beautiful book and well worth the time you’ll spend reading it. It is written in a way that’ll become personal to every person that reads it. For me, Azar Nafisi gave me the greatest gift a writer can give to a reader: a new appreciation for literature, which sadly and quite unconsciously I have started to take for granted. Austen, Nabokov, James, Gatsby, they become lifelines to these brave women. The books let them live through one thing the regime couldn’t take away, their imagination, the window into another world that could have been their world too.

Probably, the saddest part was the heartrending disillusionment with the country Ms. Nafisi once loved and the young girls desperately wanted to love. As the author mentions herself, the women of her generation and older at least had the past and the memories to cherish, while the generation of her students and their children was denied even that.

Lastly but maybe the most importantly, Reading Lolita In Tehran brings to life the saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Both sides know it. The government is painfully aware of that, therefore the bookstores are closed down, the books are burned, the academia is being forced into discussing only the works that further the Islamist cause and those who don’t comply lose their careers or even lives. The young women, students of Ms. Nafisi, know the power of a written word too. It saves their lives, gives them hope and keeps them floating on the surface, not drowning just yet.

Favorite quote:

"If I turned towards books, it was because they were the only sanctuary I knew, one I needed in order to survive, to protect some aspect of myself that was now in constant retreat."

Book Giveaway Carnival March 2-8

Oh, oh, oh, I am so excited about this one. Tracy from Bookworm Reviews is hosting the carnival. I love the idea and can't wait to give a few great books away. I didn't join last year but this year it'll be a blast. Sign up here, so we all can have fun!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A New Writer On The Block.

Even though I am not a writer myself, nor have I ever aspired to be one, I am aware of the struggles that new writers have to fight to get published, get recognition and support in the literary world. Therefore, I am always all for supporting the ones that offer good piece of writing and are genuinely skilled at what they do. One of those writers is Chris Tusa. His first novel Dirty Little Angels will be out in the stores in March but I read the first chapter and I think that it's definitely a good book. Below I am posting the official press release from Chris's publisher. Above anything else, I am asking you to give a warm welcome to Chris and give a few minutes of your time to read the first chapter of his book here and decide for yourself whether you like it or not.

"A new novel by Chris Tusa (New Orleans-born writer and Instructor of English at Louisiana State University), is set to be released from the University of West Alabama Press March 1st.

Set in the slums of New Orleans, among clusters of crack houses and abandoned buildings, Dirty Little Angels is the story of sixteen year old Hailey Trosclair. When the Trosclair family suffers a string of financial hardships and a miscarriage, Hailey finds herself looking to God to save her family. When her prayers go unanswered, Hailey puts her faith in Moses Watkins, a failed preacher and ex-con. Fascinated by Moses's lopsided view of religion, Hailey, and her brother Cyrus, begin spending time down at an abandoned bank that Moses plans to convert into a drive-through church. Gradually, though, Moses's twisted religious beliefs become increasingly more violent, and Hailey and Cyrus soon find themselves trapped in a world of danger and fear from which there may be no escape.In Tusa’s work, the traditional backwoods Southern Gothicism of Faulkner and O’Connor intersects with a more modernized, more contemporary depiction of the South. In his fiction, Tusa investigates the ways in which the contemporary, celebrity-driven American culture has managed to infiltrate and alter the poverty-stricken South. The result is a landscape populated with make-shift Meth labs, dilapidated apartment complexes, drive-through churches, and strip malls—a place where people finance cheap cosmetic surgeries with high-interest, cash-advance loans, and where teenagers idolize rappers and movie stars.

'If I had a dollar for every sentence in Dirty Little Angels that blew my mind, I’d be able to buy a decent Chevy Nova outright. Christopher Tusa is a new and powerful voice in American fiction, and I truly believe that this raw and poetic first novel marks the beginning of a great and glorious career.'

-Donald Ray Pollock, author of

'Dirty Little Angels is a powerful novel - fast paced, riveting, and gritty. In this remarkable novel, Chris Tusa renders revelations about urban teens with startling honesty and deep compassion. Tusa is a gifted author and an amazing new talent. –Bev Marshall, author of Right as Rain and Walking through Shadows.

Chris Tusa was born and raised in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Connecticut Review, Texas Review, Prairie Schooner, The New Delta Review, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review, Passages North, Spoon River, New York Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, Tar River, StorySouth, and others. He has studied under a number of notable writers, including Tim Gautreaux, Sidney Wade, and Debora Gregor. With the help of a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, he was able to complete his first book of poetry, Haunted Bones, which was released by Louisiana Literature Press in 2006. Dirty Little Angels is his first novel. Tusa holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Florida. Aside from teaching in the English Department at LSU, he also acts as Managing Editor for Poetry Southeast."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

'Slip & Fall' by Nick Santora

I have never been really crazy about legal thrillers. The ones that I did read tended to be a little too boring for my taste and with so many suspense and thriller books on the market nowadays, I just concentrate on reading what I really enjoy. Because I already had Slip & Fall by Nick Santora on my bookshelf, I decided I would give this genre one more try. I am glad I did.

Slip & Fall tells a story of one guy, who’s a product of his environment. It tells a story of how the cost is not worth the value, and one mistake can ruin and erase everything good and proper done before. Robert Principe is a personal injury attorney, fresh out of Columbia Law School. He managed to make his family of blue-collar workers proud by attaining a graduate degree and getting away from the snares of break-neck life his father led. He seems to finally have it all: a beautiful wife, a private practice, a wonderful and committed office secretary, who also happens to be his supportive friend, and parents, who are extremely proud of him. Yet, it all starts to fall apart, as he gets into financial troubles because his legal practice does not bring in enough money to cover expenses. Robert has also a bad luck to have an Italian mob cousin, who’s out to make some profit off of Rob’s career. One wrong decision puts Robert on the path to destruction and to life, where striving for a reputation of a stand-up and honest attorney has no value.

I have to say that the book was surprisingly enjoyable. It is Nick Santora’s, who is a co-executive producer of Prison Break, first novel and proves his skill at writing a fast-ride thriller. The action is quick, the characters are very well portrayed, both the good and the ugly and the intricacies of legal system quite gripping. If I had the time for it, Slip & Fall would definitely be a one-night read. There’s a good balance between the dialogue and descriptive passages, so that a reader does not get a chance to feel bored but will rather want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

For me, the best part of any book I read is some kind of insight and deeper truth that the author leads me to discover. I look for it in any genre and I wasn’t disappointed with Santora’s book either. He is able to make us think about the familial bonds, ask the question of how devoted we should be to our own family, no matter how distant and what we are ready to give up for them. Most importantly, we get a chance to see the struggle between achieving success by all means necessary and choosing the moral, ethical way of living, even if it means it might get us homeless one day.

Favorite quote:

"I started thinking about the working man’s curse. The working man wants his son to never have to make a living the way he did, so he works long and hard for years. Eventually, proudly, he sends his boy out into the world to make his fortune, a fortune that is not dependent on a strong back and good knees. What the working man doesn’t know is that he is pushing his child into an unknown world - a world where his son doesn’t know the rules. The other sons in that world, the fifth-generation white-collar kids, the kids whose grandparents captained the Mayflower instead of stowing away in the boiler room, those kids knew the rules. They knew how the game was played in the world of suits and cigars, of polished shoes and sit-down lunches."

CHALLENGES: 2009 Suspense & Thriller Challenge, 100+ Reading Challenge, 2009 Ban On Sending Challenge