Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Review: Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride ***1/2

Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride by Helen Halstead ***1/2

To me, one of the true tests of a great novel is the involvement of the reader in the lives of the characters, to the extent of not wanting to give them up. How many of us have wondered what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and their friends and family after the end of Pride & Prejudice! Helen Halstead attempts to provide an answer, and in large part she succeeds.

The Darcys set off to London for the new bride's formal introduction to society, and she captivates many, although Lady Catherine de Bourgh's disapproval still holds sway in some quarters. There is triumph and tragedy, misunderstanding and reconciliation, and of course several characters, including Darcy's sister Georgiana, his cousins Anne de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam, Kitty Bennet, and even the odious Miss Bingley, find true love.

The main weakness in this book, I feel, is in the editing, or, I suspect, the lack thereof. I suspect that this is a self-published book, which is too bad, since effective editing would have stengthened it enormously. In places it is unfocused, situations such as Miss Bingley's engagement are not handled as well as they could be, and the overall plot could be tightened.

However, while not as polished as many of the P&P tie-ins and sequels, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride is a worthy entry which manages on the whole to stay true to the characters of most of the people we grew to know and love in the original novel. I give it an A for effort and a B- for execution.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Leahy Lays Out Case For Truth Commission In Time


Sen. Leahy, I'm sure you think you have a fine idea and your motives are the best, but one of Keith Olbermann's legal experts (Jonathan Turley, I think), pointed out that truth commissions and the like are used in EMERGING democracies - you know, places that don't have properly functioning judicial systems. There is no reason on God's green earth why this country can't investigate and prosecute these crimes as it would any others, and as we would expect any of our allies to do.

At least let's wait a little and find out how many whistleblowers come forth of their own voliition and what Mr. Holder finds in the pit of corruption and iniquity formerly known as the "Justice" Dept., where there are a lot of good people who have been hunkered down and biding their time until the nightmare was over.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cantor Susan Wehle

Cantor Susan was one of those lost in the tragic plane crash outside of Buffalo on Thursday night. Of course, each life lost was precious and my heart goes out to all of their loved ones, but Susan was the one whose life touched my own, as well as those of many others. Here are two news stories that examine the wonderful variety of those 50 souls, among them college students with their whole lives ahead of them, an expert on genocide, and, with the most tragic irony, a 9/11 widow.

Fifty Varied Lives, Ended on a Cold, Foggy Night
Passengers and Crew Aboard Flight 3407: Their Stories

My deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Susan. She had a beautiful voice, a joyous heart and a generous soul. She was one of the many who welcomed me when I joined Temple Sinai back in the 90s, and while I was sorry when she left us for Beth Am, I was also happy to see her continuing in her spiritual and professional journey. She taught me haftarah chanting and prayers for my adult bat mitzvah, but watching her on the bimah, giving her heart and soul to the prayers, was an education in itself, as well as a joy and a pleasure. Her life was a celebration of the Divine and of the possibilities inherent in all of us, and the entirety of her life is what should be remembered, more than the tragic manner of its ending.

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
it tolls for thee.
— John Donne

Monday, February 09, 2009

More books

Since I haven't really felt like doing any full-fledged reviews lately (lazy, lazy, I know), here are a few books that I'm reading or have just finished and some thoughts about them.

The Bone Garden and A Cursed Inheritance by Kate Ellis - intelligent, interesting mysteries with a historical twist, featuring a young black police inspector in Devon (England) named Wesley Peterson. Peterson studied archaeology in college, and in both of these books a murder that he is investigating intersects with an archaeological dig on which his friend Neil Watson is working, and the present day solution, at least in the first book, echoes the past events.

Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (I've always loved that name) - in a "perfect" society, ominous rumblings of things gone awry and corruption at the top. I read this when I was a kid and along with some others that I liked, managed to get another copy through paperbackswap.com (a great site, if a little top heavy with romances). Although the setting is pastoral rather than underground, this reminds me a lot (or really, the other way around since this was published first) of The City of Ember. I'd never realized that it was the first of a trilogy, so if I like it as well as I remember I'll have to try and get hold of the other two. I loved her books as a kid, especially The Egypt Game, The Changeling and The Headless Cupid.

Elleander Morning by Jerry Yulsman - a fascinating thought experiment. A copy of the Time-Life History of the Second World War makes it into a parallel universe in which there never was a Second World War, and a nuclear-armed Germany decides to use it as a playbook. This is another one that I read when it first came out in the 80s and picked up again through paperbackswap.com. The personal story of the woman who finds herself hurtled backward in time and uses the opportunity to kill a young Viennese artist named Adolf Hitler, and her granddaughter in the new world she's created, attempting to find out what happened, are in the foreground, but the premise is fascinating. I haven't finished it yet, so don't know if he manages to live up to the expectations he creates.

Autism's False Prophets by Paul A. Offit - I can't recommend this book highly enough - I may even get off my duff and actually review it. An excellent review of the hold vaccines-cause-autism "school of thought" including an examination of the social and cultural forces that allow this kind of bad science, as he terms it, to go mainstream and actually be accepted by large numbers of people. For now, I can't do better than to link to an excellent review over at the ScienceBlogs Book Club.