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?

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.

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:

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