Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Higher Hope, by Robert Whitlow

In Robert Whitlow's Higher Hope, he continues the "Tides of Truth" series, in which law student Tami Taylor breaks into the legal profession with an internship at a Savannah, Georgia law firm.  Picking up where Deeper Water leaves off, Tami spends the second half of the summer being courted by two men, one a lawyer with the firm and the other a fellow summer intern, while her faith is stretched by the cases she works on and by the challenges of being away from home in a professional environment.

The main case on which she assists in Higher Hope deals with a developer who wants to buy a piece of property from a small church so that he can develop the area around it into a shopping center.  The lady preacher, whose home and the church, which is titled in her name, sit on the property, won't budge, and has made public accusations about the developers immoral personal life and business practices.  Tami is to help him bring charges of libel and slander against the preacher.

Even though the preacher is eccentric and has poor social skills, she has a big heart and Tami recognizes the prophetic gift in her.  Tami is torn between following the strict instructions from the lead lawyer on the case and her desire to see truth prevail and not to attack the church.  I like the way Whitlow draws these lines and acknowledges the sometimes messy dilemmas people of faith face in law and business.

On the personal side, Tami still has these two men competing (in a friendly way) for her affections.  She takes the lawyer home to meet her family for a weekend.  Even though he is a Christian and, like her, was homeschooled, Tami's parents find plenty to be suspicious of.  He has a ponytail, rides a motorcycle, and is simply not as conservative as they are.  It's funny to see how he tries to fit into their culture, and heartwarming to see the respect Tami shows her parents with regard to her personal life.  It's surprising to see a woman in her mid-twenties be as deferential to her parents as she is, but, as a parent, their relationship makes me wish I had been more directive.  Even with this deference, she is a smart, determined, independent thinker.

Higher Hope is a nice sequel to Deeper Water and leaves the door open for Greater Love.  Higher Hope ends with the end of the summer internship and an offer to return to work for the firm upon graduation, as well as an offer to work for a start-up firm that a fellow intern and the local DA are opening.  I like Tami and will look forward to reading about her next steps in Greater Love.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Movie Nights with the Reagans, by Mark Weinberg

In the current political environment, it certainly is refreshing to look back to an era in which the President of the United States was almost universally loved and admired.  Even though he had his detractors, as every politician does, there is little question in my mind that Ronald Reagan was one of the most beloved and popular presidents in our history.

Mark Weinberg worked closely with Reagan throughout his administration as a special advisor and press secretary.  As part of his duties, he accompanied President and Mrs. Reagan on their weekend retreats to Camp David.  While at Camp David, the Saturday night routine had the Reagans inviting everyone at Camp David to the living room of Aspen Lodge for a movie, complete with popcorn, followed by casual conversations about the film.  They usually watched current releases, but occasionally pulled out an oldie featuring Reagan himself.  Weinberg writes about these movie nights in Movie Nights with the Reagans: A Memoir.

Weinberg makes one thing clear from the start, and the tone of the book reflects it: he loves the Reagans.  This is no tell-all exposé.  His affection and admiration for the first couple never dims, and he expresses deep appreciation for the experiences he had with them during Reagan's presidency and after (he continued working for President Reagan after he left office).  Given Reagan's public persona, and bolstered by Weinberg's stories, I found myself longing for another Reagan.

Each chapter focuses on a movie, or in some cases movies with related themes.  Weinberg gives details about the movie, the circumstances of the week or day leading up to the Saturday night viewing, and reflections on the post-movie discussion.  But he works each movie into the broader picture of the presidency and events and issues of the day.

In some cases, themes or even quotes from the movie might turn up in Reagan's speeches or policy talks.  But in most cases, he simply loved movies, sans politics.  Regarding the feminist themes of 9 to 5, and the fact that one of the stars, Jane Fonda, was married to "the liberal activist and fierce Reagan critic Tom Hayden," Reagan didn't care.  "That was politics.  I think he just wanted to see a funny film."

Besides his love of movies, Weinberg's account demonstrates President Reagan's kindness, thoughtfulness, and gentility.  He reminded his staff that "people like to be uplifted, and they responded to leaders who appealed to their hopes and aspirations."  Once, when speaking to Mrs. Reagan about a cabinet member known for being rude to junior staff, Weinberg said, "But Mrs. Reagan, if the most important and busy man and woman in the world always had time to be courteous to people, why couldn't he?"  Throughout the book Weinberg writes about many small kindnesses the Reagans extended to staff, to strangers, and to others around them.

I couldn't help comparing Reagan to the current occupant of the White House.  On this measure, I think there are some similarities.  Trump always seems to have kind things to say about servicemen and first responders, and plenty of stories have been circulated about his expressions of appreciation and assistance for people who work for him, as well as for strangers.  However, Reagan insisted on treating his opponents with respect, and hated the use of coarse language both in personal interactions and in entertainment and media.  Trump is well known for speaking ill of his opponents and, as we all know too well, does not avoid coarse language.  We can only hope that as Trump matures in office (if you can talk about someone in his 70s maturing) he will emulate Reagan's example.

Movie Nights with the Reagans will make you nostalgic for the 1980s.  On a very small level, you might be inspired to watch some of these movies that came out decades ago.  But on a much deeper level you will be reminded of a man who set a great example of leadership, patriotism, and civility.  May the leaders of today and the future look to Reagan as an example and mentor.

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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Destination: Planet Earth, by Jo Nelson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Wow, reading Jo Nelson's Destination: Planet Earth, with its wealth of information and informative illustrations by Tom Clohosy Cole, feels like experiencing a whole semester of elementary school science classes.  This large, colorful volume from Wide Eyed Editions packs a ton of information into its pages.

Nelson covers a range of topics, from basic geography and navigation, to atmosphere and weather, to water cycle and landforms.  Each page has several text boxes with a short paragraph explaining the illustrations or developing a point.  Nelson finds the right balance of providing basic information without belaboring a point or over teaching.  The text and illustrations are nicely spaced so that the pages don't feel too cluttered.

While nothing can replace a good science class, I could see Destination: Planet Earth as a great resource for home or classroom to reinforce the lessons of a basic earth science class.

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Wallace the Brave, by Will Henry

Wallace the Brave could be described as brave, or maybe reckless, or certainly uninhibited and unrestrained.  He lives in Snug Harbor, where his dad is a fisherman and he has adventures with his friends at the beach.  Will Henry created Wallace and has collected his comics in his first book, Wallace the Brave.

Wallace and his friends have a sort of timeless existence, playing on the beach, sledding in the winter, playing outside a lot.  He's mischievous and imaginative, loving life and doing his best to be troublesome without actually getting in trouble.  Henry notes that he has been inspired by Calvin and Hobbes; that inspiration is evident throughout these pages.

As you would expect, Wallace's antics draw quite a bit of his parents' attention.  Parents of young boys will especially appreciate the plight of Wallace's parents.  I enjoyed Wallace, especially the fact that his default mode is doing something active outside, as childhood should be.  You can read more Wallace comics at

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Deeper Water, by Robert Whitlow

Robert Whitlow writes enjoyable legal fiction which features Christian characters and themes.  His Tides of Truth series follows budding lawyer Tammy Lynn Taylor through twists and turns of entering the profession of law and finding love.  In Deeper Water, book one of the Tides of Truth series, Tami (She shortens her name to sound more professional and less like a "hillbilly.") accepts an internship at a law firm in Savannah, Georgia.  She has completed two years of law school and knows this summer internship might be an opportunity to secure permanent employment after she graduates.

Tami's faith is solid as a rock.  We meet her family, who live in a small, north Georgia town with a tight-knit church and strict rules of living the Christian life.  They aren't Amish, but many of their practices almost sound like they could be.  Away from home, she faces many questions about her conservative dress, her Sabbath practices, and, especially, her propriety around men.  The one thing that seemed terribly strange was her deference to her parents.  She is presumably in her mid-twenties, two years out of college, and she still seeks her parents input on many decisions that most adults would not imagine asking their parents about.  Nevertheless, any parent would be pleased by the careful way she deals with two men who show interest in her, one lawyer and one fellow intern.  This love triangle adds some tension around the office, but is left unresolved in this book.

Tami becomes connected to life in Savannah, as she moves in for the summer with an elderly widow who is a fixture in town.  Her landlady's stories end up intersecting with a case she is assigned, defending an elderly man charged with trespassing.  He lives in the woods but ties up his boat to private docks on the river each night while he sleeps.  This ostensibly simple case leads Tami to investigating the decades-old disappearance of a little girl, the daughter of a prominent family.  She doesn't know who she can trust as signs of a malevolent conspiracy emerge.

If I didn't know this book was written by Robert Whitlow, I would have imagined the author as a woman, as Tami's faith and love life are the focus of the book.  I enjoyed the story, and, even though Tami and her family were so conservative as to be almost unbearable, I did appreciate the centrality of their faith to their lives.  I look forward to reading book 2!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

I enjoyed Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants more than I thought I might.  My hesitation was not because I knew anything about Neuvel or the book, but because writing a fresh story about a found alien artifact--a common sci-fi trope--can be a huge challenge.  Neuvel pulls it off masterfully. 

Part of the freshness is Neuvel's style.  He chooses to tell the story through a series of journal entries, interview transcripts, news reports, and other "third-party" sources.  He gives the novel a documentary feel.  Writing well in this style seems like it would be much more challenging than writing a traditional narrative.  Neuvel makes it enjoyable and readable, revealing just enough, yet answering the pressing questions that come up in the reader's mind.

The story itself is fun, too.  A little girl falls in a sink hole and lands in what appears to be a giant, metal hand.  Years later, more parts are discovered which, when assembled, form a giant humanoid robot, which has a pilot compartment for two controllers.  The technology is far beyond anything human civilization has developed, yet the robot is thousands of years old.  The human, scientific, and political implications are staggering.

I particularly enjoyed the audio version, in which several actors played the various speakers of the text.  This is one case where the audio really enhanced the written form, rather than just narrating.  Perhaps the best part was the unexpected cliffhanger.  I'm ready for book two of this trilogy!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Upside-Down Kingdom, by Donald Kraybill

Donald Kraybill first published The Upside Down Kingdom in 1978, and, despite frequent recommendations form a former pastor, I am just now getting around to reading it.  Kraybill has updated the text for this anniversary edition.  I don't know how many changes he has made after 40 years, but the message and impact of this book remains vital to the American church.

Kraybill focuses on the life and teachings of Jesus, which "appeared odd and utterly upside down in first-century Palestinian culture."  He writes, "the upside-down surprises of God's kingdom continue to startle people as it breaks into diverse cultures today."  Kraybill's strength is keeping the focus on the life and times of Jesus, so that the book remains relevant across time and culture. 

This is a great study, but more than other books about Jesus and the time and place of his life, Kraybill forces a paradigm shift for the reader.  For most modern readers, who live in the U.S. or other Western cultures where Christianity has dominated, viewing the gospel from the perspective of below is hard to wrap our minds around.  To attain power and authority in modern American culture, some semblance of Christian faith and values has been a prerequisite. 

There is some debate as to the extent to which it was practiced, but the principle of jubilee was still in place in Jesus' time.  Translating that into modern economies and lifestyles can be tricky, but using a graduated tithe and an open hand toward to poor points Christians in the right direction.  We should aim to where "generous giving replaces conspicuous consumption," a "Jubilee of generosity so that everyone has enough."

More broadly, Jesus surprises his listeners by honoring and commending those who have been excluded by society.  "Stigmatized occupations receive honor in the upside-down kingdom. . . . Instead of exchanging a new hierarchy for an old one, Jesus flattens hierarchies." 

Above all, Jesus ministry was about suffering and servanthood, two things that modern Christians don't readily embrace.  We tend to reject costly discipleship.  We have been told, "Just give our hearts to him . . . and we'll win more beauty contests, hit more home runs, make more sales, and receive more awards."  By contrast, Jesus' ministry is marked by the cross and the basin.  We should likewise be "willing to devote our energies in service of our King" with "compassionate service that flows from a vital experience of worship and prayer."

The Upside-Down Kingdom is a book that demands to be taken seriously.  Kraybill gives a template through which other books should be read, and a mindset to embrace while reading the gospels.  He takes the scripture seriously and wants to encourage Christians to take the life and example of Jesus seriously. 

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lies We Tell Our Kids, by Brett Wagner

Part of being a parent is telling kids the occasional lie.  Right?  Brett Wagner takes parental lies to the absurd extreme in Lies We Tell Our Kids.  Just so you know, these probably aren't lies you actually want to tell your kids.  And other than "If you cross your eyes, they'll get stuck that way," these are not anything I have ever heard or imagined hearing a parent tell his children.

These range from silly to terrifying, and are accompanied by Wagner's silly/terrifying illustrations.  "The police will inspect your toothbrush to make sure you're brushing."  Silly.  "Cookies and cream is made out of bird poop."  Yuck.  "Most rabbits have not developed the taste for flesh . . . Most."  Nightmare.

Lies We Tell Our Kids is a fun, silly book, for parents and older kids.  Maybe it will inspire your parenting strategies.

Thanks to Edelweiss for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Enemy of the State, by Kyle Mills

I am a fan of Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series and have been please with the way Kyle Mills picked up the torch and has continued the series.  Enemy of the State, the newest title, published in September of 2017, continues the Rapp saga.  However, Mills cuts off any restraints that may have been in place before and lets the Rapp vehicle careen wildly out of control!

In many ways, this is a typical Rapp story.  Rapp always does what he thinks is best and doesn't hesitate to buck authority if conditions warrant it.  In Enemy of the State, the president calls Rapp to a clandestine meeting and, in an oblique, fully deniable manner, asks Rapp to take out an opponent.  ISIS is teaming up with Saudi officials, intending to bring down the Saudi monarchy and expand ISIS's power throughout the world.  Rapp keeps his new "orders" to himself, quits his post with the CIA, and goes dark.

Rapp assembles a new team, with his housemate/girlfriend, whose late husband killed Rapp's family, and a couple of former foes.  It's a rag-tag, A-team kind of group with deadly skills and seemingly unlimited mobility and resources.  This is what bothered me about the story.  Rapp and his allies always have all the money in the world, it seems, even though they are cut off from the U.S. government's resources.  We hear, vaguely, about Mitch's brother's investment prowess and great wealth.  And they manage to hack their opponent's bank accounts so they have his Saudi millions at their disposal.  But it's always just too easy.  Having that kind of cash is one thing, but accessing and spending it in far-flung countries without secure banks is another.

And they always seem to magically obtain transportation to get where they want, when they want.  Border checks?  Flight plans?  Pilots to fly them?  Rental car agencies?  Never a problem.  I know, I know, Rapp is so smart he has cash and IDs stashed in every major city, but that's just assumed.  The result is a story that seems like a better fit for "Agents of Shield" than Vince Flynn.  I still enjoyed Enemy of the State and as soon as Mills's next Mitch Rapp book comes out, I'll gobble it up like any fan.  But I'm a little disappointed in the turn he has taken with the personality of the story.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Socrates in the City, ed. Eric Metaxas

Nearly twenty years ago, Os Guinness and Eric Metaxas created a lecture series in New York which they named "Socrates in the City."  Noting that, in light of Socrates's maxim that "the unexamined life is not worth living," New Yorkers live fast-paced, unexamined lives, Guinness and Metaxas wanted to create a forum to encourage New Yorkers to "think deeply about the big questions--or should I say, the Big Questions."  In 2011, Metaxas gathered some of the best lectures from the series in Socrates in the City: Conversations on "Life, God, and Other Small Topics."  (It was later released as Life, God, and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City.)

The range of topics and background of the speakers is broad, including theologians, scientists, political figures, philosophers, and Metaxas himself.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from John Polkinghorne and Frances Collins.  Both are renowned scientists who are leaders in their fields and whose lives and writings testify against the belief that faith in God and science are irreconcilable.  Charles Colson, as always, inspires with his stories.  And Metaxas, speaking about his research for his book about Bonhoeffer, sheds light on a modern martyr.  Every talk in this collection was compelling, and every speaker captivating.

The printed version of Socrates in the City captures Metaxas's hilarious introductions to the speakers, as well as the talks and the Q&A with the audience.  But the audio version is so much better, with the actual recordings from the event, the crowd response, and Metaxas's banter.  The Socrates in the City talks are still going on (  Next time I'm heading to NYC, I'll have to see if I can get in for a talk.  I am certain it would be a stimulating evening.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Be the Hands and Feet, by Nick Vujicic

You just have to love a guy with no arms and legs who entitles his book Be the Hands and Feet: Living Out God's Love for All His Children.  If you have read anything by Nick Vujicic, or heard him speak, or seen his videos, you know that this man, who was born with no arms and legs, embraces life and walks with Jesus.  In this newest book, Vujicic writes about his experiences traveling the world as an evangelist and motivational speaker, and offers keen insights into living the Christian life.

Rather than feel sorry for himself because of his handicap, Vujicic has opened doors to the gospel with his disarming good humor and faith to follow Jesus wherever he calls him to go.  He writes, "You don't need arms and legs to love God, you don't need arms and legs to love your neighbor as yourself, and you don't need arms and legs to stand in front of the gates of hell and redirect traffic."

Vujicic calls on the church to have a "big tent" mentality, not to seek to have a big, elaborate building, but to focus on having a "tent that is open to all in need of salvation."  Churches should be reaching out to and welcoming in people in need, both spiritually and materially.  He dreamt that in heaven, after God asks, "Do you know me?" he will ask, "Who did you bring with you?"  Vujicic is determined to bring along as many as he can, with a bold goal to reach billions with his outreach ministry.

While some, especially unbelievers, might question why God would allow someone to be born without limbs, Vujicic writes that he "found my purpose in life without limbs. . . . My lack of limbs has provided me with a platform, an entry point, into conversations about God and faith and hope."  I'm convinced that millions of Christians could say the same things about the gospel that Vujicic says, and there are many speakers as gifted as he is.  But the combination of his obvious disability and his openness to speaking to anyone and everyone about his faith has put him in a unique position and given him an audience that few people could have.  I love reading his stories, whether about meeting heads of state or spending time with children who have disabilities.  May God continue to give him good health and expand his ministry to people around the world.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Resurrecting Religion, by Greg Paul

I get a little bit tired of people saying, "I'm spiritual, not religious" or similar pronouncements.  It always sounds to me either arrogant, self-centered, or evasive, or some combination of these.  In Resurrecting Religion: Finding Our Way Back to the Good News, Greg Paul encourages Christians to embrace religion.

Granted, there is plenty of bad religion out there in history and current culture.  But Paul points out that while faith alone is personal and concerned with belief, religion is communal and concerned with action.  Without expressions of religion in action and justice, personal faith is lifeless, simply dry bones.  Spending most of his time in the book of James and the Beatitudes, Paul brings these passages to life, applying them in the context of the church today. 

I loved his theme of "Beatitude people."  Paul is pastor of Sanctuary Toronto, where many attendees are poor, homeless, mentally ill, addicted, etc.  They are the meek, the poor in spirit, the mourners, whose lot in life seems to be on the short end of everything.  But as Isaiah writes, their valleys will be lifted up and the mountains made low.  Paul offers hope for all of us, especially those that the world sees as residing at the bottom, because of the promises of the beatitudes. 

This is the true religion of Jesus.  Bringing together people from all classes.  Preaching justice and putting the gospel to work in the body of Christ.  It's not as easy as being spiritual on one's own, nor is it as cut and dried.  But the rewards and blessings of this kind of community overshadow the discomfort and pain that may come along.

Paul writes clearly and passionately.  He applies these scriptures in ways that will challenge many of us, but, to the extent that we are open to his prophetic voice, we may discover a deeper faith and a more vibrant, vital religion.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

On Our Street, by Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap, illustrated by Jane Heinrichs

One challenge of raising children is exposing them to unpleasant realities in the world and getting them to see beyond their own selfish concerns.  To that end, On Our Street: Our First Talk about Poverty, can help parents and educators answer questions about poverty that children will inevitably see in their communities, and expose them to issues that perhaps are outside of their experience.

Written by child psychologist Jillian Roberts and Google "chief education evangelist" Jaime Casap, On Our Street starts with a little girl asking her friend about the man she saw sleeping on sidewalk.  Her questions run the gamut of homelessness, poverty, children in poverty, refugees, and human rights.  They discuss reasons for homelessness and causes of poverty, access to health care and education, and ways other people can help.  They include helpful sidebars that offer definitions of terms and statistics about poverty.

While the presentation is basic, the content is solid and informative.  Most American kids never personally experience homelessness or the severe lack of basic needs, but many kids do or are close to other kids who do.  On Our Street is a nice way to introduce a hard topic to all kids.

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

Friday, February 9, 2018

Order to Kill, by Kyle Mills

Kyle Mills continues to raise the bar and get Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp into bigger messes.  Order to Kill brings Rapp against perhaps his toughest opponent yet, and puts him undercover in the toughest place yet.

To the chagrin of the Americans, the Pakistanis are playing fast and loose with the security of their nuclear weapons.  On a mission to recover one, Mitch and his team fall into a trap.  Rapp's colleague Scott Coleman nearly gets taken out by a fighter whose prowess makes even Coleman and Rapp pause. 

This super fighter turns out to be Russian, and the nukes turn out to be duds, so Rapp has to figure out who has the actual nuclear material and what the Russians have to do with it.  Of course the Russians want to detonate dirty bombs in Saudi oil fields and make it look like ISIS did it.  Rapp embeds himself in ISIS, impersonating an American ISIS member.  If you've read a Mitch Rapp novel, you know it's no spoiler to tell you Rapp prevails.

Order to Kill has the great action and intricate plotting that characterizes the entire Mitch Rapp series.  Mills has fully taken the mantle of Flynn, may he rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A False Report, by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong

With the "#MeToo" movement constantly on the front pages lately, awareness about sexual harassment and rape is at perhaps an all-time high.  So T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong's book A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America comes at a timely moment to add to the conversation.  Miller and Armstrong tell the story of a young lady who was raped, but who ended up being charged with falsely reporting a crime.  They also tell the story of a serial rapist who, despite his careful and meticulous planning, eventually gets caught.  The zinger is that these two stories collide.

In a readable and detailed narrative, the two stories develop: a rape in Washington, a serial rapist in Colorado, and, eventually, a dedicated team of investigators who put the puzzle together.  The biggest tragedy is that this poor young lady, living on her own for the first time, suffers rape and the indignity and trauma that comes along with that.  She immediately reports the crime and tells friends and her support network about it.  As the investigation proceeded, the police think they see holes in her story.  Under stress, she eventually recants, admitting that she made it up.  But she quickly reverses herself and insists that she was in fact raped.  The police latch on to her confession that she made it up, and turn the investigation on her.  They find reasons not to believe her and charge her with a false report.

Meanwhile in Colorado a number of women are raped, crimes spread across several jurisdictions.  Investigators put the crimes together, noting the similarities.  A few lucky tips point them to the rapist, and once they gather evidence at his house, including computer files that contained pictures of his victims and his acts, they file charges.  (I was troubled by the revelation that this serial rapist traced his compulsion to rape back to when he saw Princess Leia in her bikini, a slave to Jabba the Hutt.  This led to him fantasizing about dominating women.)  Among the Colorado victims, investigators discover pictures of an unknown victim, who turns out to be the victim in Washington.  Puzzle solved, and the Washington victim is vindicated. 

This is a memorable true-crime story, but the authors' agenda is larger than simply telling this story.  Placing these crimes and investigations in historical context, they recount how the law has been inclined to disbelieve women who accuse men of rape.  "The criminal justice system has long embraced the 'cherished male assumption that female persons tend to lie,' . . . In courtrooms throughout America, the historical default setting has been doubt."  What a travesty.  This is the great strength of #MeToo and related awareness campaigns. 

On the other hand, Miller and Armstrong neglect to address men who are in fact falsely accused.  They choose a case study in which a woman was not believed, and in which the rapist fits the profile of a small portion of rapists.  He stalks women, breaks into their homes, and rapes them.  Very few rapes fit this profile, yet it's the rape scenario which garners the most sympathy.  The majority of rapes, committed by someone close to the victim, tend to be much grayer.  Given the grayness, they are also more likely to bring the veracity of the victim and the aggressor into question.  I certainly don't want a rapist to go unpunished, but plenty of compelling case studies can be written about men who have been unjustly accused of rape and, whether convicted or not, see their careers, reputation, and livelihoods crumble.

As they say, hard cases make bad law.  The case of A False Report wants to reader to believe the woman, every time.  The abuses of the past are real and unjust.  But let us not proceed without believing that every person deserves to have his or her story told.  Let us proceed with a conviction that every man and every woman deserves a fair trial, and that reputations and jobs and livelihoods should not be destroyed without reliable evidence.  As much as I felt compassion for the victims in A False Report, especially the one who wasn't believed, I came away having heard only a part of the national story. 

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Not Cool, by Greg Gutfeld

I think Greg Gutfeld is pretty cool.  He's a panelist on "The Five" on Fox News, always funny and insightful.  His 2014 book Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War On You treats some of the political content he covers on the news panel show, but ventures more broadly into culture.  His libertarian leanings are strong.  If you've seen him on TV, you know he leans conservative, but he's too much of an iconoclast to fall into line with mainstream conservatives. 

Not Cool explores what, if your source is mainstream culture, is considered cool and contrasts it to what is really cool.  Environmentalism is cool.  But there is more to creation care than recycling.  Gay marriage and transgenderism is cool.  But traditional marriage is the foundation of society.  Celebrity lifestyles are cool.  But hypocrisy among celebrities is rampant.  Liberal arts is cool.  But business and science create progress.  Socialism is cool.  But capitalism lifts people out of poverty.

Gutfeld says all of this and more, but more articulately and more hilariously.  As an example, "There's nothing cooler than putting the planet before people. . . . How many have died because it became cool to demonize DDT?"  Rachel Carson, whose book led to a world wide DDT ban, is the coolest, a patron saint of environmentalism.  Not only have millions died due to malaria, less severe consequences included infestations of bedbugs.  "The cool, too shallow to do the research, rallied around this precious pesticide.  The result--more New Yorkers are scratching, and somewhere else far away, people are dying.  Not cool."

Gutfeld has the personality of a standup comic, the perspective of Reason magazine, and the insight of Mark Twain.  Be uncool and read his book.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Inside the Star Wars Empire, by Bill Kimberlin

You probably don't know Bill Kimberlin's name, but it's almost a certainty that you have seen his work.  Kimberlin, a special effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic for many years, was behind many of the memorable scenes of the Star Wars movies, Jurassic Park, and many more.  In Inside the Star Wars Empire: A Memoir, Kimberlin reflects on his career in the movie business, telling story after story about movies and the people who make them.

Lest you get distracted by the title and cover illustration, Inside the Star Wars Empire isn't all about Star Wars.  Fans of that great movie franchise will find plenty to love, but Kimberlin writes more broadly about ILM, George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch, and the many other Lucas films and side projects Kimberlin worked on.  In addition, Kimberlim tells lots of anecdotes about movie history, and reflects on his own life and his family's history.  At times, these subjects mix and mingle in a rambling way, but mostly they are fun to read.

The strongest thread through Inside the Star Wars Empire is Kimberlin's love of movies and joy he has experienced from being a part of the process.  He's in love with the "magic to make it all happen--that rare mix of technology, money, business acumen, talent, and luck."  In his role producing special effects, he "wanted to take temporary control of the viewer's brain and convince him or her that we were telling the truth, when we obviously were lying."  And as he points out, we in the audience are coconspirators.  We "love being fooled and scared." 

While many of his stories have him rubbing shoulders with big-name stars, flying on private jets, or hanging out in cool locations, he also captures the day-to-day of the business.  He writes, "if you could just get past the well-advertised but largely absent glamour of working in the movie business, it could be a hell of a lot of fun."  The fun he experiences in the world of movies is contagious and his narrative of it is fun to read.  If you love movies, especially George Lucas's many hits, you will enjoy this book.

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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hey-Ho, to Mars We'll Go, by Susan Lendroth, ‎illustrated by Bob Kolar

It may not be in my lifetime, but I would bet that some people living today will see a manned mission to Mars.  Susan Lendroth embraces that dream, and shares it with today's toddler set in Hey-Ho, to Mars We'll Go! A Space-Age Version of "The Farmer in the Dell."  Combining portions of sing-songy rhyming lines with more in-depth content, Lendroth speaks to a couple different sets of kids at once, on a couple different levels.

For example, she writes:
Can you catch my sock?
Can you catch my sock?
Hey-ho, to Mars we'll go--
Can you catch my sock?
The accompanying illustrations show the astronauts floating around the cabin, and the text describes life in zero-gravity, where everything not secured "will drift like dandelion fluff."  Incidentally, the pages are printed in a variety of orientations, giving the full effect of not knowing which way is up!

Bob Kolar's illustrations are certainly on the little-kid level, yet he manages to include details that make the book believable, anticipating some of the actual equipment and requirements of a Mars mission.

Lendroth and Kolar make a great team.  Your toddler to elementary-age child will be enthused and inspired by Hey-Ho, to Mars We'll Go.  Maybe someone reading this book today will be on that first mission to Mars.

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

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Survivor, by Kyle Mills

It's been a while since I have read a Mitch Rapp novel.  I read The Last Man over five years ago, so it was high time I returned to the series.  Fans of Vince Flynn will remember that The Last Man was the last novel he published before he passed away at the age of 47 in 2013.  With the blessing of Flynn's wife, the literary world that Flynn created has continued with Mitch Rapp novels written by Kyle Mills, of which The Survivor is the first.

Even though three years passed between the time The Last Man was published and The Survivor, Mills picks up the story smoothly.  CIA super agent Rapp has taken out Rickman, a traitor to the CIA and the U.S., but Rickman had arranged for a series of computer files to be released after his death.  These files would expose the CIA's global operations and networks, crippling their work.

Chasing down the source of the files takes Rapp around the world and in some ops that leave a whopping body count.  Unfortunately, not all the bodies are the bad guys.  In this series, Rapp is a survivor, but that doesn't mean people close to him always make it.

I did enjoy The Survivor.  The action keeps escalating to the end.  Mills seems to have made a great effort to keep the tone consistent with Flynn's.  Does he measure up?  I think time will tell.  If I didn't know whose name was on the cover, I am pretty sure I would have assumed Flynn wrote this one, start to finish.  But with that knowledge, I kept thinking this was perhaps below Flynn's standards. . . .  It was probably all in my head.  So, I will definitely be picking up the next book, as I'm sure Mills will get even better at shaping the saga of Mitch Rapp, a great American hero.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Being a Christian, by Jason Allen

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has the heart of a pastor and a passion to train pastors.  In his new book, Being a Christian: How Jesus Redeems All of Life, Allen calls his readers to "discover that Christianity is not relegated to a couple 'spiritual' activities a week, but . . . the gospel invades our work, our leisure, our errands, and our families." 

Allen covers marriage, family, time, money, work, recreation, your mind, and church life.  Using plenty of scripture, Allen describes how life in Christ will transform each of these areas.  Further, the overarching theme is that true Christianity will be marked by transformation in each area.  As John MacArthur writes in the introduction, "A Christian who is not experiencing growth in grace is a living contradiction." 

The bottom line is this: "The secret to the Christian life is: there's really no secret.  It is simply loving, and intentionally living, for Jesus.  We apply the gospel to every area of our lives.  We bring the Scripture to bear on every aspect of our lives.  We submit every area of our lives to Christ and his lordship." 

Being a Christian is suitable for Christians at any stage.  After all, doesn't every believer need a little reminder every now and then?  It reminded me of a sermon series on the basic Christian life, or Sunday school curricula for the "Christian Faith 101" class.  In fact, that's about the level of the writing.  It's simplistic and plain vanilla, but that means the reader has no excuse for understanding the message and taking steps to apply it to his or her life!  So whether you became a Christian last week or last millennium, pick up Being a Christian and let Jesus transform every area of your life.

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