The Reverent Atheist – Book Review

MUCH MORE THAN DOGMA – by Sheri J. Kennedy, aka Kennedy J. Quinn

The Reverent Athiest coverIn this scholarly and thoughtfully presented look at religion, David S. Moore considers much more than dogma. A portion of the book is centered on the root of various beliefs and examines texts they are based on or observations which have given rise to systems of theory or supposed Truths. This reader can appreciate such study; my own was intensive in Philosophy of Religion and other philosophical and religious studies. Mr. Moore’s overview shows many of the points clearly, and will be especially enlightening to those newly introduced to such critique of religious texts.

What specifically interested this reader was the relationship discussed between religion and the need within humanity, both at a societal level and an individual level, for comfort, guidance and order. I had never contemplated how an atheist would view their inner motivations and moral compass. Unlike the antagonistic view of atheists the author refers to, I have always viewed atheism without animosity. But since I was only atheist in a brief existential crisis, I didn’t square what my belief system and inner life would center on instead of belief in God or whether I would find it fulfilling spiritually. The discussion is intriguing.

There was one point that wasn’t set to rest in the essay for this reader. I didn’t understand the phrase on the cover of the book, ‘Belief in God does not require belief in the existence of God.’  I think I am following Mr. Moore’s idea that guidance and fulfillment spiritually doesn’t have to be based on an existent God, but I don’t understand why God is postulated as real for the purposes of these motivations and comforts. God is real but does not exist, is what I took away from the book. He states at one point that God cannot exist within physical reality logically, but he allows that he may be real outside our universe and be fully transcendent. Being transcendent, he cannot influence us directly or he would exist in our reality, he asserts. I didn’t follow this particular conclusion. I could allow that influence could exist in our universe without physical existence. A great example of how this essay gets one thinking, but overall I don’t see where the semantics of existence verses reality or transcendence changes the conclusion of how to live.

 My understanding is that Mr. Moore is asserting the reality of the principles and spirituality often associated with ‘God’ as a compass around which to build a life of devotion, service to community and so forth. Whether or not there is an actual God—which he states there is no convincing grounds for within our universe—seems immaterial to this devotion, in my opinion. If I am understanding correctly, then the question I’m left with is, why use the word God at all? One could allow for a transcendent creator, or power that is no longer with us, or believe in none of that and maintain the same awe of what we witness in this world. Again it’s intriguing, and it shows the quality of Mr. Moore’s presentation that it elicits thoughtful response.

This is a stirring and passionately written essay. There are points of view rarely touched upon, and in topics of religion and philosophy that’s refreshing indeed. I found, A Hymn of Reverence, at the end of THE REVERENT ATHEIST very moving. It’s a fitting conclusion to underline humanity’s need for spiritual significance, the center of this excellent look into the expression of an Atheist’s soul.

You can purchase THE REVERENT ATHEIST 

Find out more about FVP Featured Author, David S. Moore

The Kansas Connection – Book Review

THE KANSAS CONNECTION by Kathleen GabrielReview by Sheri J. Kennedy, aka Kennedy J. Quinn

product_thumbnailI could listen to this author’s voice all day long. Much of the enjoyment of this book is the way the story’s told and yet the words never get in the way of being there. I was in the lives of Cori and Ken laughing with them, feeling the awkward moments and the sensibilities of living and relating of doubting and of having fun.

The story was simple and seemed effortless and yet I was drawn in and stayed up way too late to keep reading on more than one occasion. I’m not a romance reader, but this story goes beyond romance to the humanity of us all. I love that the characters are older, well-developed individuals with hang-ups and believable optimism. It was a delightfully entertaining read and reached the heart of life for me.

The publication style is basic, but don’t let that hold you back from escaping into this well-written story.

Learn more about or purchase THE KANSAS CONNECTION

Learn more about Featured Author, Kathleen Gabriel

The Monuments Men – Book Review

Book review, from an author’s perspective – by David S. Moore

Monuments Men coverThe Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

    I recently read the book “The Monuments Men” by Robert Edsel.  It’s about the people who, during World War II, found and rescued thousands of pieces of art that had been appropriated by the Nazis.  Prior to the invasion of Belgium, Hitler dispatched art historians and other experts to the great museums of western Europe.  These scholars were to identify the highest valued artworks and to record their exact locations.  Hitler’s objective was to gather art from public and private collections throughout Europe and to sequester them until the end of the war.  Then, once the Third Reich had been firmly established, the art would be retrieved from its treasuries and would be displayed in a dazzling new museum to be built in Hitler’s hometown of Linz.

    Mr. Edsel does a fine job of developing the backstory of each of the leaders of the Allied art rescuers.  And early on the reader has the sense that the book is really about a treasure hunt.  But the story lags in the first half of the book since in fact the men who were charged with finding and retrieving the stolen art were operating in a leadership vacuum.  As Mr. Edsel competently explains, the Monuments Men arrived in France on D-Day and quickly found that they had no equipment, no transportation, and no chain of command.  The only advantage they had was General Eisenhower’s mandate that any recovered pieces of art should be protected and returned to their rightful owners.  That they were able to capitalize on that to prevent the destruction or theft of the many thousands of artworks they found is a testament to their perseverance and ingenuity.

    The clues were assembled slowly as the Allied forces battered their way through German defenses.  But the discoveries the Monuments Men made were truly astounding.  The Nazis were nothing if not efficient at absconding with artworks of every sort.

Aside from the fact that the story drags in the first half, this is an important book.  The Nazis, of course, were hellbent on annihilating Jews, Gypsies, and other undesirables in all of modern Europe.  And in their frenzy to pursue Hitler’s mad dream of an empire that would endure for a millenium they terrorized the entire population of Western Europe.  Should the Allies spend valuable time and resources trying to recover and protect art when the future of civilization was at stake?  Mr. Edsel provides a very compelling answer that yes, preserving art is an essential mission, even in the face of unimaginable evil.

Yes, the treasure hunt is interesting, the recovery operation was complex and challenging, and the details of their finds are astounding.  But the real story is the mission itself.  Saving the art that had been stolen from private citizens and public museums was an essential step in restoring the civilization of Europe.  It was just one part of an immensely challenging operation – but as Mr. Edsel demonstrates it was critical to the preservation of the European culture that Hitler had sought to destroy.

Find out more or purchase this book HERE

You can review a book for FreeValley Publishing’s site. Send your submission to: freevalleypublishing@gmail.com. Let us know what you’ve been reading and/or writing.

A TURN OF LIGHT (NIGHT’S EDGE) by Julie E. Czerneda – Book Review

A Turn of Light ImageBOOK REVIEW by Sheri J. Kennedy

So often magic seems added to a fantasy world. The characters practice it, but it’s not necessary to who they are or to their world. Czerneda’s Jenn Nallyn and Marrowdell ARE magic. I felt enchanted by the charming and bright village that first appeared and enthralled by the dark feeling magic that peeked through in every crack, shadow and hollow.

This is a long book, but the pace was good and development justified the page count. The complexity of plot and well-conceived magical realm was revealed in tantalizing doses that built to wonder at the masterful imagination of this author and the new reality she’s added to our fantasy worlds.

I was fascinated by the unique twisting of light and dark worlds in this story. Marrowdell is quaint and dear. Its relationships are close and almost unbelievably perfect. But as Jenn grows from innocence to understanding the reader also grows in understanding of the darker side of her reality and the secrets of Marrowdell and the Verge. Czerneda grounds to a dark reality without burying the beauty of a romantic tale. Ultimately the light shines with truth and the timeless intensity of a star.

Find out more or purchase A Turn of Light  

You can review a book for FreeValley Publishing’s site. Send your submission to: freevalleypublishing@gmail.com. Let us know what you’ve been reading and/or writing.

Book Review – MAO: THE UNKNOWN STORY by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

Book Review, from an author’s perspective  by David S. Moore, Featured Author

Book cover    I finished reading Jung Chang’s biography of Mao over the holidays.  It is a tremendous book that is based on a mountain of basic research, much of it involving interviews with several of the key players in Mao’s bloody regime.  This book was extremely impactful to me.  I had such terrible dreams while I was making my way through its 600 pages that I found it hard to sleep at night.

    The book is well written and the story is engagingly told.  I kept telling myself that I would stop reading after the next chapter, but I found that I really couldn’t put it aside – the story was just too compelling, too monstrous, too important to understanding the present state of our world.

    It’s a book that changed my view of the Communist revolution.  When I was in college I was taught that the Long March was a resounding success.  Wherever they went, I was taught, the Communists empowered the peasants by giving them land and employment and food.  And when they moved on to the next leg of their traverse of China’s perimeter they left behind political structures and policies that were popular, progressive, and stable.

    But Ms. Jung’s book shows that this narrative is a Communist Party fostered lie.  As she relates, the Communists were hated wherever they went.  They pillaged, they tortured and tormented the local citizens, and they extracted every last ounce of food and supplies they could wrench from the countryside.

    Mao was at best a half-hearted believer in Communism as a political philosophy – but he was in the right place at the right time to earn the support of Moscow.  The Soviets were looking for someone to lead a Communist revolution in China, and Mao was looking for the opportunity to gain power.  As the book reveals Mao set quotas for the number of people who should die during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.  Mao definitely saw himself as the student of Stalin.  In most every respect he followed his mentor’s methods and practices.  Why should one not expect a few deaths in the pursuit of the perfect society, Mao asked.  After all people die every day.  Why should it be so shocking that people have to die for the good of all?

    The book made me wonder how it is possible to write fiction that can adequately capture the terror of Mao’s nightmare world.  Ms. Jung provides solid evidence that the Great Leap Forward resulted in 38 million deaths throughout China.  And there were an additional 30 million deaths in the Cultural Revolution.  Most of the Party leaders were sadists.  They enjoyed dreaming up grisly methods of torture and humiliation – but it was Party policy to whip up the people into a frenzy of vicious hostility.  Party members certainly reveled in killing, but they turned the entire populace into an instrument of torment and terror.

    The real essence of Mao’s terror campaign was the forced confession.  The Party defined “true” Communism in terms so vague that they could accuse virtually anyone of being a counter revolutionary.  Some of the Party’s longest serving leaders were purged in the later days of Mao’s rule when he sought revenge for a slight by Lin Biao.  Those who were accused of being counter revolutionary were required to confess their crimes – publicly, of course.  The point was to achieve maximum humiliation.

    Liu Shao-chi, the Communist Party President, traveled to his home town to see what Communism had done for peasant life.  He was revolted to learn that people there were in fact starving.  There was so little food in rural towns throughout China that in springtime the trees were stripped bare – tree leaves were about the only food they had.  At the Conference of 7,000 in January of 1962 Liu Shao-chi gave a speech in which he called for putting an end to the policy of shipping most of China’s food to foreign countries.  By so doing he probably saved 10 million Chinese lives – but Mao eventually got his revenge.  In 1967 Mao had Mr. Liu and his wife arrested.  In short order Liu was dispatched.

    Writers of fiction have a responsibility to tell stories that cause us to reflect on the human condition.  One can hope that the brutalities of Stalinism – whether realized in Russia or China or Cambodia – are now behind us.  The world’s population is more aware than ever before.  The Internet has brought information to more of the world’s people than ever before.  It is less possible to conceal the truth today than it was in Mao’s China.  And yet – North Korea is still writhing in a Stalinist night.  The Taliban still finds it necessary to kill young girls to prevent them from going to school.  The Chinese government still blocks many Internet web sites, like Facebook and Twitter, in hopes of preventing an avalanche of truth from crashing through their wall of introversion.  And al-Queda is still fighting to unite the Arab states in an Arab Caliphate that would impose Sharia on all peoples from Saudi Arabia to the borders of China.

Fiction has to embrace barbarity.  It has an obligation to portray inhumanity with visceral realism.  Certainly it is possible to portray evil in the guise of a monstrous figure with horns and cloven hooves and sallow eyes.  But more terrifying is the evil that festers behind the smiles and ingratiations of people who seem… normal.  People with families and mortgages, people who have birthday parties and season tickets.  And people who desire nothing less than to compel you to disavow everything that you have ever believed, to give up everything you own, to betray your colleagues, your friends, your relatives, and to do that which you have always known is the greatest of evils. Mao was able to turn the most docile of his citizens into the raving marauders of his terror campaign.  That is the real shame of the Cultural Revolution – it achieved the debasement of an entire population.

Authors would do well to read Ms. Jung’s book.  It’s a great study in the characters of Mao and of the Chinese people.  The Mao of Ms. Jung’s narrative is depraved, belligerent, power hungry, and a master manipulator.  Authors of fiction would do well to develop characters that exhibit the full range of beliefs, behaviors, and barbarities of real monsters such as Mao.  Anything less would be a lie.