Monday, April 30, 2018

Let's Go Exploring, by Michael Hingston

People who loved Calvin and Hobbes--and who didn't--who doesn't still--love Calvin and Hobbes?--were sad when Bill Watterson quit writing the beloved comic strip in 1995.  Michael Hingston was among the crowd of C&H lovers, and has written a tribute in Let's Go Exploring. Calvin and Hobbes, book 9 in ECW Press's Pop Classics series.

Hingston tells a little of Watterson's story, then discusses some of the themes and storylines that Watterson weaves through the ten years of comic strips.  As C&H readers are well aware, "Perhaps the single most common premise in the strip involves Calvin imagining one part of his real world suddenly transformed."  Calvin's transmogrifier (a cardboard box) assisted in transforming Calvin himself.

Calvin and Hobbes stretched the limits of childhood imagination, taking readers back to their childhood play time.  But there was a melancholy underlying the strip, as Calvin had little contact or interaction with his peers.  Hingston writes, "Calvin and Hobbes is, on a fundamental level, a strip about loneliness: the ways we keep it at bay, insulate ourselves from it, and , occasionally, when our options run out, give in to it.  Imagination is a coping mechanism, and an extremely effective one at that."

I was not previously aware of Watterson's reclusive ways.  He does not appear in public, rarely grants interviews, and does not interact with his many fans.  Nor did he ever embrace any kind of merchandising.  Other than books containing the strips, you won't find C&H items for sale, despite the millions he could have made off toys and other items.

I enjoyed this retrospective; I had forgotten how much I enjoyed these comics.  Watterson shocked the comic world when he stepped out of it at the height of his fame.  As Hingston notes, "The end of Calvin and Hobbes came faster than almost anyone at the time expected."  My only beef with Hingston is this: how can you write a whole book about Calvin and Hobbes and not include a single strip?  In many cases, Hingston describes a strip in great detail; why not include it right there in the book?  Did the publisher not want to mess with getting the rights to do so?  Thankfully, the internet saves the day.  Now to log on and reacquaint myself with a funny little boy and his pet tiger.

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

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Old Misery, by James Sage, Illustrated by Russell Ayto

File James Sage's Old Misery in the category of depressing but funny children's stories.  Old Misery doesn't have a lot going for her.  She "ain't got nothing" except her cat, who's "about as worthless as a dog with fleas."  One more thing she does have is a great apple tree.  The problem is that her apples keep getting stolen.  One day she offers hospitality to a stranger who offers to grant a wish for her.  Her wish: that anyone stealing an apple from her tree would be stuck to it until she says they can go.
In a strangely satisfying way, this improved Old Misery's life immensely.  Once she released all the shocked and surprised apple thieves, which included "two goats, a rooster, one cow, a sow with litter, a fine lady in a yellow dress and the local vicar looking mighty wiffy-waffy," she no longer had a problem with apple thieves. Later on, she gets a visit from another stranger: Mr. Death.  She deals with him in a creative way, using her newly acquired apple tree power.  Pretty clever, but Mr. Death leaves her with a little something to remember him by. . . .

Old Misery learns that even when we get our wishes, we might end up worse off in the end.  Sage's story, accompanied by Russell Ayto's slightly absurd black and white (except for the red apples) drawings give Old Misery a throwback feel.  Certain books I remember reading as a kid, but whose titles I don't remember, had this same sort of creepy dark humor.  It's not enough to give a kid nightmares, but it's definitely more Tim Burton than Dr. Seuss.  I liked Old Misery, but it may not be for every kid.

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Nothing Happens in This Book, by Judy Ann Sadler, illustrated by‎ Vigg

"Judy Ann Sadler wrote the words and Vigg drew the pictures, but Nothing Happens in This Book."  So begins Nothing Happens in This Book.  This book is one to experience.  It must be read aloud to a group of wriggling toddlers to be fully appreciated.  And not by a dull, monotone, disinterested reader, but by an animated, energetic, enthusiastic reader!

At first, the narrator is only narrating blank spaces.  He says, "This book looks boring, doesn't it?"  He encourages the reader to put the book back on the shelf or throw it under the bed.
But as the pages turn, we begin to see hints of things to come, objects left lying around on the pages.  He finds a trumpet, a ball, a shoe, then streamers, balloons, and popcorn.  Then: "Listen--do you hear music?  I think it's coming from the next page!"  Not to give away the ending, but with a little help, "Everything happens in this book!"
This book has so much potential to be read again and again.  I love Vigg's illustrations.  Sadler gives just the right amount of anticipation and delivers a great pay off at the end.  You and your kids will love it!

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

Every now and then you read a book that deserves to be read again and again.  Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy: Discovering Our Hidden Life in God is such a book for me.  It's so rich and dense with biblical wisdom that reading and re-reading, there is no shortage of new insights for my walk with Christ and new challenges for my life as a disciple of Christ.

Discipleship is the theme that runs throughout.  Willard writes that "we do not routinely teach those who profess allegiance to [Jesus] how to do what he said was best."  An emphasis on "political and social action," whether left or right, has led to "the practical irrelevance of actual obedience to Christ" and, as a result, "the weakened effect of Christianity in the world today."

Willard dwells deeply in the words and teaching of Christ, mining meaning and applications that are sure to be fresh to any reader.  If your goal as a Christian is to obey Jesus and be like him, The Divine Conspiracy is worth your time.  And it does take time.  At least it should.  No offense to my brothers in Christ, popular preachers whose lightweight books flood the Christian publishing market.  Some of them are valuable and inspirational, but most popular pastor books are building sandcastles in a sand box compared to Willard's building impressive high rises. 

Having read The Divine Conspiracy straight through several years ago, and again this month, I am reminded that there is more here than I can soak in quickly.  A slower, deliberate reading, taking time to meditate on the scriptural passages, would be better.  If you feel "the absence of Jesus the teacher from [your] life," and sometimes "seem prepared to learn how to live from almost anyone but him," Willard will point you in the right direction.  Become a disciple of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Forgiving God, by Hilary Yancey

I know Hilary Yancey didn't write Forgiving God: A Story of Faith just for me.  But there were plenty of times while I was reading it that I felt like she did.  Her story is different from mine, different from most of our stories, but as she writes about her pregnancy and early days with a baby who has multiple, complex medical problems, I felt like I was walking with her through the experience.

Like any parents, Yancey and her husband thrilled at the news of their pregnancy, and planned accordingly with all the typical preparations.  But when Yancey got the call that their ultrasound showed some abnormalities, that little Jackson had a cleft palate and other problems, expectations and preparations went out the window.

Yancey writes about her pregnancy and her dealing with Jackson's disabilities with brutal honesty.  As reality set in that Jesus had not chosen to heal him fully, and that he'd be living with disabilities, her pastor friend asked her, "What do you want to say to Jesus right now?"  Yancey replied, "I hate you for doing this to us."  She continued to hope that Jesus would assure her that he would sustain Jackson, yet they struggled day-to-day with keeping him alive, breathing through his trach. 

Her faith in God was restored--"died and resurrected too much to measure"--as she developed her thinking about disability itself.  Her reflections challenge and encourage parents of children with disabilities.  She concludes, "Different is not worse.  Abnormal, outside the norm, is not worse."  While our children's disabilities may seem to a stranger to be their defining characteristic, to parents disability is simply one of many things that define a child.  Further, his or her disabilities contribute to shaping their characters and personalities, so that were it removed, the child would not be the same person.  She writes that "Jack's life is not made worse by him having craniofacial microsomia."  Different, but not worse.

Yancey's narrative is moving and personal, but reaches wider than her own story.  She inspired me to appreciate and love my children more deeply.  While I may pray for my children to be healed and relieved of the hardships that accompany their disabilities, I recognize that my children are inseparable from their disabilities.  And despite the "hero" label that parents of children with disabilities often receive, I agree with Yancey: "I didn't want to be a hero, because Jack's being alive was not an extra burden that Preston and I were heroically bearing.  His live was not our challenge, our sorrow."

My children are my joy.  As Yancey is entering the journey of raising a child with disabilities, she reminds the rest of us, wherever we are on the journey, of the treasure and pleasure of our children, and of the goodness and faithfulness of God.

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

I Can't Believe You Just Said That, by Ginger Hubbard

Ginger Hubbard, an experienced mother who spreads her motherly wisdom via speaking events and writing, knows that "a defiled heart . . . brings forth sinful words."  Her teaching on parenting focuses on leading children to trust in God and obey his word.  "The best thing a parent can do is to take every opportunity to point their children to Christ and his power to transform lives."  In her new book I Cant' Believe You Just Said That: Biblical Wisdom for Taming Your Child's Tongue, she leads and teaches by example.

The book is basically an expansion of her "Wise Words for Moms" chart.  (You can order the chart from her here.  You view a sample of it here.)  The concept of the chart and the book is simple: for a given verbal behavior, like whining, lying, tattling, bragging, etc., the parent will ask heart-probing questions, discuss scriptures that address the behavior or attitude, and discuss replacement behaviors.  The book covers fifteen behaviors and attitudes, but the principle can be applied widely.

I love her approach.  This puts the onus of correction on scripture, not on the whims or wisdom (or lack of wisdom) of the parent.  It helps the parent "look past the outward behavior . . . and concern herself with the issues of the heart."  Ultimately, "when we use God's Word rather than our words for training our children, we are relying on God's wisdom rather than our own."

The demand on the parent is preparation, which is where her chart comes in handy.  Identifying the heart issue, finding the right probing questions, and referring to appropriate scriptures can take some practice and patience on the parent's part.  Most of us respond too quickly and too harshly, and only after the fact think of the patient, wise, character-building response we should have had.

I was not surprised to read that one of her primary influences in shaping her ideas about parenthood was Tedd Tripp, whose book Shepherding a Child's Heart is all about shaping character and not just dictating behavior.  Hubbard continues in that tradition and presents a practical, workable, child-centered, positive, character-building resource.  Parents, check it out.

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dad Jokes? I Think You Mean Rad Jokes, by Elias Hill

Listen carefully and you can hear the groans and shouts of "Daaaaaad!" coming from Elias Hill's house.  I imagine Hill's three kids in their role as official dad joke testers, and either loving it or hating it.  His jokes just keep on coming.  The author of a dozen or more joke books, his latest, Dad Jokes? I Think You Mean Rad Jokes, is full of the corny, groan-worthy jokes that his kids, surely, are tired of hearing.

Speaking as a dad, I am grateful for a source of really excellent jokes, riddles and puns to add to my own limited arsenal of dad jokes.  Hill's jokes are original and funny.  They're illustrated by Katherine Hogan in the same style as Hill's other books, in a Q and A format with black-and-white drawings of the speaker.  Here's a sampling of the jokes:
  • What do you call an ape that likes to touch people?  Chimp-handsy.
  • Would snails move faster if they just took off their shells?  No, it would just make them more sluggish.
  • Our can opener is broken.  Please refer to it now as the can't opener.
Dads, brush up on your dad joke skills, with Hill's help!

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Big Guns, by Steve Israel

Steve Israel served in the U.S. congress from 2001 to 2017, representing a district primarily in Long Island, New York.  So he knows the ways of Washington power broking, and has a great sense of humor about the quirks and habits of lawmaking and lawmakers.  His new novel Big Guns is hilarious and timely.

With gun violence in Chicago getting out of control, the mayor creates the Chicago Compact, a pledge to ban guns and ammunition and to divest from gun company stocks.  Other cities pick up the theme, leading to backlash and bitter divisions around the country.  How will the gun lobby respond?  In the interest of Americans' safety, they get their congressional enablers to introduce a bill requiring that all Americans be armed. (One has to be impressed with his timing.  Given the date of release of Big Guns, it was complete and at the printer well before the Florida school shooting and subsequent public debates.)

This national debate comes to a head in the tiny village of Asabogue, on Long Island.  This is the home of Otis Cogsworth, whose family business is one of the largest gun manufacturers, Jack Steele, a movie star whose action films reflect his love of guns, and Lois Leibowitz, the spunky activist mayor who proposes that Asabogue embrace the Chicago Compact.  By the way, Lois's daughter Sunny happens to be a gun lobbyist and the driving force behind the proposal to arm every American.  The nation's eyes and ears focus on the mayoral election showdown between Steele and Lois.  Hilarity ensues.

Israel combines his realistic descriptions of lobbying and the lawmaking process with crazy caricatures of people in government, the media, entertainment, and activism.  Their madcap activities and ill-conceived plans make a larger point about the way things work in government and society.  As Sunny had observed in her work as a lobbyist, partisanship isn't the driving force in Washington, but ego.  Democrats and Republicans are "all members of the 'Me' Party, with love of country but greater love of self."  And the vaunted ideals on which people get elected quickly take a back seat; "the world was shaped by brute power, not the power of ideals."

Israel's politics are ultimately pretty clear, but he skewers all sides of the gun debate and the political world.  Big Guns is laugh-out-loud funny no matter what your political leanings.  In my opinion, we need more writers like Israel, who survived in the belly of the beast and come away from his experience with enough good humor and good will left that he can share his insights, cynicism, and lessons with the rest of us.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Use of Force, by Brad Thor

Writing a long series of books is a risk.  What if they get boring, or formulaic, or disappoint the fans.  Brad Thor's Scot Harvath series hasn't gotten stale yet.  Use of Force is the 17th book in the series, and while some may be better than others, this most recent one is certainly one of the best. 

Harvath is in his element, chasing down terrorist threats.  Starting with a bombing at Burning Man, followed by a series of terrorist attacks on civilian targets in Europe, Harvath tries to stay ahead of the trail and prevent a massive planned attack.  On the home front, a bitter ex-CIA agent is doing his best to thwart the work of Harvath and his colleagues.

Use of Force is a terrific, non-stop, heart-pounding read.  The plot (and the terrorist's plots) are some of the most credible, frighteningly plausible yet.  Someday Thor may lose his touch.  But today is not that day.

Monday, April 16, 2018

One Way, by S. J. Morden

When the XO corporation, trying to work out how to satisfy their contract with NASA to get a Mars base up and running, is having a hard time figuring out the automation of base construction and rules out robots, they figure human workers are the way to go.  How about pulling some convicts from among the prisoners in their private prison subsidiary?  Makes perfect sense.

In S.J. Morden's One Way, the work crew to build and prepare the Mars base for NASA's astronauts and scientists is "a high-tech chain gang."  "They might be wearing spacesuits rather than shackles, but that didn't fundamentally alter what their relationship was."  Given the choice of completing their life sentences in dreary prisons or serving out their terms on Mars, this motley crew takes a chance with life on the red planet.  Little did they know that a life sentence would become a death sentence.

One by one the prisoners begin to die, each death looking less and less like an accident.  They don't know who they can trust, and have no recourse for getting out of their extraterrestrial prison.  Morden's descriptions of life and work on Mars rings true.  The construction of the base, the transport of materials, the requirements for day-to-day existence, all seem very realistic and well-researched and thought out.  His academic and scientific background certainly have informed his story telling.

One Way is realistic, suspenseful, and irresistible.  Sci-fi lovers who enjoy near-future stories which are a small technological step from present reality will love the set up and authenticity of One Way.  In this setting, Morden sets a gripping whodunit that will keep you reading and has me eager for a sequel.

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Bridge, by Peter Tomasi, illustrated by Sara Duvall

Peter Tomasi's The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York, a graphic novel with illustrations by Sara Duvall, tells the remarkable and memorable true story of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Before its opening in 1883, the father and son team of John and Washington Roebling, of the Roebling Wire Mill, had a vision and made great sacrifices to see the bridge to completion.  In fact, the construction of the bridge took many lives, with its innovative and sometimes perilous construction techniques.

The Bridge tells of the many conflicts and controversies surrounding the construction of the bridge.  Between the political opposition, the skepticism of many New Yorkers, the superstitions of workers, the caution of the board overseeing the bridge, and the many, many extravagant cost overruns, it's a wonder the bridge was ever completed.

Tomasi emphasizes one driving force in the completion of the bridge: the support and persistence of Washington's wife, Emily.  Without her, he might have given up or failed, but she supported him throughout all of his opposition, frustrations, and sicknesses.

The Bridge is an informative and enjoyable history of the bridge's construction.  The Brooklyn Bridge stands today not only as a New York landmark but as a monument to the Roebling's vision and the commitment of the New York community to see the project through.

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters

What if slavery had never been abolished?  What if, instead of the Civil War, the slave states and free states came to an uneasy but workable agreement between them?  In the world of Ben Winters's Underground Airlines, that is exactly what happened.  In the "Hard Four" states, slaves work in factories, mines, textile mills, and, of course, on farms.  It's all very bureaucratized and industrialized, with strict rules and regulations for the humane and safe treatment of slaves.  But they are still slaves. 

Victor is a freed slave himself, but he works as a U.S. Marshall, tracking down escaped slaves.  His freedom is tenuous, and he longs to be rid of the tracking chip and supervision of his mysterious boss.  His latest assignment, and the white woman he meets, point him to an option for getting out of his obligations and fleeing to Canada.  It turns out the his target isn't a slave after all, and he stumbles across a grand conspiracy that could threaten the structure of society, such as it is.

While it may seem absurd to try to imagine a modern United States in which slavery could still exist, Winters manages to describe parts of it in ways that fit our own society.  The deep racism, police brutality, and third-world living conditions in black ghettos don't seem much different in Winter's world as in our own. 

Only the most hard-headed, racist, and ignorant readers would look at Winter's economy, in which slaves are cogs in the industrial machine, as acceptable.  He demonstrates the reliance that our nation had on slavery, and presents a future in which, if we had continued to tolerate, would ultimately have dragged us down as a nation.

The story bogs down a bit in this alternative history.  It's worth reading, but the plot ended up winding around, directionless. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

God of Tomorrow, by Caleb Kaltenbach

Caleb Kaltenbach has a reminder and a word of encouragement for people who are anxious about the future (and isn't that all of us, at one time or another?).  He calls it "The God of Tomorrow Principle: Since tomorrow belongs to God, we can graciously offer hope to people today."  This axiom encapsulates the two main thrusts I took from Kaltenbach's book God of Tomorrow: How to Overcome the Fears of Today and Renew Your Hope for the Future.

First, we should not forget about God's sovereignty and power.  We should lean on the truths of scripture and the promises of God's word.  Kaltenbach emphasizes the importance of constantly returning to the Bible, reading "verses that describe God or stories in the Bible that build . . . trust in his power despite overwhelming odds."  In addition, "I have to be consistent in my daily prayer time" and take "time to think about and remember all the times in the past when God has been faithful to me."  These spiritual disciplines keep us anchored in God and remind us to trust our present and future to him.

But it doesn't stop with us.  We should "adopt the attitude of the Samaritan" from the parable.  As we help people and empathize with them, they are "more open to what God wants to do in their hearts."  As easy as it can be to be judgmental of others or aloof from society, like Jesus we should be connected, compassionate, and caring.  Sometimes Christians can be "orthodox in our theology while committing heresy by how we treat others."

Perhaps Kaltenbach's axiom can be further distilled to "Trust God, love others."  It's a simple principle, and Kaltenbach's development of it is readable and engaging.  Using solid biblical exposition and plenty of contemporary cultural references, Kaltenbach challenges readers to increase their faith while growing in empathy and engagement with the world around them.  It's a welcome message, and always timely.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Foreign Agent, by Brad Thor

The world has just gone through a near-extinction event caused by African hemorrhagic fever.  Scot Harvath was on the case, though, and society and humanity are intact.  In Foreign Agent it appears that ISIS was not deterred by any near holocaust of humanity.  They are at it again and making their presence known.  When the U.S. Secretary of State is blown up in Europe, ISIS releases a slick video claiming their involvement.

Little does the world know that while ISIS is staging these attacks, including a suicide bombing at the White House, they are but puppets being controlled by Russian strings.  If Russia can provoke the U.S. into destroying ISIS, it will leave a power vacuum in the Middle East and Russia can step in and assert control of Syria.  It's strategic and wily, but they did not take into account the intervention of Scot Harvath.

As Harvath globe trots, putting the pieces of the puzzling plot together, a spy is at work deep inside the U.S. government, aiding the Russians.  Foreign Agent has all the unbelievable elements that Thor's readers have come to love and expect in a Harvath novel.  Harvath is on top of his game, but is having second thoughts about whether to settle down in Boston, where his girlfriend Lara is a cop.  Before he decides about that, he has a job to do, and the body counts rise (all bad guys, of course).

As over-the-top as Thor's writing sometimes is, this book got me to sit back and think a bit about diplomacy, deception, and statecraft, more so than most of his books.  What Thor proposes--one state supporting another state or a seemingly unrelated terror group to wreak havoc--is not inconceivable.  He used a similar set-up in Act of War, where some rogue Chinese used Muslims to make it appear that Muslims were behind an attack.  I wonder how much of this goes on in the real world.

Foreign Agent is classic Harvath, a fast read with lots of action and an interesting, it-could-happen-tomorrow plot. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Temple Grandin: The Stories I Tell My Friends, by Anita Lesko

Temple Grandin is an accomplished, remarkable, and inspiring person.  Her books, her work, her advocacy, and, most popularly, the HBO movie about her life, have provided hope and inspiration beyond measure for people with autism and their families.  One of her greatest admirers is Anita Lesko, who was diagnosed with autism as an adult and whose life experiences have much in common with Grandin's.  Over a series of interviews, Lesko gathered stories from Grandin and has published them in Temple Grandin: The Stories I Tell My Friends.

Lesko allows the Grandin to speak in her own voice.  The bulk of the book is simply Grandin speaking while the tape recorder rolls.  The insights into Grandin's life and personality are invaluable.  She reminisces about her childhood, education, and work history.  Lesko reveals Grandin's huge generosity and philanthropy.  (Fun fact: Grandin pays all of her graduate students' tuition bills!  Talk about a cool scholarship!)  If you have heard Grandin speak or seen the movie about her, you will picture her quirky style of presenting herself as you read.

Given the unedited feel and rough assembly of the stories in The Stories I Tell My Friends, the book should be primarily viewed as a valuable primary source book, not as any sort of well-researched biography or coherent narrative.  This makes the book a little painful to read.  Lesko took the liberty of inserting her own remarks and autobiographical material, which, as valuable as it is for Lesko, detracts from the primary focus: Temple Grandin.

So pick up this book and appreciate it for what it is: a chance to see a personal side of Grandin that may not come through in a formal biography.  What a remarkable and interesting person.

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, by Graham Annable

Peter and Ernesto are best friends.  They also happen to be sloths who hang around in a tree together all the time.  Graham Annable tells a story about the time they decided not to hang around the tree and had some adventures.  In Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, Ernesto decides that he wants to see more than the piece of the sky they see every day.  Leaving Peter behind, he sets out to see other pieces of sky.  Ernesto travels the ocean, the desert, and even to the arctic to see the sky.  Peter begins to worry about Ernesto, so he begins to go in search of his friend.

One of Ernesto's new friends, a raccoon on a mountain, is surprised to see a sloth so far from home.  He says, "I thought sloths were lazy."  Ernesto explains, "We're content.  There's no need to move much when you're content."  Both Peter and Ernesto see new things and make new friends on their adventures.  But home in their familiar tree is where the end up and where they belong.  Maybe the life a sloth is best, in a familiar place with familiar faces and a familiar piece of sky.  But even a sloth needs to get out and see another piece of sky every now and then.

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

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Herding Cats, by Sara Andersen

Sara Andersen, the angsty, artsy, introverted, and hilarious cartoonist who published Adulthood is a Myth and Big, Mushy, Happy Lump has a third collection: Herding Cats.  She's as funny as ever, but maybe a little more grown up than in her other collections.  Andersen's fans will recognize her consistent themes: introversion, procrastination, menstruation, and bibliophilia.  I can't relate to her completely, but I can enjoy the humor for sure.

Her work is self-abasing, but there's a positivity that unmistakably shines through.  Even when her autobiographical cartoon character is stressed, overwhelmed, feeling inferior, or whatever, she manages to find creative strength and will power.  I mean, she found enough energy and creativity to fill a whole book with funny comics!

In the last quarter of the book, she writes, "Making Stuff in the Modern Era: A Guide for the Young Creative."  In case you wondered about her struggles, she writes (and illustrates) this essay from her own experiences as a rising artist, trying to figure out how to make a career in art. 

I enjoy Andersen's work and anticipate that she'll continue to find some inspiration for future books!

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Code of Conduct, by Brad Thor

Brad Thor has a hard job.  With each Scot Harvath book, Thor has to think of ever-greater threats to life as we know it so Harvath can save the day.  In Code of Conduct, Harvath goes to Africa to investigate the scene of a video where some aid workers at a remote clinic were killed.  In this war-torn region, African hemorrhagic fever is being weaponized. 

The more Harvath learns, the more he realizes they are not simply dealing with biological warfare.  Behind the ensuing world-wide outbreak Harvath finds a U.N. official whose grand schemes include exterminating the majority of the human race.  Of course, in his scheme, he and his select companions survive to rule over what is left of humanity.

With the help of his friends at the Carlton group and in the global espionage community, Harvath manages to track down the evil mastermind of this plot and, well, save the world.  You'd think he'd start getting the big head after all he does, book after book, but Harvath manages to stay humble and desperate to seek justice and kill all the bad guys.

The problem with a large-scale disaster story is capturing the urgency of the crisis.  I only picked that up tangentially.  Of course, any time Harvath is on the case, Thor writes with a sense of urgency.  This applies whether he's stalking a single foe or if the future of humanity is at stake.  So that's my only real complaint about Code of Conduct.  It's a worthwhile Harvath story, but there's a nagging feeling that there should be more to it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, by Michael Bennett

As I read Michael Bennett's Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, I had conflicting feelings.  On the positive side, Bennett is an impressive, accomplished man.  He has achieved greatness in his field, becoming one of the best defensive players in the NFL, after going undrafted out of college.  His is a devoted father and family man, married to his high school sweetheart, with whom he has three daughters.  And he is a passionate activist and philanthropist.

On the other hand, he comes across as someone with an overinflated sense of his own importance.  This is not a big surprise.  Superstar athletes seem to believe the world revolves around them.  Bennett seems arrogant and whiny.  Half the book is about the travails of college and professional athletes.  Look, I get that many athletes feel like he does, that they are playing in college sports "to generate funds for the athletic department and billions of dollars for conferences and cable networks."  But I don't get their overlooking the privilege they have of getting an expense-paid education.  I live in Texas, and I've known plenty of kids who would love to have gone to Texas A&M with Bennett and his brother, but who didn't have the money or the athletic ability to attend.

And in the NFL, these guys, even bench warmers, make more money in a year than many people will
make in a decade.  For crying out loud, Bennett makes more per game than many of us will earn in a lifetime.  So cry me a river, Bennett, when you compare the NFL to slavery.  No slave lived his own multi-million-dollar mansion (much less a $4 million home in Hawaii).  And no slave was free to walk away from his or her employer like you are.  Everyone is now aware of the physical costs that come along with the game, but no one is forcing you to come to practice and cash those checks.

I am a white person, and Michael Bennett doesn't make me uncomfortable.  I don't care what race his is.  He is thoughtful and passionate.  He embraces the full spectrum of leftist ideology, which I disagree with.  But what irritates me is his insistence that he is oppressed and that we must listen to him because of his wealth and fame.  I can certainly get behind some of his causes and interests--women in STEM fields, better diets and food availability, particularly in poor neighborhoods--but what arrogance to use his wealth as a platform while simultaneously disparaging the entire system that helped him obtain that wealth and fame.

Actually, Bennett, I'll tell you what makes me uncomfortable.  When a guy in a high-pressure shooting situation acts suspiciously, is detained by police, uses his name and fame to identify himself, and then loudly and publicly criticizes the police, who were simply doing their job.  You know what else makes me uncomfortable?  A guy who disrespects low-level stadium employees, allegedly injuring a disabled 66-year-old security guard, and shouting at her, "Y'all must know who I am.  I can own this motherf-----."  What a jerk.

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Deadly Recall, by T. R. Ragan

T.R. Ragan continues her Jessie Cole series, which started with Her Last Day, in Deadly Recall.  A few short months after the events of book one, Jessie has hired the girl she was hired to find in Her Last Day and now has been hired to find a baby who disappeared several years ago.  Meanwhile, her crime reporter buddy Ben has hired her to find out more about his past; he has no memories of his life before his accident ten years ago.  Ben also recruits her to assist with tracking down a disgruntled customer of an insurance company, who is threatening to kill innocent people if the company doesn't apologize for denying his daughter life-saving medicines.

Ragan puts this salad of investigations together with panache.  Some of the stories and cases end up overlapping, but mostly we see Jessie juggling her case load, dealing with her young, impulsive assistant, raising her niece.  A romance may be budding with the policeman who came to her aid in Her Last Day and who is a resource for her in the local police department.  And the more she learns about Ben and his broken memory, the less she thinks he wants to know.

Deadly Recall has no drop off from the first book in the series.  Ragan continues to write some demented bad guys, but none as demented as the killer in book one.  She has some light in the darkness.  I don't feel like I have to take a shower or get exorcised.  Ragan's books are definitely a good place to find crime thrillers with strong female characters and believable plots.  I enjoyed Deadly Recall.

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Unified, by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy

South Carolina has an unlikely pair of legislators who have become close friends in spite of their apparent differences.  Senator Tim Scott and Representative Trey Gowdy tell the story of their friendship in Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country.  Both were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.  They hadn't met before, but quickly became close friends, sharing meals and fellowship in Washington, a city where true friendship is hard to come by.

In a way, the "unlikely" part of their friendship doesn't seem all that unlikely.  Scott and Gowdy represent the same state, and are both Republicans.  As partisan as D.C. seems to me (as a decidedly unenlightened outsider), I would think that partisan labels overshadow all other affiliations.  However, Scott is black and Gowdy is white.  In South Carolina, they write that their grandmothers, who had much in common, never met and never would have been able to be friends.  Now Scott and Gowdy share a friendship that previous generations would not have been able to share.

They don't write much about policy in Unified.  They wouldn't disagree on much, but they do talk about their differing perspectives on the police.  Scott has experienced unwarranted traffic stops on many occasions and shares the fear of the police with other black men that Gowdy and white men generally don't experience.  When they do disagree, with each other or with lawmakers from the other party, they emphasize listening and appreciating the stories behind other people's perspectives.

Scott and Gowdy have modeled friendship in Washington, and have reached out together to others, cultivating an environment of mutual respect.  They challenge all of us, no matter what walk of life, to pursue "unlikely friendships--friendships with people who, at first glance, it may appear we have little in common with."  Such friendships have to be deliberate, and "born out of unconditional love and acceptance."

Unfortunately for us, Gowdy has decided not to run for reelection.  Scott was appointed to the senate in 2013, and was reelected in 2016, so hopefully he'll be around for a while longer.  Both of these gentlemen exemplify the attitudes and personalities we need in the halls of congress.  Unified is a great way to get to know them and to learn from their example.

Thanks to Tyndale Blog Network for the complimentary review copy!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Walking in the City with Jane, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by‎ Valérie Boivin

Jane Jacobs's book The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a must-read for urban planners, community developers, and people interested in their own cities and neighborhoods.  Still relevant more than 50 years after its publication, Jacobs's book criticizes the cavalier way urban planners stamped out neighborhoods in favor of freeways and high rises.  Susan Hughes's book Walking in the City with Jane introduces young readers to Jane Jacobs's insight and activism for her neighborhoods and her influence on urban planning.

Even as a child, Jane was curious and observant about how things work.  When she moved to New York, she watched the city and noticed things most people don't.  As she explored her new home, she realized that just like the natural ecosystem, "a city is also an ecosystem. . . . It is made of different parts--sidewalks, parks, stores, neighborhoods, City Hall . . . and people of course.  When they all work together, the city is healthy."  Watching the people in a city was like watching a "sidewalk ballet."
Her perspective is so refreshing.  Putting people ahead of cars--what a concept.  On multiple occasions she led her neighbors in successfully resisting plans to tear down neighborhoods for highways.  If only more neighborhoods had Jane Jacobs!  Take a drive around Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, or virtually any big city and you will see remnants of neighborhoods that were irreversibly damaged due to heavy-handed urban planning.  The highway interchanges and crumbling housing projects mutely testify to the social fabric that was shredded.  Jacobs's voice, when unheeded, was sorely missed.

Walking in the City with Jane is wonderfully, nostalgically illustrated by Valérie Boivin.  At worst, the book will introduce readers to a remarkable lady and help them be more aware of the city in which they live.  At best, it will inspire them to learn more about Jacobs and be a voice for putting people first in their communities.

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