Friday, November 21, 2014

Love and Mayhem, by John DeGarmo

John DeGarmo has established himself as an expert on foster care and adoption, yet he calls foster parenting the hardest thing he's ever done.  Any foster parent I've ever known or read about would whole-heartedly agree with DeGarmo's assessment.  In Love and Mayhem: One Big Family's Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption, DeGarmo tells stories from the front lines, as his family has fostered dozens of children through the years.

On one level, DeGarmo's experience might discourage potential foster parents from entering the fray.  Foster parenting can be full of heartbreak.  Some of the worst examples of humanity can be found in the environments from which foster children are removed.  DeGarmo does not gloss over the pain and ugliness of fostering.

Yet the love and healing that foster children can find in families like the DeGarmos is crucial and undeniable.  DeGarmo describes the rewards and satisfaction of fostering in spite of the pain.  Even in their little town in rural Georgia, the needs are great; the DeGarmos received more calls than they could handle for children in need.  Would that more families followed the DeGarmos's example and took up the mantle of fostering in cities across the country.

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Superheroes Anonymous, by Lexie Dunne

Hostage Girl, a.k.a. Gail Godwin, came by her nickname the hard way.  Shortly after her move to Chicago, she became a favorite kidnap target by the local villains.  Believing that she is dating the superhero Blaze, they keep taking her hostage, baiting him to come and rescue her, which he does, reliably and successfully.  Until he doesn't.  And then things really start to get interesting for Gail.

Lexie Dunne tells Gail's story in her debut novel, Superheroes Anonymous.  Gail's latest captor holds her hostage for a couple of weeks, but Blaze never shows up.  She escapes and falls into the hands of the secret society of superheroes, where she discovers that the isotope with which her captor had injected her has actually given her super powers of her own!

Superheroes Anonymous is an origin story, set in a world familiar to fans of superhero movies and comics.  The tone is more like Sky High or The Incredibles than Batman.  While familiar, the story and setting are wholly original without feeling derivative or like fan fiction.  Told from Gail's perspective, the story has a more feminine tone than most superhero stories, but make no mistake: she's no ordinary "damsel in distress."  She's tough, a budding superhero with an attitude.

This is a fun read.  I enjoyed the characters and the plot.  It was a bit like the first episode of a TV series though, with lots of stage setting, not as much action.  Which leads to my complaint about the book.  Not to give a spoiler, but Dunne ends it in a cliffhanger!!  So many questions unanswered. . . .  So tune in next time, same Hostage Girl time, same Hostage Girl channel.  I will definitely be looking forward to the sequel!

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Personal, by Lee Child

Jack Reacher, loner, ex-Army, brilliant detective, just wants to be left alone and live his life.  But he keeps getting called back into service.  This time, it's Personal.  Reacher's on the trail of one of the world's great snipers.  The catch is that a dozen years ago, Reacher put this sniper in prison, and he holds a major grudge against Reacher.

Reacher heads to France to investigate a failed assassination attempt, then to England to try to prevent an attempt at the G8 summit.  Getting mixed up with the Serbian gangs and the English mob, who are working together to protect the sniper, Reacher, characteristically, beats them all against long odds.  Of course Reacher gets his man, but, as Child's readers know, it's never easy and it's never in the way you expect.

Child's narrative style, clipped and driving, keeps the action strong and compelling.  Reacher's frequent stream-of-consciousness passages amused me, especially when he riffed on a theme: "Mass and velocity, just like baseball, just like everything." Or "It's a DNA thing.  Like rats."  He also plays out his fighting with all the calculations and analysis, measuring the angles, relative weights, weapons, and odds.  With some writers, this might get tiresome, but Child does it well.

Fans of Child's Jack Reacher novels will feel right at home with Personal.  It twists and turns, and reminds me that Reacher is tougher, stronger, and smarter than I am.  Very enjoyable.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving, by John Frank, illustrated by London Ladd

Like most parents, I want my children to be kind, generous people who are not self-absorbed and who love to serve others.  That's not easy to teach.  I hope they pick up some of that by example (from my wife's example more than my own, to be sure).  For more examples to look to, parents will enjoy sharing the poems in Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving with their children.

Children don't have much to offer others in terms of money or material assistance, obviously.  But John Frank's poems give first-person narratives of children who give in many different ways.  Kids can get some great, simple ideas from these poems of how they can help others every day: give up a seat on the bus, share lunch with someone who doesn't have one, cut your hair and donate it for cancer victims, teach another kid how to hit a baseball, plant some trees in your neighborhood.

Frank's poems are short and simple, and Ladd's illustrations perfectly complement the poems.  I especially appreciated their choice to include children of a variety of races in the illustrations.  Lend a Hand will inspire children (and their parents!) to look around them for opportunities to serve and bless others.

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Good Always Wins--Kids' Edition, by Ed Straus

If God is good, why does bad stuff happen?  The problem of evil has occupied philosophers and theologians for centuries, and remains a primary argument by atheists against the existence of God.  Ed Straus, who wrote Good Always Wins: Thru Tragedy, Thru Evil, Thru All Eternity has now written a book for kids on the subject: Good Always Wins--Kids' Edition: Through Bad Times, Through Sad Times, Through All Time.  (I'm not sure why he went from thru to through . . .)

Even very young kids may reflect on the problem of evil, even if they don't express it that way.  Clearly people get hurt or killed, there are natural disasters and accidents, there is pain and violence in the world.  Why doesn't God do something about it?  "We want to understand why God allows suffering.  We wish to know that he actually cares."  Straus's arguments may not satisfy everyone, but he does a nice job of placing suffering in perspective.

One way that good wins is our response in the face of suffering.  "When God allows others to suffer, He's also closely watching our hearts . . . we should pray for them, comfort them, and help them.  When we do that, good wins!"  And the reality is that much of the suffering in the world, from Adam on, is a result of our own individual and collective choices and actions.  Even then, "in His great love for us, He constantly turns evil situations into good ones.  He won't stop until good comes out of every bad situation."

Ultimately, good wins in eternity: "One day all our suffering will come to an end, and we will enjoy happiness and great joy in heaven forever." That is great promise and a great comfort.  Straus teaches and reminds us that God is in control, and that he has promised us ultimate victory over evil and suffering.  In the meantime, as God's representatives, we can accomplish much, letting Him use us to do good in the face of evil and suffering.

I would happily pass this book along to a child who has questions about the problem of evil.  I'm not sure how well Straus really addresses the theological problem, but as an encouragement for young believers, he hits the spot.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Pity Party, by William Voegeli

The Democrats think they have the corner on compassion.  They'll tell you they're the party of the poor and marginalized, and that the mean and nasty Republicans only care about the rich.  In The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion, William Voegeli demonstrates that not only is this Democratic conceit is not only wrong but blatantly false and contradictory.

Politicians like to drag out the pitiful to bolster their policy goals, none more than liberal democrats.  Al Gore talking about his sister dying of lung cancer, Barack Obama stating that his mother suffered due to her insurance company not paying the bills, or citizens paraded about at a bill signing or State of the Union address, they appeal to the compassion of the nation.  Yet their stated desire to do good does not translate into good being done.  "Liberals' ideals make them more culpable, not less, for the fact that government programs set up to do good don't reliably accomplish good. . . . Liberals are content to treat gestures as the functional equivalent of deeds, and intentions as adequate substitutes for achievements."

Liberals are seemingly unconcerned about results.  "People who care about caring demand more government spending but eschew rigorous interrogations about the efficacy of past and present spending."  Voegeli discusses several areas in which government excels in giving out "stuff" without affecting the problems they set out to affect.  The result is that "caring compassionately about victims of suffering situations while accepting complacently government programs that discharge their core mission--alleviating that suffering--ineffectively and inefficiently."

The alternative is not greed and selfishness, but letting care begin with the family and community, and expand from there.  I was reminded of the Reformed concept of sphere sovereignty, in which different spheres of life each have their own functions and responsibilities.  Voegeli explores a practical response to the modern welfare state, the negative income tax.  Instead of maintaining our gigantic, expensive, bureaucratic system of social welfare, the negative income tax would give cash directly to citizens, based on their income level, for them to use for housing, health care, etc., on the open market.  It's an interesting proposal, if not completely compelling.  It would certainly be a major shift from the current thinking!

Voegeli can be rather wordy, and his arguments sometimes seemed rather circuitous.  But he provides a rich range of references, augments his points with writings both contemporary and historical, and address current policy debates.  He can also be rather entertaining, as in the extended discussion of the use of the word "bullish--." (He rather likes using that word, and applies it liberally to liberals.)  The basic point of The Pity Party, that liberal compassion is anything but, should be trumpeted by conservatives and libertarians.  Voegeli has provided the ammunition.  Now, aim and fire.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

Grisham has lots of stories to tell and he tells them well.  In Sycamore Row, he returns to the setting of his first novel, A Time to Kill, and features that novel's hero, the young lawyer Jake Brigance.  A few years have passed, and Jake becomes the lawyer for the estate of a man he never met.  One Sunday, Seth Hubbard, a local millionaire, hangs himself.  The next morning, Jake gets a letter in the mail from the late Mr. Hubbard, which includes his hand-written will.

What makes this interesting is that the will specifically excludes Hubbard's children and grandchildren, leaving virtually the entire estate, worth millions, to his black housekeeper.  Not many people in Ford County, black or white have money, so the prospect of a local woman becoming the richest black woman in the state generates a lot of buzz at the coffee shop.

Grisham ably navigates the racial and social implications of the will and the ensuing fight over its execution.  Some old history is dredged up, and Jake begins to think that the old man wasn't so crazy or reckless as everyone thought.  The sidebars, backstories, and local history color and flesh out the narrative.  Like many of Grisham's stories, the build up is slow, and the climax, though satisfying, is not explosive.  Less a roller coaster than a scenic train ride, Sycamore Row is nevertheless an enjoyable story.  Well done, Grisham.  Keep 'em coming!