Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mother Teresa, by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Natascha Rosenberg

When your name is basically synonymous with "the highest expression of Christianity and humanity," you know you are living right.  That is more true for Mother Teresa than for practically anyone else.  Isabel Sanchez Vegara distills Mother Teresa's life into a picture book for the "Little People, Big Dreams" series in Mother Teresa.  Accompanied by Natascha Rosenberg's cute illustrations, Vegara tells the heart of Mother Teresa's story.

From her childhood in Macedonia to her decision to become a nun as a teenager, from teaching children to India to helping sick people on the street, from opening hospitals and orphanages around the world to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa never wavered from her desire to serve the poor.

Mother Teresa captures the love and humility and joy with which she served.  As Vegara points out, "She received all the awards that could be given to a single person."  Her lesson for all of us is to love others, always.  What a great example she set.  And what a charming book to introduce young children to this model we can all emulate.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, August 17, 2018

God, War, and Providence, by James A. Warren

As a Baptist, I was always aware of Rogers Williams's role as the founder of the first Baptist church in the New World.  But the more you know about Williams, the less that seems to be the defining characteristic of his life.  As James A. Warren writes in God, War, and Providence: The Epic Struggle of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians Against the Puritans of New England, Williams's legacy as a peacemaker and friend to the Indians of New England may be more impressive than his role as a clergyman.

For much of God, War, and Providence, Williams is a bit player, a character in a much larger drama.  Warren, a historian who has written about America's wars in the 20th century, goes into a lot of detail regarding the Indian's territories, factions, rivalries, and wars among themselves, as well as with the settlers.  His tone reflects that of Williams, who believed the English to have arrived at territory already held by sovereign people.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, "Williams did not see how the king could claim the right to grant English settlers land that had belonged for thousands of years to the current inhabitants."  This put Williams in the minority, and on the bad side of the crown.  But his actions backed up this attitude and put him in a place of respect with the Indians and in a position to negotiate between the Indians and the English.

Baptists are familiar with Williams's promotion of religious liberty, but his aims were larger than that.  Warren writes that Williams's ideas became foundational to the American character: "religious liberty for all comers. . .; complete separation of church and state; democratic government, in which magistrates derived their powers not from God, as Puritan political theory had it, but from the consent of ordinary citizens."  On religious liberty, or "soul liberty," Williams struggled to point out to his Christian brethren "that Christian faith was most likely to prosper in an environment where other faiths were permitted to flourish, unimpeded by the strong arm of the state."

God, War, and Providence is an enjoyable read.  If you can keep everyone straight, which is no easy task with the rival tribes, both Indian and English, the story Warren tells sheds a lot of light on this period of American history.  He doesn't overplay Williams's role, but the message is that Roger Williams's impact on the history of the United States is greater than many people are aware. 

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Burden, by Courtney Hargrave

When a Ku Klux Klan museum opened in a small South Carolina town, it made national news.  But the even better news story was when a white man left the Klan and was taken in by a local activist African-American pastor.  This is the story Courtney Hargrave tells in Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South.

Michael Burden was going nowhere--no money, no job, no prospects--when he moved on to John Howard's land.  Howard, a leader in the Klan, mentored Burden and put him to work, both in a Klan business and his more legitimate businesses.  Together they bought an old theater in Laurens, South Carolina, and opened the Redneck Shop.  Part retail store, part museum, part gathering place for Klan activities, the store became a flash point of tension in the community.

As Judy, Michael's girlfriend and later wife, becomes more and more disturbed by Howard's activities and Klan promotion, and as Michael's relationship with Howard deteriorates, Howard kicks them out of their apartment at the Redneck Shop.  With nowhere else to go, sleeping in their truck, they run into a local pastor, David Kennedy.  Kennedy and his church had for years assisted poor residents of Laurens, and made no exception for Burden and his family.

Offering material assistance, along with a huge helping of grace, Kennedy got the family a place to live and helped Burden find work.  Although Kennedy had been leading public opposition to the Redneck Shop, he "didn't seem remotely interested in discussing the Redneck shop or the inner workings of the Klan. 'He just wanted to talk to us as people,' Judy said.  'He wanted to know what he could do to help, to get us lifted back up.'"

So began Burden's involvement with Kennedy's church, and an interesting chapter in the history of Laurens and the Klan.  Hargrave weaves these personal stories into the larger picture of the history of the Klan and race relations in the South.  The ultimate outcome doesn't turn out to be as satisfying as one might hope; we are dealing with fickle, selfish humans here.  I would imagine the Hollywood version (starring Forrest Whitaker) will be a more dramatic story on one level, but, in this case as in most cases, the true story is more complex, interesting, and inspiring than a condensed movie version can offer.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Beyond Justice, by Cara Putman

Hayden McCarthy is an up-and-coming lawyer in a D.C. law firm.  When a partner asks her to cover on an unusual case, she doesn't imagine the mess it will become, or that her very life will be in danger.  Beyond Justice is the first book in Cara Putman's Hidden Justice series of legal thrillers.  The central case is certainly timely, dealing with a Mexican teenager who died in a detention center for children who were caught crossing the border illegally. 

Beyond Justice isn't bad, but it's sort of "by the numbers."  The young, up-and-coming, pretty-but-thinks-she's-not damsel.  The most-eligible-bachelor, son-of-a-powerful-wealthy-family-but-eschews-the-trappings-of-wealth-and-power hero.  The corruptible lawyers.  The evil drug kingpin.  It was rather predictable, but enjoyable.  It reminded me of a crime show on TV.  Not terribly original, but with enough good stuff to keep you reading to the end.

Female fans of legal fiction who like their suspense with a very healthy dose of romance, especially the prince charming type, will enjoy Beyond Justice.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

I Spy the 50 States, by Sharyn Rosart, illustrated by Sol Linero

Talk about a whirlwind tour of the 50 states!  In Sharyn Rosart's I Spy the 50 States, each state has a page of its own.  Key landmarks, plants, foods, or other distinctive (OK, many not-so-distinctive) features are shown in simple illustrations, about 15-20 per state.  Some are labelled, some are not.  Most make sense, but almost every page had one or two unlabelled illustrations that left me scratching my head.

Each page has a "I spy" challenge, with three things starting with the same letter.  I can see this as an activity book for very young nonreaders who have someone reading to them.  Adding a little interest is a hole to the next page, although in most cases it's just an eagle; there's a bald eagle on every state's page except Hawaii.

I Spy the 50 States is fun and colorful, and captures some of the highlights of each state.  But it's not terribly informative.  I would see this as level 1 of learning about the states.  Kids will want to move on to level 2 and 3 and 4 to learn more about our great nation.  (I'm not thinking of a particular book, just pointing out the very basic nature of this one.)

Gather the toddlers in your lap for an armchair cross-country tour!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Sky Runner, by Emelie Forsberg

Emelie Forsberg is one of the top trail runners in the world.  In Sky Runner: Finding Strength, Happiness, and Balance in Your Running, she gives a glimpse of her running life and spreads a bit of her contagious love of running.  The book is full of gorgeous photos of the mountains she loves to run in.  Her boyfriend and running partner, Kilian Jornet, took the terrific pictures.  (Jornet is an accomplished runner himself, who wrote Run or Die.)

The pictures not only show the beautiful scenery but show Forsberg running and enjoying life.  Every shot captures the joy and love of running and life.  Even without reading, the message is clear, to run, to play, to enjoy.  "RUN OFTEN! RUN FAR! RUN SHORT! RUN FAST! RUN SLOW!"  She writes about planning her life so that she can run every day and enjoy it.

Oh, and by the way, she wins a lot of races, both in mountain running and skiing.  Even though she talks about her training and diet, she makes all that winning sound pretty easy.  In this sense, she reminds me of Jornet.  Both of them grew up running and skiing in the mountains, and both certainly have the genes for distance.  They put in the training hours and miles on the trail, but I'm not sure many runners could follow their path, at least not at their pace!

Above all, even at my slower pace, I can learn from Forsberg's training tips, exercises, and especially her attitude.  For running, and for all of life, this is pretty good advice: "One way to find out if you're doing the right thing is to pause for a moment.  If there is nothing else that you would like to do there and then, nowhere else you would like to be than where you are, then it's right."  It's clear that when Forsberg pauses during a run, she knows that's exactly where she wants to be.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Not a Poster Child, by Francine Falk-Allen

Francine Falk-Allen is, thankfully, one of a small and shrinking group--survivors of polio.  Polio has all but been eradicated, but Falk-Allen and others do continue to live with the effects of the once-common disease.  As a child in the 1950s, Falk-Allen contracted polio and ended up with a partially paralyzed leg.  Throughout her life she has used crutches, limped, used a cane, worn a variety of orthotics or braces, or some combination of all of the above.  She writes about her life in Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability--A Memoir.

The subtitle tells the story in a nutshell.  Despite her disability and the other setbacks she had--of which there are many--Falk-Allen persisted in life, finding varying measures of happiness, satisfaction, and success.  She writes that in college, and really in many stages of her life, she "was trying so hard to be like everyone else that my self-image did not involve identifying with the group called 'disabled.'"  I suppose this is common among people with disabilities like hers.  One friend told her, "You're not disabled, you just have a limp."

But while her disability might seem of little consequence to the casual observers, she details the many ways in which it affects her.  Fatigue.  The inconvenience of not being able to walk long distances.  Having to buy two pairs of shoes every time. (Her feet are 4 sizes apart in size.)  The back and hip problems that result from her leg paralysis.  The self-image issues.  Wondering if anyone would love her romantically.

I enjoyed her honesty and transparency about her struggles.  I did, at times, wish she'd had an editor with a big red pen.  She included way too much information about her "becoming a woman," her troubled family, her free love and drug use stages, her Sufism, and more.  Granted, this all tells the story of who she is, but really it wore me out.  Snow skiing with a disability: good stuff.  Advocacy for disabled people whose disabilities may not be immediately evident: important.  Some of the other stuff, I could do without.

Falk-Allen's memoir is a word of encouragement especially for women with physical disabilities who wonder if they can have a fulfilling life.  Her story answers a resounding yes, while not sugar coating the difficulties she has faced.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!