Saturday, July 22, 2017

Big-Hearted Charlie Runs the Mile, by Krista Keating-Joseph, illustrated by Phyllis Holmes

Charlie loved to run, and begged his mom to let him join the track team.  He came in last when he raced, but worked very hard until he finally began to do well in his races.  He carried that hard work and determination to successfully become a decorated Navy SEAL.  Charlie's determination and big heart will inspire children to pursue their own dreams and not give up.

Krista Keating-Joseph's text conveys the story in a simple, straight-forward way.  Phyllis Holmes's illustrations are very simple, even amatuerish.  It's a book I could easily dismiss, had I not learned the story behind it.  Keating-Joseph started the book as an inspiration to her son Charlie when he was a kid.  Her mother Phyllis Holmes drew some pictures for it.  As a Navy SEAL he served with distinction in Iraq, where he was killed in action.  After his death, his mother pulled out this book, added a few pages about his service, and published it to honor him and inspire others.

With a story like that, how can you not love this book?

www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2017/05/03/navy-seal-charlie-keating-anniversary-childrens-book/309458001/



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

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Asperger Teen's Toolkit, by Francis Musgrave

As if teens don't already have enough to deal with, teens with Asperger's syndrome have a whole extra set of issues and most have difficulty knowing how to handle typical teen stresses and questions.  Francis Musgrave, founder of AS Active, a UK charity that supports families and children with autism, has followed his 2012 book The Asperger Children's Toolkit with The Asperger Teen's Toolkit.  This new book can be a great go-to resource for teens with Asperger Syndrome and their families.

Covering topics that teens deal with--self-image, relationships, emotions, bullies, social media--Musgrave lays out coping strategies and alternative expressions that teens can use.  Self-aware teens can read his tips for self-care, positive attitudes, human connections, bouncing back, etc., and build their own "pyramid of strength."

Musgrave doesn't shy away from some of the really tough issues like cutting, eating disorders, sex and relationships, and explosive anger.  He gives helpful strategies for focusing and deescalating.  His tone is positive and affirming.  One section that bothered me was the gender identity section.  As he listed a variety of gender identities, I had to wonder if this is really healthy and helpful.  I could imagine a developing bundle of hormones reading that and thinking, "Hmmm, so many options, what will I decide on?"  I am frankly troubled by the growing emphasis on gender fluidity for children and teens, and can't help but think that it will have destructive, or at the very least confusing, consequence for most kids.

My favorite part of the book is Part 3, in which Musgrave talks about pursuing interests.  Not only can music, pets, gaming, and drama be excellent outlets, these are areas in which teens with Aspergers can truly excel.  Like any teen (or adult, for that matter) becoming accomplished at something you love is rewarding and can create a sense of worth and positive self-image that compensates for other areas.

The Asperger Teen's Toolkit is worth a look for teens and their parents and educators.  My guess is that teens won't read this cover to cover, but it is arranged in such a way that teens can easily be directed to relevant sections to address needs they have.


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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Eye of Moloch, by Glenn Beck

Picking up where The Overton Window ends--with a thwarted attempt to frame conservative patriot groups with a bomb attack--Glenn Beck's The Eye of Moloch continues the theme.  Secretive, powerful sources are pulling the strings of government, orchestrating events to force the expansion and centralization of power.  Their fall guy is the Founders' Keepers, a conglomeration of conservative and libertarian groups who have rallied behind Molly Ross, the heroine of The Overton Window.

As readers of The Overton Window will expect, The Eye of Moloch is not a great book.  It's a fast, jumpy story, with lots of opportunities to suspend disbelief and groan at his characterizations and cartoonish action sequences.  The best part of the book, like in The Overton Window, is the Afterword, in which he goes chapter by chapter, giving the historical and factual basis for many of the plot points of the book.  This treatment raises The Eye of Moloch from the level of easy-to-dismiss pulp fiction to a thoughtfully considered, realistic story.

So yeah, it's a passable and forgettable beach read on one level.  But given the research Beck put into the story elements, he leaves the reader with much to consider.  As Philip K. Dick wrote, "Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then."


Monday, July 17, 2017

Oh, Honey, by Emily Austin

Emily R. Austin's Oh, Honey sounds like a funny book.  Jane is a telemarketer, calling strangers all day to ask them to participate in a survey about feline diabetes.  Of course, most people hang up on her.  To entertain herself, she uses different names on every call, including on multiple calls a day to the same customer.  Over and over she calls him, while he gets angrier and angrier.

But Jane's no fun-loving, pranking telemarketer.  She's a drug addicted, sexually reckless, troubled young lady with a depressing past.  Oh, Honey is not as depressing as Jane's life, but it's pretty close.  She will try whatever drugs her co-worker or her roommate's girlfriend puts in front of her.  She habitually cuts patterns on her skin; she likes the feeling of bleeding.  She sits in the tub, watching the water turn pink.

The humor of Oh, Honey is dark and troubling.  It's hard to laugh at Jane's self-destructive lifestyle.  I didn't enjoy Oh, Honey and wouldn't recommend it.


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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

When a Wolf Is Hungry, by Christine Naumann-Villemin, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Poor Wolf is hungry, and his dinner plans keep getting interrupted. in Christine Naumann-Villemin' When a Wolf Is Hungry, a rabbit who is the target of his craving has some unwittingly protective neighbors who divert wolf from his culinary pursuits.  The result of the story, vividly illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, is that wolf enjoys a bunch of new friendships with neighbors, none of whom he is going to eat.

I'm not a vegetarian, and I'm not totally certain Naumann-Villemin has set out to convert children to vegetarianism.  On the surface, this is the story about a wolf who came to judge that his neighbors are more valuable as friends than as meat.  The greater message is that all of us should view our neighbors as friends, not as targets from whom we might finagle our next meal or some other benefit.

So bring on the meat for dinner (for us humans), but let us look out for our neighbors, too.  Most of us don't take enough time for the people around us.  Like the wolf and his new neighbors, we should consider a get together on the roof, or whatever convenient gathering place you can find.




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

Friday, July 14, 2017

Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation, ed. Kenneth Keathley, et al.

Among scientific topics, perhaps none is more contentious than the question of the origins of the universe and the emergence of life.  We know about Christians who believe the world was created in literal 24 hour days a few thousand years ago.  But there are also Bible-believing Christians who believe a variety of other theories about origins.  In Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos, scientists and theologians from two organizations, Reasons to Believe (RTB) and BioLogos, and scholars from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, debate and discuss their perspectives and beliefs.

The first thing to say about this book is that it's refreshing to see a congenial, enlightening conversation among Christians with such differing viewpoints.  While they share the same faith in Jesus, their disagreements on certain points about the natural world differ, sometimes greatly.  Yet neither group came across as disparaging or belittling their intellectual foils.

The two organizations, BioLogos and Reasons to Believe, vary in their goals and beliefs about the origins of life.  The scientists of BioLogos embrace the evolutionary model that dominates mainstream science, while embracing biblical theism.  They insist that "the science of evolution does not require an atheistic worldview." RTB's mission is "to develop and proclaim a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive." The creationism they champion is not a young earth six 24 hour day creationism; they hold to an old earth creationism.

In each chapter scholars from the two groups discuss a particular topic, moderated by a Southwestern Seminary scholar.  Covering topics such as Adam and Eve, evil in the world, biological evolution, geology and fossils, and anthropology, the chapters wrestle with the contrasting perspectives of the two groups.

As an interested layperson, I felt like I had jumped in with both feet into material that I had little understanding of.  Don't get me wrong; the book is definitely accessible to the layperson.  But readers will have to be more motivated than I was to really understand and appreciate the nuances of the arguments.

What I did come to understand and appreciate is the commitment both of these groups have to reconciling historic Christianity to scientific inquiry.  It's so easy for people to say science and religion are irreconcilable.  These writers would argue otherwise, in fact proclaiming, in different ways, that scripture and the natural world do not contradict one another.  RTB especially sees science as an evangelistic tool.

Any scientist or scientific-minded layperson who is convinced that their conclusions about origins are irrefutable should pick up this book.  Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation should be read with humility and an open mind.  While the question of what actually occurred in the first moments of creation may never be settled in our mortal lives, here is what I think this book can settle: Some reasonable scientists believe that the biblical account of creation is an actual account, and they can provide a scientific basis for their conclusions.  Some committed Christians believe that evolutionary models best describe the origins and development of life, and they do not believe this contradicts their belief in the Bible.  The reality is that both of these groups represent Christians who hold to historical theological perspectives, and scientists who practice accepted scientific inquiry.  One can't simultaneously agree with everything each group says, but this book will help you understand them.


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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Native Tongue, by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen's unique niche in humorous crime fiction is further secured with Native Tongue, his fourth solo novel, and the second featuring the unforgettable Skink.  Published in 1991, Hiaasen continues his familiar themes of opposing development in south Florida while bemoaning the high levels of tourism to the area.  Other familiar elements--bumbling criminals, jaded journalists, a beautiful ingenue, dirty developers--are all there as well.

Lest I make Native Toungue sound like a rehashing of Hiaasen's other stories, I assure you it's not.  Even with their familiar themes, I have found his novels to be wholly original.  Native Tongue is hilarious and silly, profane and violent, bitter and sweet.  When endangered voles are kidnapped from a theme park that wishes it were as great as Disneyworld, the ripples of deceit and criminality spread outward quickly, putting the theme park, its corrupt founder, the theme park's now former publicist, a cranky environmentalist, two burglars whose IQs are on the low end of things, and a lovely actress who wears a character costume all into interlocking and increasingly ridiculous interactions. 

I always enjoy Hiaasen's books, and Native Tongue is no exception.  I think it's one of my favorites.  But then again, my favorite Carl Hiaasen book is usually the last one I read. . . .


Monday, July 10, 2017

Jesus the Eternal Son, by Michael F. Bird

If you have ever wrestled with the question of adoptionist Christology, you should read Michael Bird's Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology.  To be honest, I have never wondered about adoptionist Christology, but I found Bird's treatment to be very interesting and convincing.

So what is adoptionism?  Simply put, "in adoptionism there was a time when Jesus was not the Son of God."  Adoptionists "insisted that Jesus's sonship had a historical beginning at some point: at his birth, baptism, or resurrection."  They were "perceived to be reducing Jesus to a human figure who had acquired divine status by merit."  Theologically-minded Christians will probably be uncomfortable with these statements.  Most Christians believe that Jesus was with God in the beginning, before he became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-14)

Bird looks at some of the key New Testament passages cited by adoptionists, as well as Greco-Roman and Judaic sources to give context.  Evaluating these sources, he questions the "quasi-consensus that the earliest retrievable Christology was adoptionist."  He calls adoptionism "a rather shallow and inadequate expression of the disciples'" experiences with Jesus.  According to Bird, "there is no tangible evidence for an adoptionist Christology in the New Testament."  It "lacks coherence when set beside the New Testament's overall witness to an incarnational Christology where the pre-existent Son is enfleshed as a human being, the man Jesus of Nazareth."

Based on Bird's book, I didn't get the impression that adoptionism is commonly believed today.  However, there is a large segment of the scholarly community that promotes the idea that many early Christians were adoptionist.  Is this a danger to the church or to orthodox thinking?  Probably not.  But the distinction is important.  Trinitarian theists who hold to an incarnational Christology (most historical Christians) will want to be familiar with the scriptures and arguments Bird discusses.  Bird's closing thoughts sum up the gravity of the issue well:
A Christology that presents us with a mere man who bids us to earn our salvation is an impoverished alternative to the God of grace and mercy who took on the flesh of our flesh and "became sin" so that we might become the "righteousness of God."  I prefer a Christology where the Son was crucified on the cross for us, was glorified in the resurrection for us, and was exalted to heaven for us.  So that on the appointed day, we all would attain adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies in the new creation.
Amen!



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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Very Own Space, by Pippa Goodhart and Rebecca Crane

The poor bunny simply wants a quiet place to be by himself and read a book.  In Pippa Goodhart and Rebecca Crane's My Very Own Space, that is what the bunny gets.  He's surrounded by noisy people who crowd him and disturb his reading.  So he finds a space that is all his.  Soon, though, he realizes that sometimes it's nice to share space and have fun with others.

My Very Own Space, with its colorful, engaging illustrations, is a perfect way to teach about boundaries, privacy, and learning to interact with others and respect their space.  Sometimes we want to be close and hang out in a group.  Sometimes we want to be quiet and alone, and sleep or read in silence.  This is a sweet, simple book for the toddler set.



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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Goodnight, Lab, by Chris Ferrie

As Chris Ferrie showed us in General Relativity for Babies, he believes it's never too early to introduce scientific concepts to children.  Goodnight, Lab follows the pattern of the age-old classic picutre book Goodnight, Moon, naming items around a scientific laboratory.

The budding scientist will be introduced to--and can say goodnight to--new friends like Albert Einstein and a "grumpy old professor shouting 'publish.'"  Other new "friends" include the ammeter, the voltmeter, the thermometer, the spectrometer, the liquid nitrogen, the compressed air, and the laser.

This isn't a great book with great art.  But it's cute.  Scientists will love it, and will love to read it to their kids.


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

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Overton Window, by Glenn Beck

What if elements within the government--or above the government--were plotting to create a catastrophic event in order to expand their own power?  In Glenn Beck's novel The Overton Window, he weaves together fact and fiction to present a plausible scenario in which a secretive, powerful coalition of government and non-government individuals attempt to force the nation into a more authoritarian, centralized structure.

Beck has been called a conspiracy theorist.  One national paper called The Overton Window a "paranoid thriller."  Correct on the thriller part.  Noah Gardner, whose father is a PR executive and one of the key conspirators, gets caught up with a right-wing organizer and finds himself torn between the world he knows working at his father's PR firm and the world of his new right-wing friends.  He's chased and kidnapped, shady characters operate above the law, and terrorists and secret agents wage clandestine battles.  It has all the elements of a political thriller.

But is Beck paranoid?  Beck writes that the scenarios he presents in The Overton Window are extreme, for dramatic purposes.  However, the bits and pieces of the story come from real life.  His afterword includes 25 pages of corroboration of the seemingly extreme scenarios he describes and statements the characters make in the book, complete with sources.  The sum total may seem paranoid.  But the individual pieces are there, to a greater extent than the average citizen knows--or wants to know.

The Overton Window is a quick, exciting read.  The story itself would fit right in on a TV drama, and the characters are stock.  Dismiss it as low-brow fiction if you wish, but don't dismiss the message.  Pay attention to the dialogue and speeches the characters make, note the source material and principles they convey, and evaluate current events in light of the book's perspective.  At the very least, you will begin to ask questions that dig beneath the surface.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sungrazer, by Jay Posey

The AI-piloted ship SUNGRAZER has been taken over by malevolent forces.  Who better to make things right and prevent interplanetary war than the Outriders?  Jay Posey introduced the Outriders in his 2016 novel Outriders.  Their adventures continue in his new novel Sungrazer.

Think of the Outriders as a future version of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, an elite, secretive special forces unit that is called on when an impossible mission needs to be done and no one can know about it.  The Clancy reference makes sense, as Posey has written for the Clancy video game series.  In Sungrazer, the Outriders's mission is to figure out who has hijacked SUNGRAZER and how they can stop it.  The rogue ship, a "kinetic orbital strike vehicle," is capable of obliterating a city.  It seems that someone wants to do exactly that in order to start a war between Earth and Mars.

The Outriders are smart, skilled, loyal, and patriotic.  Posey writes in great detail about their tactics and missions.  At times, I lost sight of the fact that they were operating in space or on another planet, so naturally does he weave in the technology and realities of Martian colonies and zero-g operation.  Like any good sci-fi, he doesn't let the tech get in the way of the action or the plot.

Fans of military special ops fiction will enjoy Sungrazer, even they're not into sci-fi.  Sci-fi fans will enjoy the political and technological elements of the novel.  While both are present, Sungrazer is really, on balance, more military fiction than science fiction.  It's enjoyable, action-packed, and readable.  Sungrazer stands alone from Outriders, but will make you want to go back and read Outriders.  On the other end, it wraps up with a satisfying ending, but leaves the door open for another mission.  I'll look forward to that one.


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

Monday, July 3, 2017

So Happiness to Meet You, by Karen Esterhammer

When Karen Esterhammer lost her job, and her husband's business was going nowhere, they decided that they needed a financial reset.  So they chose the obvious route: pick up roots and move to Vietnam.  Okay, maybe not that obvious.  But they had fallen in love with the country on a visit a few years before, and knew they could live there very cheaply.  Their reset year grew into two and then three, and we get to read about their adventures in So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam.

True to their goal of paring down expenses, they moved into a poor neighborhood with nary an expatriate in sight.  It didn't take long for their family, despite their blonde hair and blue eyes, to fit right in with their Vietnamese neighbors.  In their tiny houses and wide-open ground floor living rooms, neighbor visits were frequent and few secrets were kept.

During their time there, Karen fell "head over heels in love with Vietnam."   She writes that she "began to experience more moments of euphoria than I'd had in my entire life.  Every day I'd throw open the doors and wnat to run down the street, leaping and yelling, 'I can't believe I get to live here!'  I wanted to grab people off their bikes and hug everyone.  My neighbors were in our lives daily and I loved them as family."

It wasn't all roses.  Some of their financial woes followed them to Vietnam, stretching their planned one year stay.  They struggled with renters of their house in LA, and the major repairs the house demanded.  Her husband's plan to teach English to support their family didn't work out as well as they'd hoped.  But the low cost of living and their delight to be in the country outweighed all the woes.

She doesn't write a lot about the politics of Vietnam.  In fact, she deliberately avoids it.  But she couldn't help but be a little surprised at how unequal this communist country was.  When she found out that families have to pay school fees, she was shocked.  "'School isn't free here?' I asked incredulously.  I'd always assumed education was free in a Communist country.  Wasn't that the whole socialist point?"  In fact, markets thrive, but the culture of bribery thrives even more.

So Happiness to Meet You is a delight to read.  Her enthusiasm for Vietnam is infectious.  I'm not too sure about whether her strategy for a financial reset would work for me or most people.  It certainly worked for her, in more ways than one, and tempts me to give it some consideration!



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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Suit Your Selfie, by Stephan Pastis

Stephen Pastis's comic strip Pearls Before Swine is good, clean fun.  His latest collection of comic strips, Suit Your Selfie, gets laughs out of weight gain, friendship, and, of course, cell phones.  Pig and Rat have mixed feelings about new technologies like smart phones.

This is billed as a collection for kids, and I know kids will be amused by the funny animals and much of the humor.  But a lot of it is really humor for adults, not in the sense that it uses foul language or sex jokes, but that it addresses adult issues like dieting and growing old.  So, really, in the best sense, the comics are multi-generationally funny.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection full of laugh-out-loud moments.  Pastis makes several cameo appearances, allowing himself to be the butt of many a joke.  Pick up the book, check them out in the paper (if you still read a newspaper), or read them online at: http://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine.



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

Friday, June 30, 2017

No Longer at Ease, by Chinua Achebe

In Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease, it's the 1950s in Nigeria, and the colonial presence of the English is still strong.  Obi Okonkwo is among the privileged few who has the opportunity to study in England.  Upon returning to Nigeria and obtaining a position with the government, he finds himself straddling two worlds.  He's torn between city life and village life, the expectation to have money and the reality of his low salary and high expenses, the culture of his family and the love of someone from another caste.

The strength of No Longer at Ease is the cultural snapshot Achebe provides.  This was a pivotal time in Nigeria's history, and Obi's experiences and struggles reflect those of his generation.  He earns a respectable salary, but it quickly gets eaten up with the bribes he is expected to pay, the support his is expected to provide to his home, and the repayment of his "scholarship."  At the same time, he resists the culture of bribery.

Besides his financial struggles, Obi falls in love with a girl from another class.  His parents don't approve.  In fact, his mother tells him she will commit suicide if he marries her!  Obi turns his father's faith back on him, reminding him of Paul's admonition that all are equal.

Despite the cultural lesson of No Longer at Ease, I did not enjoy the story much, such as it is.  It has its qualities, but the qualities that make it a book I'd read again or recommend to a friend are lacking.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Escape Velocity, by Jason Hough

Jason Hough introduced the space elevator in The Darwin Elevator.  In the fifth book of the Dire Earth Cycle, crews from two different ships, one with a crew from the original trilogy, and one who left centuries later, have met up on the Creators' world.  At the end of book 4, Injection Burn, they are stranded after their ship is destroyed.  In Escape Velocity, they have to figure out how they will survive and return to earth.

Hough builds an amazing picture of the Creators' world.  Some of the characters have ended up on the surface, where the effects of the plague still linger after centuries.  Some end up in orbit, where a series of space elevators and space stations house the Scipio's base for invading other worlds.  Some end up on a moon, where they learn what happened to a previous mission from earth.

I love the way the three strands come together, not randomly, but by design.  As in the rest of the books in the series, Hough is strong on details and heavy on the action.  The humans, whose creative thinking and adaptability are the reason they were even send on this mission, have to adjust and adapt in their fight against an enemy that is overwhelming in number and, in many ways, technologically more advanced.

The Dire Earth Cycle has been fun to read, and Escape Velocity brings it to a satisfying conclusion.  Whether or not Mr. Hough continues with Dire Earth, I will definitely be looking forward to whatever else he writes.


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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Influx, by Daniel Suarez

What if there were a secret government agency tasked with keeping a lid on potentially society-changing new technologies?  In Daniel Suarez's Influx, the Bureau of Technology Control keeps tabs on innovative thinkers.  If they catch wind of new technology that would be disruptive to the social order, they swoop in and recruit the scientists to join them.  Unfortunately, many scientists aren't interested in the recruiting pitch and are made to disappear to a super secret prison.

One of those innovators is Jon Grady, who has developed a way to manipulate gravity.  The BTC destroys his lab and his work, kidnaps him and fakes his death, and tries to persuade him to join their work.  He resists, and they lock him up and subject him to extensive interrogation and tortuous experimentation.  With the help of other imprisoned scientists, Grady escapes and begins a wild chase and a massive technological showdown.

Suarez's technology is speculative of course, but much of what he BTC is keeping under wraps is wholly believable.  Despite the logic of the BTC, their arrogance and downright evil doesn't allow much room to support their cause.  Grady is a hero among heroes, not only fighting for his own physical and intellectual freedom, but fighting to bring down the BTC and to free and avenge his fellow scientists.

Influx is a page turner with lots of twists and turns and betrayals and acts of valor.  It's a celebration of the human drive to create and innovate.  Grady and his new friends refuse to let the BTC dictate the future and control their creations.  The action is  way over the top, but in a good way.  It's summer blockbuster level, should the movie ever be made.  (It might be interesting to see Detroit destroyed. . . .)  Great action, interesting science, fun characters, original ideas--all the elements of entertaining sci-fi are included.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, graphic adaptation by Nick Bertozzi

Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth was published in 1931.  Not only was it a best seller, it won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes.  Clearly her message about a poor farming family in China whose bad fortunes forced them to move to another part of the country resonated with Americans suffering during the Great Depresson.

Nick Bertozzi has made The Good Earth more accessible with his graphic novel adaptation.  The art is black and white and sketchy looking.  It reminded me of the storyboards I've seen for a movie in progress.  The text seems to be a faithful retelling of the story (although I admit it has been many years since I read The Good Earth).  As you would expect, it has a feeling of abridgement that will leave devoted fans of the novel disappointed.

This isn't a great graphic novel, but it can certainly serve the purpose of introducing the story to people who might not have the patience or inclination to read the original.  It may even inspire readers to pick up or return to Buck's masterpiece.


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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Camino Island, by John Grisham

John Grisham keeps on being Grisham.  Like some of his other more recent books, Grisham departs from the legal thriller genre to a more low-key crime drama.  In Camino Island, a group of theives pull off a well-executed heist of orginal manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels.  The FBI is on the case, and follows the trail to Camino Island, where an independent book store owner has a side trade in rare books and manuscripts.  Word is that he has possession of the Fitzgerald manuscripts.

Enter Mercer Mann, who grew up visiting her grandmother on Camino Island.  She's an novelist who, despite initial success, hasn't published in a while, and who recently lost her college teaching position.  A private security firm hires her to establish a relationship with the bookseller in hopes of learing about the manuscripts.  So begins her stint as a literary spy.

In true Grisham fashion, the story is simple, with just enough clues left and questions left unanswered to keep you wondering and guessing.  On one level, it's pretty obvious where the story is going.  On the level that counts, though, you know that Grisham won't just leave it at the obvious.

I enjoyed Camino Island, including the insider's talk about the world of writing, of independent bookstores, and the business of publishing.  Grisham's sense of humor, great characters, and perfect pacing move the story along nicely.  I will say this one's a little thinner than some of his more intense books, and it leaves a few loose ends unsatisfactorily flailing, but for the most part it's a perfect read for your next vacation to Camino Island or any other beach.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Will Robots Take Your Job? by Nigel M. de S. Cameron

In Will Robots Take Your Job? A Plea for Consensus, Nigel M. de S. Cameron asks what is a more and more realistic question.  So, will a robot take my job?  Maybe.  It depends.  Ask the bank teller who was displaced by the ATM.  Ask the grocery store checker displaced by self-checkout stations.  Ask any former assembly line worker.  Ask the taxi driver soon to be displaced by self-driving cars.

De Cameron takes a broad view of the impact of mechanical intelligence and robot workers on employment trends.  Reviewing an array of research, he determines that "there is wide agreement that the development of Artificial Intelligence and robotics is set to have an enormous impact on the future of human work--driving up productivity, but in the process narrowing or completely shutting down many traditional jobs."  While some jobs are more at risk than others, "it would be unwise to bet on any particular human function being 'secure'--safe for our species to perform, safe from the rivalry of machines."

The levels of displacement run deeper than might be obvious.  For instance, we hear a lot about driverless cars.  Obviously, taxi drivers, truck drivers, and Uber drivers' jobs would be at risk.  But if, as expected, driverless cars lead to fewer people owning cars, jobs related to the manufacture and repair of cars would diminish.  Driverless cars would be safer, so auto accidents would drop, leaving ERs without a major client base.  The ripples go on and on.

Many observers point out that historically, when new technologies displace workers, new jobs or whole industries arise.  De Cameron is not so sure that there will be enough jobs to replace those taken by AI and robots.  Will Robots Take Your Job? is a readable introduction to this topic.  It asks more questions than it answers, and ends up wishy washy on the questions he asks.  It will definitely get you thinking about whether you need to reexamine your own career choices.


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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Injection Burn, by Jason Hough

In the first three books of the Dire Earth Cycle, Jason Hough tells the story of the Builders, who put a space elevator on earth and introduced a virus that killed off most of humanity.  Fast forward several centuries, and mankind has bounced back.  Using Builder technology as a spring board, they have developed the ability to quickly travel great distances through space.  Injection Burn, book 4 of the Dire Earth Cycle, starts with the crew of the Wildflower.  They have travelled to the Builders' home world.  To their great surprise they meet up with Skyler Luiken and his crew.  Skyler, a key player in the events in the first 3 books, and his crew left earth in a builder ship.  Due to time dilation, little time has passed for them.  The Wildflower crew, stunned to meet these important historical figures, team up with Skyler's crew to fight the Scipios, a race who has enslaved the Builders.

Now that I have successfully made a very exciting sci-fi story sound pretty dull, I have to say Injection Burn is great fun to read.  Hough writes extended action scenes so full of detail that you can vividly see the whole thing in your mind.  He provides the details, the sights and sounds and actions and reactions.  The future science and mechanics of zero-g and space travel are not taken for granted.  The alien species are imaginatively created and described.

In short, if you like your sci-fi science-y and action-packed, with lots of aliens, interplanetary travel, and inter-species war, while leaving out the romance and philosophical interludes, Hough fits the bill.  Injection Burn continues and fills out the story of the first 3 books.  If you haven't read them, you won't be lost in Injection Burn, but the background certainly adds to the enjoyment of this new book.  And, just as he did with 1, 2, and 3, he is publishing 4 and 5 in rapid succession, so you don't have to wait long to see how the action continues!  Escape Velocity comes out next week!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Mad About Trump, by MAD Magazine

MAD magazine used to be, and sometimes still is, very funny.  In Mad About Trump they gather together a wide array of satirical comics, fake ads, campaign posters, etc., in a collection skewering President Trump.  The result is rather unfunny.

On the one hand, they follow the standard Trump comedy lines: he has funny hair, he has orange skin (Now it's OK to make fun of someone's skin color, as long as his name is Trump.), he has a lot of money and flaunts it, he sends spontaneous tweets.  Trump provides us with lots to make fun of and lots to laugh about, but the MAD folks spend too much time laughing at the obvious.

On the other hand, they take the vitriolic tone of anti-Trump comedians and perpetuate the canard that Trump is nothing but a sexist, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, moronic, joke of a political candidate and now office holder.  They are following the path of all those comedians who have given up humor for spiteful ad hominem criticism.  As they have learned, their audiences respond to this.  (Comedian: "I hate Trump."  Audience: "Hahahaha! Such wit!  Such astute political insight!  Such unabashed truth!")

So, yeah, as you can tell, I'm a conservative who voted for Trump.  You might not be able to tell, but I do have a sense of humor.  Some of the anti-Trump humor in Mad About Trump was funny, but mostly MAD's easy shots of left-wing Trump overtook any genuine political satire and the universally funny material they have long been known for.


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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Art of the Classic Sports Car, by Stuart Codling, photography by James Mann

Something about the pictures in The Art of the Classic Sports Car, written by Stuart Codling with photography by James Mann, makes the featured cars seem like so much more than transportation.  They are works of art.  For most of us, a car is a means to get from point A to point B.  But when a special car drives by and catches your eye, the aesthetics and engineering and sheer fun make you forget about practicality.

Focusing primarily on mid-twentieth century sports cars, The Art of the Classic Sports Car covers makers you know and makers you might not (at least that I didn't know).  Some of these might be seen prowling your neighborhood streets--I still see 240Zs from time to time--but most of them will only be seen in a museum or auction house.  A couple of these have sold in recent years for millions.

The text is interesting, giving some history, anecdotes, and technical information about each model.  But the stars of the show are the photos.  The cars are pristine, and the photos bring out their glory.  I love the fact that these cars, for the most part, are not "luxuirious" as we tend to think of cars today, with the bells and whistles that tend to be superfluous.  The luxury is in the clear craftmanship and love of design that is reflected.

If you are a car lover, pick up this book, but before you do be prepared for your heart to race a little.  You might also want your wife to change the passwords on your bank account, too, so you can't give in to the tempation to run out and try to find one of these beauties to buy.


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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Worn Out by Obedience, by Ron Moore

As pastor of a large multi-campus church, Ron Moore has seen and experienced his share of spiritual burnout.  In Worn Out by Obedience: Recovering from Spiritual Fatigue, Moore offers hope to those of us who are tired and weary.  Much of the book is guided by David's experience in Ziklag.  A self-imposed exile, during this time he was far from God, listening to his own counsel, and stagnating in his own poor decisions.

Sometimes we feel like this: "I feel that God has left me alone.  Therefore, my inclination is to find a place away from God."  Like David, we self counsel (never a good idea).  We "lost a sense of intimacy with God and became indifferent toward spiritual things."  We "surrendered to sin--and settled for a life of disobedience, disconnected from God."  We "no longer fight the tempation" but "embrace the sin."

This state of spiritual being could be due to flagrant rebellion.  But for many Christians, it comes as a result of weariness from service, even in a life of consistent obedience and faithful Christ following.  As Charles Swindoll wrote, "Most (yes, most) Christians . . . have very little dynamic and joy in their lives."  Moore shares many presonal stories from Christians who have faced these feelings.

His diagnosis is spot on, and his remedies are welcome.  The decision is our own to leave Ziklag, and the Holy Spirit offers us power to do so.  David himself provides "five steps of true repentence" that we can follow as a path out of Ziklag.  Even better, Moore writes about staying out of Ziklag in the frst place.

Most important of all, Moore reminds us that even when "the internal disappointment and external performance . . . wear[s] us down," we can remember that "our identity is in Jesus."  Once we are his, we are his forever.  Even knowing and accepting this, I wish Moore would have spent more time on that disappointment Christians experience, that lack of "dynamic and joy."  Why does it seem so elusive?

I would be surprised if you read this book as a Christian and didn't find some resonance with Moore's exposition.  I certainly saw myself in Ziklag and appreciate his pointing the direction out.

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

I have really enjoyed movies based on Philip K. Dick's books and stories.  I have rarely enjoyed his books and stories.  PKD fans, of course, will say I'm too shallow or something and don't appreciate great literature, settling for the dumbed-down Hollywood versions.  I respond that it's a matter of taste.

I haven't seen any of the TV series The Man in the High Castle, but I suspect my experience will line up with my history.  The book, while it follows a more traditional narrative structure than some of his other novels, isn't very good.  From what I've heard and seen on the previews, the TV show is probably better.

In The Man in the High Castle, Japan and Germany won World War 2 and each occupy respective regions of the former United States.  A popular book, banned in Nazi-occupied areas, presents an alternative future in which the U.S. won the war.  That's kind of a fun idea: alternative fiction about a work of alternative fiction which more closely matches our reality.  The author, who is reputed to live in a high castle, is both admired and targeted.

The loosely related story lines never came together for me very well.  The representation of west coast cutlure under Japanese rule is a little bit interesting, but not really.  The idea that technology developed much more quickly under the Nazis--they are sending manned missions to Mars and Venus--is implausible.  None of the personal stories or disparate plot lines appealed to me.

Dick has enough good ideas here that I will still check out the TV show at some point.  As fascinating as the ideas behind his writing are, the fact that for the ideas to be shaped into a decent story requires other writers' refinement and explication tells me that PKD's influence is far greater than his talent.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kill Decision, by Daniel Suarez

Looking for a beach read?  Daniel Suarez's Kill Decision is an exciting mix of political thriller and techno thriller.  There are dark forces with deep ties to the U.S. government that want to promote the use of lethal autonomous drones as the next stage of warfare.  Thankfully there is a rogue group of military specialists with the freedom to act independently and with a mission to stop the drone warfare.

With the mysterious Odin at the helm, this group travels the globe in response to a series of related attacks.  The attacks are initially called bombings, but it becomes clear that it's drones.  Odin and his team, whose autonomy, attitudes, and methods reminded me of the team on Agents of SHEILD, intervene in Africa, saving a research scientist who specializes in ant colonies from a drone/bomb attack.  She specializes in the swarming behaviors of aggressive ants, and they learn that her research and computer models have been coopted by those designing and deploying the drone attacks.

Odin, the professor, and Odin's team find themselves targets of the attacks and have to go off the radar to track down the origin.  The story is full of action (admittedly sometimes rather implausible) and narrow escapes.  The science of the drones is frighteningly realistic.  The drones are autonomous, using facial recognition and other software tools to hone in on their prey.  This prevents jamming signals from interrupting their missions, and allows the drones to function at any distance from the programmers.  In addition, they communicate with one another with artificial pheremones, mimicking actual insect communication, an interesting concept that I had not thought of before.

For all I know, this technology is only a short step away from reality.  Suarez makes it very believable, and  crafts an exciting story around its use.  Kill Decision won't make the reading list for American Lit 101 at your local college, but for a fun, exciting page turner, it hits the spot.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

The World of Urban Decay 2, by Martin ten Bouwhuijs

Martin ten Douwhuijis loves to take pictures of decaying buildings.  Strangely enough, you may find yourself loving to look at pictures of decaying buildings in his book The World of Urban Decay 2.  (This is his second book of photographs, following the 2013 publication of The World of Urban Decay.)

He writes that the "emptiness and the natural decay" of places that have been abandoned for decades "make some places even more beautiful than when they were in use."  As his photographs clearly demonstrate, there is plenty of beauty in these abandoned places, but it takes an odd sense of taste to declare that they are more beautiful. . . .  Well, to each his own.

The sense I got from his photographs was more like sadness or longing.  Sadness, that places that held such beauty, beauty that is still evident despite peeling paint, water damage, collapsed floors, have been neglected, many of them past the point of recovery.  As anyone who has tried to remodel an old house or building knows, sometimes it's more efficient to tear down the old structure than to repair it and bring it up to modern living standards.  Also longing, recognizing that our age of cookie cutter homes and bland architecture was preceded by the times in which some of these places were built.

Ten Bouwhuijs's affection for his subject matter certainly shows in his photographs.  At the end, he gives more extensive notes about the places he features.  Some are slated for demolition, some may be renovated.  In order to photograph some of them, he crossed over barriers, through windows, or behind locked doors, such is his passion to see these neglected rooms.

He keeps the locations, scattered throughout Western Europe, mostly anonymous, fearing that other urban explorers with less appreciation and respect for the places will invade.  Through his eyes, we get to explore and get a glimpse into the past.  You will enjoy his hauntingly beautiful photographs.


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

This article from The Sun has some nice examples from the book:
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2992407/abandoned-buildings-europe-martin-ten-bouwhuijs/

Friday, June 9, 2017

Chokehold, by Paul Butler

Paul Butler's Chokehold: Policing Black Men is a rather difficult and uncomfortable book to read.  Butler, a former prosecutor, examines crime stats and societal trends, calling on black men to challenge the status quo and work to change the system that works against them.  That is one of the cornerstones of Butler's book: white supremacy created and perpetuates the U.S. system of law enforcement, and the suppression of black men is absolutely by design.

If that sounds too strong, consider Butler's words:
  • "Not only is the Constiution . . . insufficient to protect black people from police abuse, it actually aids and abets the police abusers."
  • "The law is not neutral or objective but actually prepetuates white supremacy."
  • "The system is now working the way it is supposed to, and that makes black lives matter less."
Butler uses the imagery of a chokehold--a means of physical restraint that "coerc[es] submission that is self-reinforcing."  In other words, it "justifies additional pressure on the body because the body does not come into compliance, but the body cannot come into compliance beacuse of the vice grip that is on it."  Black men are pressured by the police and by society to come into compliance, but they can't because of the chokehold on them.

The stats Butler presents are familiar and undeniable.  There is no question black men get a bad rap, in sentencing, in the extra attention they draw by cops on patrol, and in the limitations they face in school, the job market, and the housing market.  Butler acknowledges that crime rates are higher among black men, but that's part of the chokehold.  Crime rates are higher in black neighborhoods, so there are more patrols, so there are more arrests and convictions.  Round and round.

Butler has a definite agenda, so his presentation isn't exactly balanced.  I would have hoped to see more time spent on progress made since the Civil Rights movement.  Seeing black teachers, executives, doctors, engineers, and even presidents is no longer a novelty.  It's commonplace.  Surely having black men in positions of power and wealth means something.  On a related point, he does not acknowledge that the there is a flip side to the chokehold.  Believe it or not, most white people want to see black people succeed, for the sake of society as well as for the sake of their black friends and neighbors.  My white son is entering college.  It is a truism that more admissions to elite schools and scholarships would have been available to him were he black.  I have seen and heard plenty of anecdotal accounts of preferential hiring of black men and women in the workforce.  I am not judging such scholarships and hiring, but I think such policies should be acknowledged.  Butler makes a big deal about the chokehold being "an employment stimulus plan for working-class white people, who don't have to compete for jobs with all the black men who are locked up."  Couldn't it also be said that black men who manage not to get locked up have an even greater advantage in the colleges admissions market, the job market, and, significantly, the marriage market, over their black peers?

Chokehold is challenging, and more radical than I would have thought it would be, coming from a former prosecutor.  Butler's advice for black men who are trying to avoid arrest and guidelines for action once detained or arrested are bleakly helpful.  His proposals for action are, for the most part, realistic, if not a little radical.  He suggests that the maximum prison sentence for any crime be limited to twenty-one years, that we decriminalize low-level offenses, and that we spend more on health care and less on police.  Oh, and eliminate the prisons: "Black men will only be free, literally and figuratively, when prisons are no more."

So, yes, he's a radical, and will lilkely be dismissed out of hand by many conservatives and law-and-order types.  It's easy to pull FBI statistics to justify more policing in black neighborhoods and explain away failed black schools and communities.  But Butler is right on many points.  You don't have to join him in embracing critical race theory and the practices and proposals of the movement for black lives to acknowledge that structural racism has been, and to varying degrees still is, a factor in American society.  Even if we don't fully buy in to Butler's exposition and proposals, we can still work for a better future for all of our friends and neighbors of every race.


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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Dire Earth: A Novella, by Jason Hough

In 2013, Jason Hough published The Dire Earth Cycle, a trilogy of three books that were released within a few weeks of each other.  This year, he is releasing two more, in May and June.  In the meantime, he wrote The Dire Earth: A Novella to serve as a prequel to book 1, The Darwin Elevator.

The central feature of The Dire Earth Cycle is a mysterious space elevator of alien origin and a related plague that wipes out almost all of earth's population.  The Dire Earth takes place a few years after the space elevator is established, and chronicles the beginnings of the world-wide plague.  What seems like a series of unrelated vignettes comes together to build the central cast of characters for The Darwin Elevator.

Hough writes great action sequences.  His characters are varied and engaging.  The set-up in The Dire Earth--the elevator, the spread of the plague, the individual fights to survive--lay a solid ground work for the series.  If you've read The Dire Earth Cycle, pick this up.  If you haven't go ahead and start with The Dire Earth.  This is fun, action-packed, sci-fi.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Run With Me, by Sanya Richards-Ross

Track and field fans, or just casual fans who like to watch the Olympics, know Sanya Richards-Ross.  The Jamaican born sprinter, among other successes in her career, medalled in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games, and has been recognized as one of the world's fastest women.  Her new book Run With Me: The Story of a U.S. Olympic Champion is written to introduce young readers (I would say older elementary school age and up) to her career and inspire them to work hard and follow their dreams.

Even as a very young girl in Jamaica, everyone recognized that Sanya had a gift for speed.  Her father encouraged her to work hard and coached and supported her from a very young age.  The support of her father and the rest of the family was one of the notable themes of Run With Me.  The whole family moved from Jamaica to the U.S. in order to support her running career.  Her sister came to watch her work out.  Her dad was always there filming her races and critiquing her performance afterward.  Mom travelled with her around the world as Sanya became more well-known and successful.  Her family really did run with her, contributing greatly to her success.

Sanya's family's support was only part of the equation.  She has obvious physical traits that help her run, but her relentless hard work and passion to succeed drove her to win.  Sanya encourages her readers to follow her example and work hard, but more than that, she encourages them to follow God and find their identity in him.  "God doesn't look at our athletic performance.  He cares about our faithfulness.  Running is just what I do.  It's not who I am."

Noting that her hero, Marion Jones, had been sanctioned and stripped of her medals after she admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, Sanya writes:
I committed to myself and to God that if I ever became a role model for young girls, I'd give them something real and tangible they could hold on to.  I never wanted anyone to have a reason to rip my posters off their wall or strip my medals away.
She ran in her career with integrity, getting her fuel from natural foods, not from illegal substances.  In light of her commitment, however, I wondered about something she did not mention in this book: her abortion before the 2008 Olympics.  At the peak of her training, she became pregnant out of wedlock, and decide to abort her child in order to compete at the Olympics.  Granted, this is not a violation of any rules for competing, but killing one's baby, to me, is a much bigger deal than PEDs.  I am delighted to read elsewhere about her turning to God and the healing that he offers, and pray that other women will learn from Sanya's pain and choose life, and that women who have chosen abortion will find healing as she has.

Run With Me is full of scripture and reminders to keep one's athletic and other gifts in perspective.  Budding track stars can learn from Sanya that, no matter how fast God has made you, becoming a winner takes constant hard work.  But no matter what, we should put our faith in God and trust him.  Her track career is over, but Sanya Richards-Ross has many years of inspiring others ahead of her.


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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Term Limits, by Vince Flynn

Before Vince Flynn started his long-running series of Mitch Rapp novels, he jumped into the world of political thrillers with Term Limits.  This novel, Flynn's first, is set shortly before the events of the first Mitch Rapp novels, but clearly in the same timeline (some of the characters carry over into the Rapp novels, and some of the events referred to in Term Limits are important in the Rapp novels).

An assassin takes out three key government officials within a few hours, and a set of political demands is issued.  It's up to the young, idealistic congressman Michael O'Rourke to get to the bottom of the assassinations, which have the potential to spring some leaks that Washington power players would rather not be sprung.

Term Limits is a great start for a first-time novelist, filled with political intrigue, covert action and intel, and cynicism about the corruption endemic to Washington, D.C.  Readers of the Rapp books will agree, I think, that Flynn definitely improved his game as the series developed, but Term Limits is strong enough to demand returning Flynn's other books.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Course of Love: A Novel, by Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton has shown tremendous insight into culture and the human condition in his previous work. In his new novel The Course of Love, he follows a couple through their courtship, marriage, and parenthood, offering insight and reflection along the way. 

Falling in love, as most people can attest, is easier than staying in love. De Botton writes, "Our understanding of love has been hijacked and beguiled by its first distracting early moments. . . . We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue."  The real life story happens after all those initial feelings fade. 

De Botton's guidance isn't necessarily traditional. As he describes a more libertine view of sexual faithfulness, he suggests that while a tendency toward sexual exploration is still a minority position, he nonjudgmentally offers it as an option. Nevertheless, the husband in the story harbors guilt, if not regret, for a one-night stand while on a business trip. 

In spite of de Botton's moral ambiguity, The Course of Love is full of passages that anyone who has fallen in love and married will relate to and maybe even be moved and inspired by. 

Love is a progressive experience. The fact is that both partners in a relationship will continue to grow and change. Thus, "Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn't be its precondition."  As a marriage--and a family--grows, the couple will come to recognize that "Perfect happiness comes in tiny incremental units only, perhaps no more than five minutes at a time. This is what one has to take with both hands and cherish."

Love is precious and valuable. As far as novels go, The Course of Love isn't much to read. It's more of a collection of essays centered on stages in a fictional couple's life.  With the wisdom and insight he imparts, De Botton will certainly inspire lovers old and young to reflect on and treasure the love that they share. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

My Father, Maker of the Trees, by Eric Irivuzumugabe

Eric Irivuzumugabe endured experiences in his childhood that most Westerners could not imagine even in a nightmare. In My Father, Maker of the Trees: How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide, Eric writes of his enduring the short-lived reign of terror by the Hutus in Rwanda and the ravaged the country to eradicate the Tutsi "cockroaches."  

Readers may be familiar with the fact that  the division between the two tribes was not historically an issue, until Belgian colonial leaders superimposed the distinction on them as a means of control. They designated the Hutus as the ruling tribe, despite their smaller numbers, to help maintain control over the Tutsis.  After colonialization ended, the distinction remained. For the most part, the two tribes lived side by side, even intermarrying. But on three occasions, the Hutus acted genocidally. The third, in which Eric lost his family, was the most widespread and devastating. Eric's first-hand account is horrific and sobering. His perspective as a child enduring these events is invaluable. 

Besides the historical value of his account, I found his attitude of faith and forgiveness to be inspiring. His willingness and passion to forgive the Tutsis who murdered his family and tens of thousands more exceeds my understanding. Most of us will never be faced with the choice to offer forgiveness in similar circumstances, but we can learn from his example. As he hid from the marauding bands of Tutsis, he knew the maker of the trees in which he sat had a larger plan and purpose for his life. May we all find faith in and reliance on our Heavenly Father as he did. 



Sunday, May 28, 2017

50 Wacky Inventions Throughout History, by Joe Rhatigan

I have to admit, some of the inventions in Joe Rhatigan's 50 Wacky Inventions Throughout History are pretty wacky.  As the title suggests, Rhatigan describes "weird inventions that seem too crazy to be real," accompanied by cartoonish illustrations by Celeste Aires.  I don't believe any of the inventions here will inspire you to pull out your credit card.  But some of them are just likely enough to make you think it could work. . . .

A drone you can actually ride on?  Not bad.  An alarm clock that shakes your bed until you get up, or one that rolls all over the room before you chase it down and turn it off?  Heaven knows there are some mornings when drastic measures are called for!  A power converter to power the TV from a stationary bike?  My kids wouldn't have a weight problem in we had one of those at my house.

Some of these make you wonder, What was that inventor thinking?  A nose-mounted stylus for your iPad?  No, thank you.  An alarm to notify parents of their child's dirty diaper?  Seems unnecessary.  A hat on which you can mount toilet paper for those days when you have a runny nose?  Too odd to be useful.  A powered pogo stick, bouncy boots, or a body-mounted bicycle?  Have someone nearby with the engine running, ready to take you to the emergency room.

I wish 50 Wacky Inventions would have drawn more distinctions between things that were never made, things that were made but never really sold, and things that actually went on the market.  Also, as entertaining and colorful as Aires's illustrations are, it would have been interesting to include a few photographs of the actual inventions (the ones that were made anyway.)  All that said, this is a fun book, sure to get some laughs as you look at the things people come up with.  Maybe, just maybe, it will inspire young readers to come up with inventions of their own, wacky or not!


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

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Long Run, by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Catriona Menzies-Pike loves to run.  She hasn't always. . . . In her memoir The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion she tells her story of transition from a typical club-hopping, self-absorbed 20-something academic into a committed recreational runner.  I think a lot of runners will be able to relate to her and her transition.  She readily admits that she's not particularly athletic, and that she'll never be a fast finisher.  Like many runners, especially those of us who start running when we are past our physical prime, Menzies-Pike celebrates the joys of running, of training, and of sometimes participating in those festivals of running surrounding a marathon or half-marathon.

Menzies-Pike doesn't spend a lot of time in The Long Run talking about gear, training plans, diet, or race strategy.  In fact, she leaves the reader with the impression that she doesn't spend much time thinking about such things when she runs or races.  I can relate to that!  Just run!

What she does spend a lot of time talking about is the history of running for women.  She writes about the irrational prohibitions against women competing in running races, and the barriers they have faced along the way.  In today's atmosphere of equality, it's hard to imagine that women didn't compete in the marathon at the Olympics until 1984, and it hasn't been that long ago that women were prevented from entering the Boston and New York Marathons.

The perception of women still bothers Menzies-Pike.  The fact that her body is openly evaluated for its running fitness, that women are judged by their running attire, that women are sexualized in running all point to the sexism of society.  I appreciated her historical analysis; we can certainly celebrate the progress that has been made.  However, her strident feminism turned my off.  She views everything through the lens of gender discrimination.  She comes across unnecessarily as a bitter feminist.  (I know, I'm a male, of course I represent the patriarchy against which she has struggled these many decades. . . .)

My measure for books about running is, After reading, do I want to get out and run?  With The Long Run, the answer is no.  Her feminism aside, the whole book is really a downer.  She redeems herself a bit at the end with some passages about enjoying running for running's sake, but overall, I just didn't enjoy it, nor was I inspired to run.


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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has a brilliant and insightful view of the future.  His new novel Walkaway echos some of the themes from his prior novels--maker culture, wide-spread net technology and accompanying surveillance, growing disparities between cultural strata--while creating a future history that might be believable.

In this near-future North America, many people have chosen to become walkaways, turning their backs on default society, living in open and deserted land, creating communal living communities.  It's a culture of abundance, where needs can be met by manufacturing plants and 3D printers fed by scavenged raw materials.  The economy of the walkaways relies on gifts, plenty, and voluntary participation.

Doctorow makes some interesting economic and philosophical points about capitalism, meritocracy, and society.  When the daughter of a very wealthy family decides to walkaway and embraces the walkaway culture, the flip sides of society come into contact and inevitable conflict.  Their family squabble becomes emblematic of and central to a larger global conflict. 

With Doctorow's style and thoughtfulness, there was enough in Walkaway to keep me interested and reading.  But overall, I didn't love the story.  The motives and actions of the big war against the walkaways were not compelling to me.  The manufacturing tech was contrived.  The explicit sex scenes were gratuitous and did not add to the story.  The homosexual coupling and transgenderism seemed out of place, a blatant attempt to push a cultural agenda.

Walkaway is not Doctorow's worst book, but, unlike some of his other fiction, it's not one I think I'd like to read again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

The late Michael Crichton was one of the most prolific and entertaining writers of the 20th century.  He remains the only writer to have the #1 book (Disclosure), #1 movie (Jurassic Park), and #1 TV show (ER) in the same year (1994).  After Crichton's death in 2008, his wife discovered an unpublished novel among his papers: Dragon Teeth.

In a way, Dragon Teeth doesn't fit with the bulk of Crichton's work.  Set in 1876, Crichton centers the story around the famous "Bone Wars" between paleontologists Othniel Marsh and Edwin Cope.  A Yale freshman, William Johnson, sets out with Marsh to experience the West.  He accompanies Marsh on a summer expedition to dig dinosaur bones.  After Marsh abandons him en route, Johnson falls in with Cope, and experiences first-hand the bitter rivalry between the two fossil hunters.  The conflict and some of the events Crichton depicts are real; Johnson and his adventures are fictional.

Johnson, an heir to a Philadelphia family fortune, is out of place in the rough and tumble world of dinosaur bone hunting.  But throw in some Indian attacks, gunfights in Deadwood, ambushes along the trail, and buddying up with the famous gunfighter Wyatt Earp, Johnson is a changed man.  While the setting seems out of character for Crichton (actually, The Great Train Robbery was an early bestseller for him . . .), the story is familiar: a team sets out on a scientific expedition, things go terribly wrong, a few people die, and the hero has to rely on new-found skills to survive and protect the scientific discoveries.

Dragon Teeth was a real pleasure to read.  Crichton ratchets up the interest level to a high point, then maintains it to a satisfying conclusion.  The blending of real characters, places, and events with fictional characters keeps things interesting.  It's too real to be totally made up, but not so wacky that it couldn't have been real.  For Crichton fans, this is a must-read, but any reader looking for a fun story will enjoy Dragon Teeth.


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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Trump's War, by Michael Savage

Without a hint of irony, Michael Savage writes that he had a huge hand in Donald Trump's getting elected.  Trump was on Savage's radio show, and Trump "heeded the advice I gave him and now his is the president of the United States."  Who can measure the influence of radio host?  It's really impossible, but there's no question Savage was rallying the troops for Trump, so it's not a stretch to conclude that at least some of his listeners pulled the lever for Trump as a result of Savage's influence.

You might think a book called Trump's War: His Battle for America, published so quickly after Trump's election, would be nothing but a cheerleading celebration of Trump.  Admittedly, Savage does some of that; his various uncomplimentary nicknames and descriptions of Obama and Hillary leave no question in anyone's mind how he feels about the Democrat leaders.  While he does laud Trump for some of his positions and early actions, his larger purpose is to hold Trump accountable.

We have already seen how political pressures and reality have forced Trump to moderate his positions in some cases.  Are we going to build a wall?  A fence?  Nothing?  Are we going to repeal Obamacare?  Replace it with something just as bad?  Are we going to defund Planned Parenthood?  On some of these issues, whether he wanted to or not, Trump has wavered from the key campaign promises that got him elected.

Savage breaks down some of the policy challenges that Trump is already facing or will face and lays out a plan of action.  His solutions make sense, at least to someone with a conservative bent.  He's not a hard-line conservative though.  He's sympathetic to a minimum wage and reasonable level of regulations on business.

Even though Trump has been beaten down by Democrats (of course), the press (of course), and plenty of Republicans (unfortunately), he has managed to accomplish some of his stated goals.  If he will heed Savage's advice from Trump's War, perhaps Savage can help him successfully accomplish more.