Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Should I Trust the Bible?, by A. Trevor Sutton

I trust the Bible.  But why should I?  Pastor A. Trevor Sutton has lots of convincing reasons, on which he expounds on in Why Should I Trust the Bible? .  In an age when belief is under assault (and actually, has there been an age in which belief as not under assault?), believers should be ready to defend their beliefs.

Well-read Christians and biblical scholars will see much that is familiar in Why Should I Trust the Bible?  Sutton addresses a number of concerns that critics of the Bible bring.  In most cases, his defense is direct and simply stated.  The weakness of the book is that, since he is writing primarily for a Christian audience, I could see a non-believer dismissing many of his claims out of hand.  For example, there's a somewhat circular argument that we can trust the Bible because of Jesus.  I see what he's saying--Jesus is an historical figure, etc.--but those claims fall on the deaf ears of committed unbelievers.

Sutton's best arguments are the comparisons to secular literary criticism.  We don't actually know the precise content of the Gettysburg Address or of Shakespeare's plays, for instance, because of the multiple manuscripts and competing claims.  By any test, the Bible as a piece of literature, has stood the test of time and has, by far, more documentary support than any ancient literature.  Archaeology and science have affirmed it, setting it apart from other religious texts.

Sutton's efforts here should be well-received.  I can hear doubters saying, "Yeah, he's a Christian pastor, of course that's what he's going to say." But if the doubters truly engage Sutton's text, they would, if they are honest, have to pay attention to Sutton's arguments.  Christians would do well to become familiar with Sutton's points, in order to have an answer when their non-Christian friends challenge the Bible's legitimacy.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about the Bible


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

White Collar, by Giacomo Patri

The Great Depression seems like ancient history to young people today.  Giacomo Patri's White Collar: A Novel in Linocuts reminds us that it's not than ancient after all.  The struggles of families in the depression doesn't seem too far off from struggles some families have today.

Patri self published White Collar in the late 1930s, then was picked up by a publisher in 1940.  The stark black-and-white illustrations and the bare-bones, wordless story powerfully communicate a simple message: the road to success can be filled with obstacles, many of which come from powers outside of your control.  The protagonist starts his career as an illustrator, but the Great Depression hits, shutting his employer's doors.  He makes a go of it, opening his own shop, looking for work, but the economy works against him.  He finally comes to embrace the labor movement which he seemed initially to reject.

White Collar is an interesting first-person artifact from the Depression era with obvious relevance today.  It's heavy-handed, in a propagandistic sort of way, but not so much that it becomes impersonal and realistic.  The linotype technique is not very visually appealing to me, but it is effective and supports the tone of the story.

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Razor Girl, by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen has done it again.  Razor Girl continues Hiaasen's streak of hilarious mystery? crime? suspense? romance? action? novels.  OK, his books are not easily classified.  They stand in a class by themselves, in spite of occasional attempts to emulate him.

His newest foray revisits the world of Andrew Yancy, the former Key West detective demoted to food inspector whom we met in Bad Monkey.  Through a confusing and convoluted chain of events, he meets up with Marry, a.k.a. Razor Girl.  Merry makes her living by purposely rear-ending other drivers.  When her targets come to chew her out, they see that she apparently hit them because she was in the midst of shaving her, uh, "bikini area."  When they see her exposed, shaving cream covered, uh, area, they inevitably fall into her trap, which involves kidnapping or extortion.

But she's not really a bad girl.  She and Yancy team up to find Buck, a reality TV star who has disappeared, and Buck's manager, whom Merry had mistakenly targeted earlier.  But it looks like Buck has been snatched, and the thugs who hired the man who hired Merry to snatch the other guy she meant to snatch when she snatched Buck's manager are tangled up with Yancy's next-door neighbor, the sleazy lawyer who is in the middle of a class action lawsuit while making himself a victim of the questionable product he's going after.

Confused yet?  Hiaasen, as is his custom, turns the most convoluted, interconnected story line into the most reasonable, believable chain of events you have every laughed your way through.  His world is full of bumbling criminals, dimwitted characters, Florida zaniness, random coincidences, greedy goofballs, and satisfying endings.  I am pleased to report that after 20 (or so) novels published over the last 30 (or so) years, Hiaasen has not lost his touch.

2016 Reading Challenge: A humorous book 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Man I Hate Cursive, by Jim Benton

Take laugh-out-loud humor, mixed with a bit of existential bleakness and modern angst, and you get a taste of Jim Benton's humor.  Pretty much every page of Man I Hate Cursive: Cartoons for People and Advanced Bears made me laugh to a greater or lesser degree (usually greater).  Some of his themes: love and romance, robots, modern art, family, comic book heroes, and the meaning of life.  Plus some other stuff.  Let's just say he will take your negative thoughts and make you laugh about them.  That may not inspire you to turn your negative outlook around, but laughing is (almost) always a step in the right direction.  

(Just a note: in case you know Jim Benton from his many books for children, be forewarned: many of these cartoons are for adults.  Not to say there aren't some you can share with your kids, but you may want to be selective, mostly for language.)


And silliness:

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

In the Shadow of Liberty, by Kenneth C. Davis

We know the biographies and histories of the presidents.  Or at least we think we do.  But what about the men and women who serve the presidents?  What about the men and women whom the presidents owned?  We may not like to think of the Founding Fathers, who shaped American freedom, as slave holders, but the fact is, many of them were.  Kenneth C. Davis tells the stories of some of the enslaved people owned by presidents in In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives.

An uncomfortable fact: twelve U.S. presidents were slave owners.  Many other Founding Fathers owned slaves.  Davis writes, "These men fought for independence and were true believers in concepts like liberty and equality.  How could such men keep other human beings as slaves, denying their freedom and basic rights?" This is a great irony of history.

On George Washington: "For a man who had fought so long and hard for freedom, it is astonishing Washington could not comprehend that an enslaved person might want the same right."

On Thomas Jefferson: "Jefferson wrote about the ideals and principles of equality and even proposed some small steps toward ending American slavery.  But he also owned people and was completely dependent on them for his livelihood and personal comfort until the day he died."

On James Madison: "James Madison, the political leader and revolutionary, knew that slavery was wrong.  But Madison the slaveholder was ruled by fear and self-interest. . . . Madison hoped for an end to slavery.  But . . . he also believed that America could never be an integrated society, with whites and blacks living together under one government."

Davis tells the stories of slaves who were owned by U.S. presidents, illustrating and emphasizing this irony.  William Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson's names are remembered because of their proximity to power.  But millions of other slaves' names are forgotten to history because of the obscurity of their owners.  While in many cases slaves of prominent individuals were well treated and faithful to their owners, this doesn't change the fact of human bondage and the injustice of the system.  And even heroes of American history, like Washington and Jefferson, had enormous blind spots as they callously treated their slaves like chattel, merchandise, currency, or tools.

Some of their slaves ran away.  Others served faithfully throughout their lifetimes.  Davis is careful not to demonize their owners, but he does not sugar coat their actions and attitudes.  There is no question that our early presidents are worthy of honor for their work and inspiration in the early days of our nation.  But we must not forget the costs.  Davis reminds us of the inhumanity and assaults on human dignity and freedom that formed the background of the founding years.  There's no getting around the fact that slavery was an ugly, terrible institution.  And there's not denying its place in our history.  Davis does us a service by bringing these enslaved individuals' histories to light.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War, by Joseph Loconte

Years ago the organization I worked for frequently invited Joe Loconte to speak at our conferences.  An entertaining and engaging speaker, I wished I had been in his college classes.  Currently professor of history at The King's College in New York City, Loconte's latest book is A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918.

Two of the twentieth century's greatest writers, Tolkien and Lewis had much in common.  Their eventual friendship shaped them both, personally, professionally, and spiritually.  Loconte places them in intellectual and historical context, describing how the forces around them shaped them and their writing.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Tolkien (1892-1973) and Lewis (1898-1963) were coming of age.  It was a time of optimism and hope that technology and culture had advanced to the point that mankind was on the verge of a new utopia--or so many thought.  The Great War changed all that, creating a deep skepticism about the nature of man.

Tolkien and Lewis could both have been sucked into the intellectual darkness of the war.  They both spent time in the trenches, experiencing the worst of the war on the Western Front.  Given the mortality rates in general, as well as in their immediate units, they were lucky to survive.  Loconte points to many passages in both of their books that clearly reflect the brutality and ugliness of war as they experienced it.  On the other hand, they focused on the positive traits they saw in their fellow soldiers, such as Sam Gamgee's persistence and faithful service.

As Loconte clearly demonstrates, without their friendship, neither Lewis's or Tolkien's literary careers would have amounted to as much as they did.  They read passages of works in progress together, encouraged each other to continue writing, and promoted one another's work.  And, most significantly, Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis's conversion to Christianity.

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War is a must-read for fans of Lewis and Tolkien's fiction.  Loconte ties their work directly to the influences of their cultural and intellectual milieu, as well as the awful experience of the Great War.  Even for non-fans, the first-person accounts of the war are worth reading.  The literary contribution each of these great writers has made and continues to make is immense and worth examining.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, by David P. Gushee

David Gushee, a Christian ethicist and Mercer University professor, wants his anxious Christian friends to be less anxious.  In A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times, Gushee writes that he wants to "help American Christians to see our reality more clearly, assess that reality more thoughtfully, and act more faithfully."  I'd be the first to acknowledge that many "Christian" perspectives on political issues are far from being genuinely Christian.  Many Christians have difficulty recognizing that Christians disagree on issues--and that it's OK!

After a bit of background, in which he points out that American democracy is not an inherently Christian style of government, Gushee offers his perspective on a number of issues ripped from the headlines: race, sex, police, money, climate, war, the death penalty, health care.  With succinct, thoughtful chapters, Gushee briefly discusses these issues and some of the implications for Christians.  For those most part, the anxious Christian friends to whom he writes are those who hold to more conservative political views and who are anxious about the leftward tilt of the nation.  Don't be anxious, Gushee says, here are some Christian defenses of liberal policy positions.

To be fair, he's not a hard-core liberal.  But he advocates acceptance of the institutionalization of gay marriage.  He would allow for the legalization of abortion in extreme cases (although he is reluctant to draw a line).  He calls for increased government action in environmental issues, education, and the economy.  Most Republicans would think Gushee is too liberal.  Some Democrats will think he's too conservative.  Most readers will appreciate that he's not particularly prescriptive in his policy positions, but descriptive, challenging readers on several points.

Am I less anxious than I was before I picked up Gushee's Letter?  Not really.  But I do appreciate his short, pointed treatment of policy issues from the perspective of someone who strives to be biblically and faithfully orthodox in his perspective.  The conversation continues. . . .

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon too Short, by Arvind Ethan David, illustrated by Ilias Kyriazis

From my teen years forward, Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker trilogy has been a book series I could read over and over again without getting tired of it.  His Dirk Gently books were not quite as memorable, but were brilliant and worth reading again and again.  Now, years after Adams's untimely death, Dirk Gently lives on, in TV productions and in comics.

In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon too Short, Dirk investigates mysterious losses of voice.  Whole families, and, in Africa, a whole village, who now can't make a sound.  He somehow makes random connections, leading to a rather ludicrous conclusion that somehow makes a little bit of sense.

David and team capture the personality and randomness of Dirk Gently in a way that honors Adams's character.  While I don't believe they measure up to Douglas Adams's humor and brilliance, this comic series is fun.  I think Adams would be pleased.

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Amazing Truths, by Michael Guillen

All too often I hear people say that science and religion are in conflict.  Inevitably, those who say this do so because they reject religion.  Contrary to those opinions, though, are plenty of scientists who are believers and who hold to the compatibility of scientific thought and Christian thought.  Dr. Michael Guillen has a Ph.D. from Cornell and has taught at Harvard.  He was science editor for ABC News.  And he is a committed Christian.

In Amazing Truths: How Science and the Bible Agree, he brings together modern science and scripture, showing that not only do they not exclude one another, but that on many points they create a wonderful conjoining of ideas in which each enriches the understanding of the other.

Dr. Guillen writes Amazing Truths for lay people.  Even when he is writing about terribly complex scientific concepts, eh shows that he understands that many of his readers are non-scientists.  Of course his many years of working in television taught him how to set up the shot and keep the viewers (readers) engaged.

In describing scientific questions and dilemmas, Dr. Guillen points out how many scientific principals are, in fact, articles of faith.  And even in modern history, scientists have held to beliefs about the natural world based on speculation, only later to have their assumptions completely rejected.  In each chapter, Dr. Guillen provides a biblical perspective, not to explain scientific principles, but to add perspective.  Amazing Truths is at times fascinating, at times illuminating, and at times inspirational.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about science

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

You're Saying It Wrong, by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras

Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras, self-proclaimed "word nuts . . . and (they must admit) sometimes annoying grammar pedants," want to save you from embarrassment and drops in social status by teaching you the right way to say things that are so often said wrong.  The brother-sister writing team has written You're Saying It Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words--and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse.

More than just presenting a list of words or a dry reference book, the Petrases bring together good humor, a penchant for puns and word play, and a broad knowledge of language and linguistic history.  Some of their examples I sloughed off; I'm an educated person!  I know how to say or spell that word!  Some, well, I couldn't care less.  They didn't provide a plethora of words I didn't know.  Regardless, You're Saying It Wrong is not dull as ditch water.  The book is an excellent vehicle for brushing up on and learning some familiar and unfamiliar vocabulary.  The Petrases pwn these words.

(In case you're wondering, the italicized words are all featured in You're Saying It Wrong.  One note: plethora, which I understood to mean "a lot," really means too many.  Close, but not exactly right.)

The book is laid out in alphabetical order, with a few sidebars on specific topics.  (I found the British place names particularly vexing.  E.g., Ralph is pronounced rayf, and Ranulph is pronounced ralph.)  I am not a fan of the alphabetical order.   I would have been happier if the words were arranged by topics, such as food, proper names, place names, phrases, etc.  Also, and this really isn't the Petrases' fault but a feature of the changing nature of language, many entries were rife (not in the book but maybe should have been) with ambiguity.

There's the right way to say something, and the accepted way to say something, and in many cases the wrong way to say something that becomes accepted simply because that's how most people say it!  Like forte.  I always thought "Cooking is my forte" would be pronounced FORTay, like in music.  But no, it's like FORT.  But I think I would be laughed at if I said "Cooking is my FORT."  (And not only because of my lack of culinary skills.)  Similarly, if I pronounce Vincent Van Gogh as van GOKH or Henry David Thoreau as THOR oh, I'd probably be mocked, even if those are the right pronunciations.

So I still have to find the right balance between "sticking with the tried and true" and being required to "turn in my smart card."  Now if I could only remember if niche is NEESH or NITCH. . . .

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sacred Planet, by Austin Rogers

Before picking up Austin Rogers's Sacred Planet: Book One of the Dominion Series, take note of the fact that it is book one.  I point that out to help you avoid making the same mistake I did.  I expected Rogers to wrap things up neatly as I got closer and closer to the end.  He didn't.  In some series of novels, each volume stands alone while building a fuller story.  In Rogers's case, it appears he's building one long epic.  This isn't a criticism, just a word about what to expect. 

Now, for the story itself.  Sacred Planet is an epic space opera.  Rogers builds a future of mankind, a few centuries out, that still looks to Earth as the cradle of civilization and pilgrimage planet.  The political arrangements and conflicts (as well as other story elements) might remind the reader of the Star Wars universe.  One of the main characters, a space salvager named Davin, and his ship and crew might remind the reader of the short-lived Firefly TV series. 

The story begins with Davin thinking they've struck gold.  A luxury ship has been hit, and they are in place to get some booty.  When they find a survivor, the daughter of an important politician, floating among the wreckage, their lives get a lot more complicated, and the balance of power in the galaxy gets a lot more interesting.

Rogers crafts the story and characters well, as he darts from the ship to political deliberations to an uprising of commoners.  It's all related, but, this being the first volume of the series, the threads are not fully brought together.  The good news for Rogers is that the story lines are strong enough that I think it will be worth checking out volume two. 

Thanks to the author for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bloom County Episode XI, by Berkeley Breathed

Great news for fans of Berkeley Breathed's classic comic strip Bloom County: he has a new collection of comics out!  It's been a quarter century since he's been in the funny papers, but folks like me, for whom Opus and Bill the Cat are old friends and icons, will be delighted to see the old gang back in Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope.

In his introduction, Breathed mentions his literary hero, Harper Lee, whose characters Atticus Finch and Scout took on a life of their own for readers long after Lee was done with them.  He writes, "Rare, these: Worlds and characters that are more alive for one's readers than they are for their creator.  We who stumble upon them are the Blessed Ones. . . not so much clever as maybe just plain lucky.  We shouldn't walk away too easily."  After walking away for twenty-five years, Breathed walked back and found new joy, or, as he puts it, "joyfulishness" in Bloom County and its inhabitants.    

Breathed gets a laugh out of plenty of corners of recent pop culture and social media.  Opus's main presidential campaign platform is a return to two spaces after a period.  (I'm in!)  He pokes fun at the red Starbucks cup controversy.  He explores the consequences of letting a baby loose on Facebook.  Trump gets skewered.  Bill the Cat is Bill the Cat.

Like most readers, it's been twenty-five years since I've read Bloom County strips.  I remember liking it better than the I liked this new collection.  But I'm still happy that Breathed found new joy in these inimitable characters and has "breathed" new life into them.

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond

I'm not sure I've ever read a more depressing book than Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.  It's so depressing, it made the author depressed.  Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, embedded himself in some of the worst neighborhoods in Milwaukee.  Focusing on the private housing market, he tells the stories of several renters and their troubles with evictions, as well as the landlords and property managers.

Like no other book I've read, Desmond captures the realities of poverty.  He emphasizes the fact that without adequate housing, other issues of poverty domino and exacerbate one another.  Without a stable home, keeping regular income, maintaining family life, keeping a job, succeeding in school all become exponentially more trying.  Desmond's detailed narrative, compiled from years of interviews and first-hand observations, got a bit too detailed for me at times, but realistically portrays the day-to-day struggles.

As his observations in Milwaukee, as well as the broader literature he cites, demonstrate, eviction is a huge problem, especially for black single mothers.  I couldn't help but feel sympathy for their plight.  Desmond writes in such a way that I felt like I could be in their shoes quickly.  A medical crisis, loss of a job, a natural disaster, who knows what, could be all it takes to get an average family evicted and into the cycles he describes.  On the other hand, nearly all of the people he profiles have some history of drug abuse, a criminal record, dropped out of school, had children out of wedlock, or some combination of the above.  While I am a firm believer in second chances in life, you can't ignore the fact that some (many?) who share the struggles of Desmond's subjects are where they are as a result of their poor choices.

I have some sympathy for Desmond's solution: expanding housing vouchers.  He sees housing as a basic human right, and sees the private housing market as the best way to provide it.  People who can't afford housing should have access to vouchers, which would be cheaper than shelters, and certainly cheaper than all of the social costs associated with housing instability.  His policy proposals are the meat of the book, but the bulk of the content is his narrative account of the lives of the poor.  This narrative sets Evicted apart, spotlighting a side of life that few middle-class or upper-class Americans ever see.

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Nazi Hunters, by Andrew Nagorski

Today, we commonly, almost universally think of Nazis as the worst kind of criminal.  Andrew Nagorski tells the stories of many of those who have hunted and prosecuted those criminals in The Nazi Hunters.  Nagorski follows the history from the time during and immediately after World War 2 up to the present day.  Obviously, the story won't go on much longer, as the Nazis from the WW2 era are nearly extinct.

Some of the names of the Nazi hunters may be familiar, especially Simon Wiesenthal.  Nagorski makes plain that, while the crimes of the Nazis were heinous, the Nazi hunters, despite their virtuous mission, were no strangers to violence and skirting the law.  One of the themes Nagorski visits is the antipathy toward Nazi hunting among the German people.  Many Germans, understandably, just wanted to forget about that period of history.  Despite the efforts of the Allies and of the post-war German government, many Nazi officials and sympathizers retained power in East and West Germany.

Holocaust deniers persisted (and still persist).  Some of the Nazi hunters saw their task not as revenge or even justice, but as a mission to ensure that future generations never forgot the Holocaust.  By recording testimony of camp guards, Nazi commanders, and camp survivors, and by presenting evidence (that is, any they could find that wasn't destroyed by the Nazis), a record was created that should not be subject to dispute.  It's an ugly chapter in human history, but one that should not be ignored or forgotten.

The lives of the Nazi hunters weren't as dramatic as the action heroes in the movies about Nazi hunters, but their task was important.  The excuse of "just following orders" wouldn't wash with them.  As Nagorski recounts, Nazi's attitudes ranged from willful ignorance to malicious animosity.  Whatever the case, only a small number of the guilty were punished.  Were it not for the Nazi hunters, that number would have been even smaller.

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

Best. State. Ever., by Dave Barry

Dave Barry.  Funniest.  Writer.  Ever.  Sure, he has great source material, spending his time as a columnist in southern Florida.  In Best. State. Ever., Barry travels the highways and byways of this silly state and gives readers reason to love it.

Sure, Florida has become a national joke in recent years, ever since the "hanging chad."  But, as Barry points out, it's not Florida's fault.  It's all the immigrants from other states who can't find their way home.  Like rats in a maze who can't find their way out of a box, all these migrants are flummoxed by this oddly-shaped piece of land that is surrounded by water on three sides.  "They keep coming and coming, because it's warm, because it's wild, because it's weird, because whatever.  People keep coming to Florida, and things keep happening here."

Playing tourist in his own state, Barry visits spots like a firing range called "The Machine Gun Experience," the "Skunk Ape" center (Florida's Bigfoot), Spongeorama, Weeki Wachee (featuring the famous mermaids), and Key West.  (He certainly does not visit Disneyworld.)  He provides his inimitably hilarious commentary and observations:

On alligator "wrestling"; "The gators display the same fighting spirit as a Barcalounger."

On the Machine Gun Experience: "Show me a group of individuals who are spending a Sunday afternoon entertaining themselves by using explosives to blow up, say, major appliances, and I will show you a group of males.  Any females in the area will be holding their fingers in their ears and saying, 'Why?'"

On Miami: "the disorderly, haphazard, weird, sensuous, sometimes dangerous, often insane and always unpredictable place where I live."

On the Everglades, which he finds to be exceedingly dull, but in which there's always the chance of being eaten by something: "Florida: even our boring parts are exciting."

Like virtually every book I've ready by Dave Barry, Best. State. Ever. had me laughing out loud at least once per page.  Before you plan your next Florida vacation, be sure to read this.

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

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Do Princesses and Super Heroes Hit the Trails? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, illustrated by Mike Gordon

If only it were this easy!  A family is sitting around asking, "What can we do for a super fun day?"  They decide, "The national parks look like a good place to play."  So they load up the car, and visit a dozen national parks.  Don't I wish!  So goes Carmela LaVigna Coyle's Do Princesses and Super Heroes Hit the Trails? 

It's an over-simplified idea, of course.  Anyone who has travelled to our national parks knows that, in most cases, you have to plan carefully and well in advance.  But those details are for the grown-ups. This book is for the kids!  Coyle, along with Mike Gordon's cute illustrations, manages to capture the essential idea of these national parks in a couple of pages each.  It's enough to inspire young and old readers to start making plans now for a visit.  A lava tunnel?  A mule ride into a canyon?  Giant cacti?  A moose?  Gorgeous views?  Count me in!

Do Princesses and Super Heroes Hit the Trails? is simple and fun and is sure to plant some seeds in little minds who are already planning their next vacation.

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

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Spirit Magnet in Texas, by Ann Bridges

I gotta admit, I'm quite skeptical of claims about ghostly activity, so a book about ghosts would not normally appeal to me.  But Ann Bridges has lived for many years in the Fort Worth area (where I live) and writes about her encounters in Fort Worth and around Texas, so I decided to check out Spirit Magnets in Texas: 20 Ghostly Encounters.

This woman has had repeated experiences with ghosts, both in public places and in her own homes.  I don't know if she's looking for it more than others, or has a natural sensitivity, but I would guess very few of us have similar experiences.  She uses an "EMF detector" to measure the presence of spirits, and a "spirit scanner" through which spirits actually speak to her.

I have to admit, even reading her first-hand accounts, and seeing the photographs that contain mysterious orbs or blurry images of faces or figures that weren't there, my skepticism remains high.  Sorry, Ms. Bridges.  However, one thing I really enjoyed about her book is the tidbits of history.  Towns like Granbury, Mineral Wells, and Bandera, and historic places like the Fort Worth Stockyards and the Alamo and the neighboring Menger Hotel have such rich histories and endless anecdotes.  Her stories of ghosts in those places really make history . . . come alive?  Now I know where the namesake of my high school, Richard King, can be found--in his suite at the Menger.

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

Josiah's Fire, by Tahni Cullen

I really don't know what to do with this book.  Josiah's Fire: Autism Stole His Words, God Gave Him a Voice, written by Tahni Cullen, Josiah's mother, and Cheryl Ricker, describes Josiah's early use of language, his diagnosis of autism and loss of language, and his incredible expressions of language later on.

At first, Josiah's Fire is a poignant memoir of parenting a child with autism.  When Josiah, a seemingly typical child, began acting detached from his surroundings and stopped speaking, his autism diagnosis hit the Cullens hard.  Parents of children with autism can relate to the desolation and frustration with God, their social awkwardness in relating to parents of typical children, and their many efforts, through schools, therapies, and treatments, to recover the child they felt they had lost.  This is the book I was expecting.

I did not anticipate the turn the Cullen's life took when he unexpectedly began to communicate in ways they never expected.  He started to show signs of interacting, spelling simple words on his iPad.  Then, after reading about Jesus healing a blind man, he typed "godisagoodgiftgiver."  Thus began his writing, which poured out, showing spelling and writing ability that he had never shown, along with spiritual insight that defied natural explanations.

Here Josiah's Fire--and the Cullens family--takes a turn for the unbelievable, the unexpected, the unprecedented.  Josiah wrote and wrote, describing his trips to heaven, where he sat at a table with other students to learn from the likes of Moses and Abraham Lincoln.  He describes long-dead family members he meets there, and what their jobs are.  He has prophetic insight into his mother's life, and theological insight that astounds his family.

His writing is enigmatic, insightful, and at times poetic.  Keep in mind that he was not yet seven when he wrote that first phrase, and began writing more and more.  His use of language almost makes him sound like a non-native English speaker, which makes sense, since he really hadn't learned to write at all before he began getting these revelations.  Here are some snippets:
In the Trinity, the Father is the manager.  The Son is the love of operations.  Holy Spirit is worker.  So it's the three-in-one getting things done. 
So voice the little hands to say, "Pick me, Jesus!  I am that person who will partner with your plan to be the fullness of miracles in this earth!" 
If you order something from God's list, you should get it.  If you don't right away, you should make another call and ask why.  Order it up again.  Then it will be spoken to the warehouse that you want that thing, and checked it is on God's list for you to have it. 
The world is trialed now only by the truth.  Break, taste, drink, see that the truth is so good.  Trials are to truth, not to suffering.
As you might imagine, Josiah's parents were overwhelmed with Josiah's writing.  They began posting them on Facebook, gaining a following.  Some of his writings were very specific, and directed toward certain people, who confirmed their accuracy.  Theologically, I saw nothing objectionable or contrary to scripture.  Whether his descriptions of heaven are accurate--well, I suppose I'll just have to wait and find out.

Interestingly enough, Josiah prophesied healing for autism.  Yet he still acted out, had tantrums, and interacted with others in ways that indicate autism.  He felt frustration that his physical body would not behave sometimes, while he had such insights and spiritual experiences.  (During his heavenly forays, he did not have autism.)

So, what to do with Josiah's Fire?  For parents of children with autism, it may be hard to relate to Josiah and his family.  I never got the sense that they believe this type of communication would become the norm.  But do I believe that individuals with autism can have spiritual insights and experience the presence of God?  Absolutely.  They just may not have the ability to describe it.  In the meantime, I'll rejoice with Josiah's family that they have been given such a gift and appreciate the wisdom and insight that Josiah's unique link to heaven can give.

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