Who’da Thought? A Book Review of “A Curious Man”

Considering the age gap between Mr. Ripley and myself, I don’t know if you’d consider a surprise that until recently I wasn’t even sure he was real. Even after touring the Odditorium in Panama City Beach years ago, he remained something of a mythical figure in my mind—a caricature created to represent a collection of the strange and super strange.

A Curious Man, by Neal Thompson, set me straight. In this clever, engaging book, Thompson reveals the real Ripley, arguably as odd a man as any of his bizarre collections. I’ll venture to say that I’m not the only person who had a faulty perception of LeRoy Ripley, making this a fun, informative read for many Americans.

After a quick dip in the deep end, introducing Ripley in his element on one of his several international adventures, Thompson rewinds to the very beginning of Ripley’s life, a very unpretentious genesis.

Born in Santa Rosa, California, Ripley was a reserved child mostly due to embarrassment over his deformed smile—he had very obtrusive buck teeth. Perhaps it was this shyness that endeared him to a high school teacher who recognized Ripley’s artistic talent. After several miserable attempts at oral reports, this teacher, Ms. O’Meara, allowed him to present his papers as drawings. And perhaps it was this vote of confidence that inspired Ripley to submit his first comic to LIFE magazine in 1907.

Ripley’s career began there, as a newspaper comic and through a series of unfortunate events, punctuated by a handful of lucky breaks, Ripley found his niche—“an uneasy fascination with the ‘demented, delusioned, diseased and devout’ of the world,”.

Thompson does an excellent job of unraveling the real LeRoy Ripley. He frequently steps away from the close up of Ripley’s career to discuss his athletic talent, propensity for womanizing and often chauvinistic tendencies. He also provides an easy-to-understand chronology of journalism post WWI.

A Curious Man, is a fun read and informative almost by accident; the reader hardly notices the history lesson as he marvels at the main character. There is very little dialogue in the book, making for a fairly passive read, but that is easily overlooked as one is swept up in the confounding.

An Exquisite Melding of History, Imagination and Insight

Life is never linear and subplots are rarely graphed at convenient intervals. Our companions do not play merely supporting roles. No, there are layers and varying degrees of angles in our timelines. Often our loved ones take on the starring role in our stories.

That might have been Morris Sullivan’s perspective. A Life Apart, the excellent new novel by L.Y. Marlow, begins as his story—a young soldier aboard the USS Oklahoma, safely nestled in Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, and ends in a tangle of characters and circumstances with no true north.

In 1941, Morris’s life was moderately complicated. His marriage to Agnes, his high school girlfriend, was insecure. Confused about his lagging love and devotion to her and their baby daughter, Emma, Morris was content to focus exclusively on his work. There he felt safe, affirmed and life was predictable.

Then, all hell broke lose on December 7, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That event was the catalyst for change in Morris’s personal life too. It’s always the same with life-changing disasters. Nothing returns to “normal”.

In, A Life Apart, the reader empathizes with Morris as the rudder of his life is wrenched from his hands and course is set toward the unimaginable. Here enter the other characters who complicate, and in some ways consume the rest of Morris’s life.

Few authors can weave five strong personalities together so well that, by the end of the book, it’s difficult to decipher who was the central protagonist. Even fewer can harness those characters, explore, follow and endear them to the reader over the course of 45 years.
L.Y. Marlow has done just that and done it superbly.

Marlow leads the reader right past several foreseeable endings. Brazenly, she layers racial conflict upon infidelity, war upon self-sacrifice and redemption, cancer upon recovery, mental illness upon academic success, deception upon brutal honesty and finally, Marlow weaves an ending of peaceful conclusion, if not “happily ever after”. As I closed the book, I felt a gentle sigh of resignation and acceptance escape my lips.

I would read this book again 100 times over, and I’ve already book marked Marlow’s other works on my Kindle. If you like excellent writing, imaginative, historical fiction and prose that inspire and inform a life-well-lived, you must read A Life Apart.

Book Review of “Inside/Out” by Jenny Hayworth

PP Cover.4483770.inddWe’ve all gone through something. We all can recall at least one unfair hand that life has dealt. We know of hurdles mastered, mountains climbed, uphill battles and broken wings. And from a certain vantage point, it’s true—we are all survivors of life. But sooner or later perspective arrives always followed by its fair companion, humility.

Most recently, perspective arrived for me in the form of a new book by Jenny Hayworth, Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery from Abuse and a Religious Cult. This gripping story was so poignant simply because it revealed a battle field I have never faced. It shed light on shadowy places I never knew existed; or if I had heard of them, they remained dimly mysterious. Her book put my own painful experiences in perspective.

Inside/Out is unique, gutsy and raw. After growing up intrenched in the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jenny bravely details her emancipation, the causes that led to it and the painful aftermath. My eyes stung with tears as I read of her sexual abuse, physical and emotional abandonment, clinical depression, suicidal thoughts and loneliness. Jenny shares without reservation about her own shortcomings, stating courageously that her only motive is to spare others her same pain.

The audience for this book, those who will find themselves in the pages, is vast. Some portion of Jenny’s story will undoubtedly resonate with everyone. And everyone who reads it, will find a second wind beneath their own wings, a new light on their own troubles. Jenny’s bravery, hope, determination and survival will be the encouragement many need to go forward one more day, to reach for the light at the end of the tunnel.

A New, My Favorite Review. Thank you, Megan Cyrulewski

I have never, ever been so touched by such a kind, honest opinion of my story.

Megan Cyrulewski’s words affirm the desire of my heart as I wrote my book. Please, please, go read the whole thing. Also, Megan’s own story will be out very soon. When it is, I will lay aside everything I’m reading to devour her book, Who Am I.

How can I say how much I love this book? It doesn’t seem right because in between the covers are words that were written by a woman about her struggle with Anorexia. This is the type of book that when I finished reading it, I put it down and just stared out the window. I needed to take the time to process the pain and agony, and finally, contentment in Abby’s life.



An Interview With Megan Cyrulewski

Happy Friday, Friends! I have a special treat for you today, an Meganinterview with the indomitable Megan Cyrulewski. I say indomitable and mean it in every sense of the word. She recently posted the first chapter of her book, Who Am I, on her blog. When you read it,  you’ll get it 🙂

I confess, I’ve conned Megan into sharing an advanced copy of her book with me when they’re available, so I’ll review that for you here, too. After slowly reading the delicious first chapter, I’m pining to know the rest of the story.

But for now, without further adieu,

What is your name? And while we’re on the subject, do you have any nicknames and where did they come from?
Megan Cyrulewski.  Friends call me Meg.  My dad calls me Meggie, which was my childhood nickname.  Only my dad can get away with calling me that!

In your book’s teaser, you mention your daughter. How old is she and what’s her name? How did you choose her name?
Madelyne Rose was born on 12/2/10 so she is a little bit more than 3-years-old.  Her name comes from two different places:  Madelyne from the book (and mini-series) North and South and Rose was my grandmother’s name.  She passed away in 2006.

Your other “baby” must be this new book we can’t wait to read. What is the title and how did you come up with it?
My new book is a memoir called, Who Am I?  I came up with the title because in the middle of this traumatic period in my life, one day my dad called me Meggie.  I remember thinking to myself, I’m not Meggie anymore.  Who am I?  

I know your book is your memoir, what convinced you to write your story? What sets your story apart from other life-stories?
I love reading about adversity and the courage people have to rise above.  I was inspired by the book Her by Christina Parravani (who is actually a FB friend now…it’s totally a celebrity moment for me!)  Her words were just so poetic and harsh at the same time.  It’s as though I could feel Christina’s pain reaching out of the pages.  I thought that if I could write my own story half as good as she wrote hers, I hope to inspire people too.

I think what makes my story so different is that there was just so much going on in my life in a 2-year span:  a new baby, divorce, postpartum depression, hospital stays, child custody battle, domestic violence, and much more all while I was in Law School.  To this day, I’m really not sure how I managed to survive that time period.

Is there a message or moral that you want your readers to take away?
There are two very important messages I want to get across:  First, domestic violence is not just physical.  It comes in all forms.  There was some physical violence in my marriage (and after) but my ex-husband emotionally abused me, which is just as bad as physical violence.  To be told over and over again that I am fat, lazy, ugly, a joke, etc. made me feel suicidal because if the person I love feels this way about me, then others must think the same thing.  It took a lot of therapy to help me realize that I am worthy again.  Second, postpartum depression is not about wanting to hurt your kids.  (i.e. Andrea Yates.)  That is a stereotype that I am very passionate about changing.  I felt that I wasn’t a good enough mother for my child and therefore, I wanted to kill myself because I felt that my daughter deserved better than me.  It is an awful feeling.  

What was your writing process? Did you outline your book first or just let it develop as you went? Did the book turn out as you expect it or take on a life of its own?
My wonderful brilliant attorney (who is like a second father to me) advised me to keep a log of everything my ex-husband did right after I filed for divorce.  So when I was ready to write my book two years later, I sort of had an outline already.  

There are parts of the book that were extremely hard to write.  I didn’t like reliving some of the events that had happened.  Those were the days I had to walk away from the computer.  While I was writing the book, I was finally able to write my thoughts down on paper.  There were a lot of times I wanted to say something to my ex-husband and his new wife, but I couldn’t.  Now, I can…and I did.

What was the editing process like?
I have to admit that I am not as good at grammar as I thought!  My book has gone through the first round of edits and it amazed me at how many grammar mistakes I had made.  Thank God for editors!  Authors can’t live without them!

How did you find your publisher, Black Opal Books?
To find an agent or a publisher is extremely tough.  It is a very subjective industry so if you don’t have thick skin, you aren’t going to make it.  I sent out tons of queries and got back 33 rejections before Black Opal Books offered me a contract.  I will forever be grateful that they took a chance on me and my story.  They are a wonderful publishing company and all of us BOB authors feel more like family than clients.  

Do you have any more books “in the works”?
I am working on my first book of fiction, a legal thriller.  (Think John Grisham.)  I have to use that law degree for something, right?!  I’ve only told the plot to one person and the moment her jaw dropped and she gasped at the big “twist,” I knew I had a good story.  Now all I have to do is add more hours to the day so I can finish writing it!

What hobbies do you have or what things do you do when you’re not writing or working?
Most of my free time is spent with Madelyne.  It’s been rough this winter because of the polar vortex here in Michigan.  Right now Madelyne takes dance and gymnastics classes.  But as soon as it starts to get warm, we love being outside.  I take her to the zoo almost every Sunday in the summer.  There is nothing I love more in this world than being with Madelyne.  My second most favorite thing is my girl’s nights!  I have to have non-mommy time and hang with my girls!  (And by hang, I mean put on some yoga pants, head over to someone’s house, drink some wine and eat some chocolate.  Party on.)

And Just a Few Fun Ones:

Coffee or Tea – COFFEE!!!  Must have coffee every morning!

Night owl or early mornings?
Night owl for sure.  But Madelyne is a morning person, so I really don’t remember the last time I’ve slept past 6:30 AM.

Dogs or cats?
Cats.  At one point, my ex and I had 5 cats.  Now I have 3.

Sweet or salty?
Salty.  I’m addicted to chips.

Beach or Mountains?
Beach!  I’ve been to Hawaii twice and want to go back.  Bora Bora is on my bucket list.  I just need someone to go with me!  Any single men reading this??  😉

Thank you, Megan Cyruleski, for visiting Predatory Lies today. I truly am pining to read your book! And I’m grateful for the time you took to interview me as well. Your passion to support other authors makes you one-of-a-kind and a treasure!

Book Review, “Against the Gates of Hell” by Mylow Young

Despite a promising plot, excellent arc and a dramatic climax, Against the Gates of Hell, by Mylow Young, fell short of my expectations. Flat characters, a heavy dose of “the hood” vernacular and poor editing detract from the book’s potential. 

Against the Gates of Hell, is the story of estranged twins. Herby is a cop, his brother, Kerby, used to be. Nightmares and mood swings plague Herby as he struggles to deal with the loss of his partner, Jerry, during a drug bust. In response to a separate crisis, Kerby fell apart. Now he lives off the streets, using drugs and barely maintaining his job as a security officer. The conflict ebbs and flows as the brothers struggle to reconcile; both seek to repair and strengthen their relationships with God and their families. 

My issue with the characters is best exemplified in Herby’s wife, Rene. She is nothing short of perfect. As a vocalist, musician and song writer, Rene is always worshipping, calling out, “Glory to God!” and counseling her husband using Scripture. She never utters a harsh word, has a cruel thought or disrespects her husband. Even the slightest inkling of her humanity is instantly reversed with a prayer or excused as righteous indignation. While I admire godly women, and seek to become a Titus 2 woman, a good story must expose both sides of characters, enabling the reader to empathize with them.

The language in, Against the Gates of Hell, is difficult to read. On several occasions, I had to stop and reread a sentence two or three times and sometimes simply deduce the meaning by context. No doubt it is difficult to convey the words with right inflection through script, but it gets fatiguing to read and interpret pages of dialogue such as, “Gotta make dis paper, drop dese few so I can re-up.”

Lastly, the editing lessened my appreciation for this book. Several times, beginning on the first page, Young switches verb tense. The opening line is written in present tense, but the second tag switches to past tense. These errors are not impossible to overlook, but frustrating nonetheless. 

Overall, Against the Gates of Hell, has a lot of potential. The plot is good. If one is willing to read less discriminatorily, simply for the entertainment value, it would be an enjoyable book. However, the things I mentioned here diluted that pleasure for me.

There Never Was Any Danger

hurricaneGod’s been talking about going deeper. I love it when what He is telling me in one place begins to be reflected in other places, when the song that He is singing to me softly begins to resound from every direction, reinforcing the absolute truth of His words and my ability to retain them.

I just finished reading Ted Dekker’s book, Outlawand was only  mildly surprised to find God speaking to me about going deeper even in those pages. (I’ll be sharing a full review of Ted’s book here shortly.)

In Outlaw, the primary characters learned to view their bodies as mere costumes. Through this knowledge, a peace that surpasses understanding is found. One who knows who he is in Christ; who he is in the arms and eyes of his Creator; who knows from Whom his very essence is derived, and the security of believing that his Essence-giver is indestructible, this one cannot be destroyed. Even pain is mitigated by the understanding that only the costume is being affected.

But then, a new kind of anguish struck, one that even the strongest character found overwhelming. Rejection assaulted him, loneliness swelled within him and for once, he couldn’t relegate the pain to simply a costume experience. This new pain could be said to bruise his very soul. And for moments, pages even, I feared for him. I identified with him.

But then, he went deeper.

You see, it’s not that our spirits, our souls, cannot be bruised. It is not that they cannot feel pain. But the truth is, the peace is found when we look a little bit deeper and realize, that despite the pain, there never was any danger. 

For those who believe in Jesus and have rested all their hope in His finished work, there really is no danger. Even if the costume cries and bleeds, even if the spirit weeps, there never is any danger. And that’s where the peace is found – peering a little bit deeper.

Below the surface, even in the strongest of hurricanes, the water is safe and still. A submarine need only dive deeper to continue blissfully unaware of the surface destruction. Far below the chaos, for the marine life, there really is no danger.

Below your agony, below your sorrow, below your physical pain, your loneliness, your fear; below, slightly deeper, there really is no danger.

I will bless the LORD who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the LORD is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy oned to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
Ps. 16:7-11

A Babel-builders Legacy

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we many make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the earth.’” Genesis 11:4

In her recent book, Whispers of Hope, Beth Moore translated the Tower of Babel story into a modern day parable. She likened the Babel builders to the many people who have attempted to climb Mount Everest.

“The spend fortunes, suffer all manner of maladies, risk relationships, and endanger life and limb. They experience a level of cold no average person can imagine to trudge past frozen bodies. But do you know what mystifies me most? If they make it to the top, they can’t even enjoy the thrill of victory. Their heads pound. They’re disoriented. Their lungs nearly collapse. They suffer snow blindness. They stand on top of the famed Mount Everest for five minutes and begin a hasty descent while they can still breathe. Why do they do it? For the sheer accomplishment of climbing to the highest peak on earth and the accompanying notoriety. Ironically, by the time they achieve the goal, most of them can’t even remember their names.”

I wrote furiously up the margin of the page, around the top, over the title and finally pulled out my tattered journal to keep going. Comparing myself to a thrill-seeking, glory-hound is not exactly complimentary, but the similarities are there nonetheless.

My years with an eating disorder could also explain the Tower of Babel in modern terms. For nearly 15 years, a transcript of my thoughts would have read, “I will build a body of perfection. I will create myself in the  image of ideal beauty. Then people will know me, admire me, remember me, envy me.”

And with focused abandon I risked relationships, physical injury and even my life to that end. The difference between Beth’s Everest example and my own is that I could never reach the pinnacle, there was no definition of success. I could never become my own creator. No one ever asked me to help them become anorexic. In fact, no one ever looked at my emaciated body with admiration and asked me to help them create the  “ideal body”.

Praise God, just like at the Tower of Babel, He came down into my little, broken life and scattered the pieces. He revealed to me the danger of my course, healed me, and like the good Creator that He is, gave me again the “perfect body” He intended for me.

Today, I am in the process of building a legacy, of leaving a mark on the world. Almost daily, God sends me people who ask how I overcame anorexia, who helped me to heal and will I pray for them.

Today, my actions center around loving God with all my heart and learning to love others as He loves me. His glory, His name is the mark I want to leave on the world.

This post was first published on Nov. 28, 2013 at FINDINGbalance.com

Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, a book review

Never before has a book intrigued and confused me so much—except perhaps the works of C.S. Lewis. Walter Wink is undoubtedly on par with Lewis in the depth, richness and profundity of his thought.

The concepts addressed in Wink’s final book, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, are nothing short of revolutionary to common Christian paradigms. At the same time, Wink preserves, promotes and honors the integrity of Sola Scriptura (only scripture). His words  cause the everyday, lay-believer to critically rethink all that he has simply assumed about God and God’s relationship to man.

Just Jesus begins with a number of small, almost incidental essays; unrelated chapters showing the development of Wink’s theology over time.These seem to employ circular thought to convey fairly insignificant events. But perhaps, by the time one hits the meat of the book (in my opinion) on page 77, all of these were necessary to provide context, a means of understanding how Wink came to these conclusions.

Two points in particular provide a veritable feast for spiritual mediation. I will be mulling over and chewing on these truths for years to come. First, is Wink’s explanation and endorsement of Biblical nonviolence. The second point, which informs the whole book and I imagine all of Wink’s life, is this: God is Human.

At one point or another, I think all Christians have chafed at the commandment to “do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44). We’ve found Christ’s words unpalatable: to offer our shirt to the man who steals our coat, or to offer to walk two miles with the man who forced us to carry his load for one. (Matthew 5:40, Matthew 5:41)

In this book, Wink invites the reader into a classroom of college students where he taught on the subject of biblical nonviolence and uses these passages for support. He explains that in first century Palestine, under Mosaic Law, a creditor could haul a debtor into court and demand his coat as collateral for an unpaid loan.

As Jesus told this story, most of His audience were the poor. Likely, many of them had even experienced this humiliating ordeal. Then Jesus went a step further than The Law, suggesting that the debtor offer up his shirt also. Considering the clothing of that time, this would have left the poor man completely naked.

Wink explains Jesus intent:

“Put yourself in the debtor’s place and imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, beet-red with embarrassment, your outer garment in one hand and your underwear in the other. you have suddenly turned the tables on him. You had no hope of winning the trial; the law was entirely in his favor. But you have refused to be humiliated, and at the same time you have registered a stunning protest against a system that spawns such debt. The creditor is revealed not to be a “respectable” moneylender but to be a party in the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution.” (pg. 79)

After expositing the story of walking a second mile, Wink concludes, “From a situation of servile impressments, you have once more seized the initiative. You have taken back the power of choice.” (pg. 81)

Far from endorsing impotent passivism, Jesus is essentially suggesting unconventional warfare; win the argument by retaining self respect and the power of choice. I finished that chapter dumbstruck. How had I never seen those passages so clearly before? Then, I came to Wink’s essay, “Ezekiel’s Vision”.

I could only do this chapter a pitiful disservice in my attempt to relay all of Wink’s wisdom. It is here that the significance of the title is revealed. Wink’s “struggle to become human” was the consummate mission of his life because:

“And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN…It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness—which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”

Doesn’t this incite your curiosity as to why Jesus referred to Himself as, “The Son of Man”? Wink reveals that a more accurate translation is, “The Son of The Man”. What does this mean?

There is much to ponder in this fascinating book, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human. The concepts are deep and the prose are wordy. However, if we are called as Christians to meditate on God’s Word day and night, Wink’s final work is an excellent resource to inform that pondering.