Monday, July 30, 2018

Fraught, by Kerry Nietz

Sci-fi author Kerry Nietz has come through for fans of his 2016 book Frayed with Fraught, book 2 in the DarkTrench Shadow series.  Debugger ThreadBare is no longer working directly for the royal family, but has been reassigned to help with instructing new implants at Bamboo's school.  His thoughts frequently turn to Damali, the freehead servant girl who also served at the Imam's palace.

As ThreadBare ventures beyond Bamboo's place, ostensibly teaching his young charges about life in the city and giving them opportunities to hone their debugging skills, and later being reassigned to the Imam's palace in Mecca, Nietz paints a vivid picture of the life and culture of this future world, going beyond the settings of Frayed.  The tech, the geography, and the mores have all been shaped and altered by the Imam's global rule.  Yet ThreadBare picks up undercurrents of change.  He comes face to face with the rebels of antitex when they capture him and one of his students, and force him to repair a captured tank.  And he continues to be intrigued by the formulation he first saw in Frayed: A~A3.  He has figured that it means something like "A (Allah, although Nietz never says the name) is not A cubed." 

Sometimes fighting against his restraint, that buzz in his head that gives a painful jolt when he lies or disobeys his master, he pursues both Damali and the mystery of A cubed.  He begins to learn that Isa, one of the figures he learns about in scripture, was a worker of miracles that may still be active in ThreadBare's life.  Nietz's portrayal of ThreadBare's internal struggles with his implant, the accompanying restraints, and his human nature and curiosity, raise interesting questions about the inevitable future of the augmentation of the human mind.  If you could have a neurological link to the stream (Nietz's future, much more robust version of the internet), would you really want one?  How would that change the way you interact with the world around you?  This and many other techie descriptions and questions form the backdrop of Fraught.

ThreadBare crosses paths with Damali, and may have a path to long-term friendship.  His progress on the mystery of A~A3 is less promising, but knowing Nietz, ThreadBare will make more progress, in both the relationship and in exploring the mystery, in book 3.  And that is something to look forward to; Fraught's ending is satisfying, but it does leave me hungry for a hoped-for sequel.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Gospel in Color – For Kids, by Curtis A. Woods & Jarvis J. Williams

Such a simple message.  Such a clear presentation.  Curtis Woods and Jarvis Williams have put together a message about race in The Gospel in Color--For Kids.  Despite the title, this is a message people of all ages need to hear. 

With simple text and some colorful illustrations, Woods and Williams describe what racism is.  Without getting into tons of history or political demarcation, they state that "race" simply refers to "the human race or a specific ethnic group" and that "racism" is "the poisonous idea of people or governments rewarding social and economic privileges to one group of people by virtue of skin color or ethnic background."  I'm not sure I've read a more clear, succinct, or helpful definition of racism.

But it's not enough simply to say that racism is bad and that equality is good.  The central chapter of the book is about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus reconciles us to God, which enables us to be reconciled to one another.  "The sin of racism makes people enemies of one another based on their skin colors or where they came from.  But Jesus came to reconcile enemies and make them friends.  Jesus dies on the cross for all our sins--including the sin of racism.  As a result, people who believe in Jesus are brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what we look like."  Amen, amen, and amen!

In an age of Black Lives Matter, trigger warnings, Trump hating, white supremacist rallies, and activism of all kinds, it seems that race relations are at an all-time low.  Woods and Williams have a message for this generation of young people: Jesus is the answer.  The Gospel in Color should be required reading for kids of any age and any race.  We should all aim to "live out the gospel in color."

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

J.D. Vance is a self-described hillbilly.  He grew up in an industrial town in Ohio, but all of his roots, his extended family, and all the networks were in the Kentucky hills.  His family fit all the Appalachian stereotypes of clannishness, poverty, dysfunction, and well as loyalty and religion.  Yet out of the poverty, domestic instability, and negativity he grew up in, Vance ended up a U.S. Marine and a Yale Law School grad.  In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance tells the story of his family, his education and growth, and the story of America the he represents.

On one level, this is a dull memoir.  Vance himself admits he hasn't really done much to make a name for himself.  He says, "I didn't write this book because I've accomplished something extraordinary.  I wrote this book because I've achieved something quite ordinary, which doesn't happen to most kids who grew up like me."  So we hear a lot about how he grew up: his mother's serial marriages and addictions, his grandparents tough love and steadfastness, his summers in the Appalachian hills where his family comes from, and his maturing against the odds. 

Aside from his family story, which is labyrinthine, sometimes tragic, and sometimes inspiring, he sets his family's experiences into the larger context of American social trends.  His family's story is played out over and over again in the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with the migration from the hills to the manufacturing centers, to economic turmoil, drug addiction, and cultural decay.  The persistent poverty and poor health and educational standards of Appalachia are often overlooked but have a huge impact on the region and on the nation. 

Vance doesn't call on big policy changes, but calls for the culture to change.  When he meets a teenage boy whose life is so much like his own, Vance writes that "any chance he has lies with the people around him--his family, me, my kin, the people like us, and the broad community of hillbillies."  To address the long list of problems, "public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. . . . These problems [of crime, drug abuse, and related issues] were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else.  We created them, and only we can fix them." 

Vance's voice is encouraging and hopeful, reminding us--whether we're from the hills, the coasts, or the cities in between--that family support and self-reliance go a long way against the negative tides of society and culture.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Running with Raven, by Laura Lee Huttenbach

Every evening for the past 40 years, Robert Kraft, a.k.a. Raven, has run 8 miles on the beach.  That's right, every evening.  Raven never takes a break from running.  He's as reliable a fixture on Miami Beach as any other local institution.  Over the course of that time, he has built a community and has been an inspiration to many, runners and nonrunners alike.  Laura Lee Huttenbach got to run with Raven and shares his story in Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired.

As much as I admire Raven's streak, I know I couldn't do it.  I mean, no one with a family could match it.  At some point there would be a conflict with a vacation, children's events, work, or something.  But Raven is out there every evening.  Over the years, he built a following, so locals and runners from all over the world come and join him.  And while running 8 miles is no small task for a non-runner or a new runner, it's not his swiftness or form that people come to see.  It's this man who welcomes everyone, regardless of social class or appearance.  It's Raven's remarkable memory; run with him once, and next time you show up he'll remember your name (or nickname--he's known to give nicknames to everyone who runs with him) and details like your hometown, job, etc.  It's also the running community; the people who run with Raven are, like him, welcoming and open, and form a community that extends well beyond the 8 miles.

Huttenbach tells Raven's story, but in telling, tells the story of the many people who have run with him.  She tells the story of the beach community where Raven lives.  She tells the story of Miami Beach, which has changed extensively over the last 40 years, while Raven has continued his unchanging run.

We can learn a lot from Raven.  His running reflects only a part of who he is, but it defines his qualities of faithfulness and determination, welcoming and encouraging, humor and life-loving.  As Huttenbach points out, Raven is far from perfect.  But I know I'd love to run with him!  Next time I'm in Miami Beach, I'm heading to the 5th Street lifeguard stand at 5:30.  See you there!

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

Soda Pop Soldier, by Nick Cole

In Nick Cole's Soda Pop Soldier, the worlds of online gaming and real life corporate rivalries come together.  Gamer PerfectQuestion is trying to make a living as a soldier for ColaCorp, but they can't seem to beat WonderSoft.  If he doesn't come up with a win, his status as a professional gamer will be at risk.  In the meantime, he needs money for rent, so he tries his hand at a quest in an illegal game.

Most of Soda Pop Soldier is narratives of these two games.  Cole's descriptions of the battles, the scenes, and the interactions in the game world bring the games alive, making the reader forget that this is just a programmed world.  We are a long way from technology that gives a realistic in-game experience, and even in PerfectQuestion's world, he's interacting with the game world via his keyboard and a typical 2-D monitor.  Still, to PerfectQuestion and the other gamers, the experience is all-encompassing and the stakes are high.

The stakes get even higher for PerfectQuestion when people in the real world take notice of him and try to recruit him to do his bidding in the game worlds.  When he doesn't go along and he has people trying to kill him in both the real world and the game world, things really get interesting.  This is where Cole kept me reading.  A narrative of a guy playing video games doesn't sound like much of a novel.  But Cole pulls back to reality just enough to see the real forces at work.  The glimpses we get of the real world, including orbital cities, colonists heading to other star systems, and gaping class divisions, seem prophetic and realistic.

Does our world hold a future where corporations' armies fight battles in cyberspace to win advertising space?  Will world financial markets hinge on the outcomes of online wars?  Will audiences tune in to watch professional gamers do battle?  To a certain extent, I think Cole is already tuned into present realities.  As to the rest?  He may not be far off.

Thanks to the author for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Letter 44, Volume 1: Escape Velocity, by Charles Soule, illustrated by Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque

It's inauguration day, and the 43rd president, in the traditional letter to the 44th, has revealed a bombshell to his successor: aliens of unknown origin have constructed something in our solar system, and the U.S. has a secret mission to check it out.  So begins Letter 44 Volume 1: Escape Velocity.  This edition contains issues 1-6 (of at least 35) of the Letter 44 comics.

This is a decent set-up for a series.  If it were a TV show, I'd stick around for another season, just to see what happens.  Writer Charles Soule is a veteran comic book writer, with titles from DC, Marvel, and Star Wars on his resume.  Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque's illustrations are as high-quality as you'd expect from this level of comic.

This is a fun comic with a good, pulp-fiction-type story line.  While you're waiting for the next season of your favorite sci-fi TV show to come out, or for the release of the next installment of your favorite sci-fi movie series, Letter 44 is a good diversion.

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

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Witnesses, by Robert Whitlow

Parker House is aware that his grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland shortly after WW2, but Frank House, formerly known as Franz Haus, is reluctant to tell about his life before coming to America.  In The Witnesses, Robert Whitlow tells the story of Franz's life as a young soldier during the war, and Parker's growth in a gift that he has inherited from his grandfather.

During the war, Franz had an uncanny ability to anticipate troop movements and in other ways had knowledge about things in the distance or in the future.  This was a great boon to his usefulness as an officer's assistant, but the guilt he bore for the times it cost the lives of innocents stayed with him for decades.

As a young lawyer, Parker gets glimpses of this gift and uses it to his advantage in researching and trying cases.  When a successful lawyer comes around offering Parker a dream job, and when a German journalist comes around seeking Franz Haus, the lives of Parker and Frank are forever changed.

I enjoyed the frequent flashbacks to WW2 and Frank/Franz's early life.  Whitlow brings things around to the present nicely, and demonstrates that a gift such as Parker and Frank share is not without its burdens.  Whitlow's storytelling style shines through in The Witnesses, with hints throughout the book coming to a big, unexpected (and, admittedly, maybe a little implausible) head near the end.  As his fans know, Whitlow's stories are fun to read.  Like his other books, Whitlow incorporates the characters' faith journeys into the story without preaching or detracting from the plot.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Upside Down, by Mark Davis

For many years, I have spent my morning commute with Mark Davis, a presence on Dallas/Fort Worth talk radio since 1994.  If you have heard him on the radio, on his local show or when he fills in for Rush or other shows, you know he is consistently conservative, averse to hyperbole, courteous to people whether or not they agree with him, insightful and knowledgeable, and a pleasure to listen to.

All of that can be said about his book, Upside Down: How the Left Turned Right into Wrong, Truth into Lies, and Good into Bad.  In short essays, about the length of a newspaper editorial or opening show monologue, Davis skewers liberal talking points on a wide variety of topics, giving conservative rejoinders to topics on which liberals are wrong. 

Upside Down is timely, reasonable, and almost always right.  On topics in the news today like immigration, guns, terrorism, foreign policy and many others, bring your questions to Mark and he'll set you straight, and he'll do so without making you feel like an idiot or belittling you if you happen to disagree with him.  For Mark, you can like someone and think they're wrong at the same time. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football, by Roger R. Tamte

Walter Camp has been rightly described as the father of American football, but not too many players or fans today could tell you much about who he was or his role in shaping America's favorite game.  Roger R. Tamte's Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football will set the record straight.  This is a biography of Walter Camp, but it's also a biography of the game of football; the two cannot be separated.

As a football player at Yale, Camp was a part of the earliest games that we recognize as football.  As a student, and later as a graduate, coach, athletic director, and prominent alumnus, he sat on the rules committee that shaped the game out of its rough start as a modification of rugby into a form that more closely resembles what is played today.  To me it seemed remarkable that in the early days, Camp was among committees of students shaping the game.  There were no professional coaches or even advisors.  Students handled all the elements of training, coaching, scheduling, and planning, working together with students from rival schools to hammer out agreements about rules. 

Tamte marks the year 1882 as the year that "should be celebrated in American football--the closest the game has to a 'birth' year."  This is the year that Camp's down-and-distance rule, at that time 5 yards in three downs, was implemented, totally reworking the game.  Tamte writes, "the new rule infused the game with interest.  Each play became important, a limited opportunity to advance toward the needed five yards and contribute to game success."  This became Camp's deepest mark and most lasting legacy on how the game was played.

Football quickly gained in popularity, and Camp remained at the center of it, not only in rule making, but in the culture of the game.  He was arguably the first university athletics director, and had a hand in establishing the funding and promotion of football that resembles today's structures.  It is certainly interesting to see that the same issues that concern college football today were alive from the start: player eligibility, paying players, the dangers of the game, the game's importance to or distraction from the academics of the players, the game's popularity as a means of promoting the schools, etc.

Tamte focuses on Walter Camp, but Camp is so central to the development of football that this is an important book about the history of football, especially on the college level.  He doesn't touch the growth of the NFL.  I was a little surprised and disappointed that he doesn't touch the issue of race.  It goes without saying that no blacks were playing at Yale or any other major college in the late 19th and early 20th century, but I was left wondering how quickly black colleges picked up the game, whether they merely embraced the rules as set by the white colleges or made their own.  Perhaps that is for another book by another author.  Nevertheless, Tamte does football fans a great service by telling Camp's story.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

National Parks of the U.S.A., by Kate Siber, illustrated by Chris Turnham

It's never to early to encourage a love and appreciation for our national parks.  Kate Siber's National Parks of the U.S.A. is an overview of the national parks for young readers.  With maps, brief descriptions of a visit, and descriptions of the flora, fauna, and features of the parks, she gives children a brief introduction to our nation's wonderful resources in the parks.

Chris Turnham's terrific illustrations emphasize the plant and animal life at the parks.  Your favorite park may be left out; it is an overview, with parks from each region of the country represented, but many were excluded from a more detailed look.  Kids will enjoy learning about some of these parks, and will likely be inspired to start planning next summer's vacation to visit!  These parks truly are a national treasure.  Each generation will want to experience them.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

All the World Praises You, by Debra Band

All the World Praises You! An Illuminated Aleph-Bet Book is a wonderful celebration of God, scripture, and creation.  Debra Band's paintings, accompanied by Arnold J. Band's translations and transliterations of brief passages from the Hebrew Bible, take the reader through the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The painting are beautiful depictions of plants, animals, landscapes, and sky.  Each has the scripture written in both English and Hebrew in calligraphy.  I especially like the fact that, at the end, Band includes additional information, like the scriptures reference and the background and symbolism in each painting.

Like any good children's book, All the World Praises You can be enjoyed on many levels by children and adults alike.  This book will inspire in all readers a deeper love for God, his word, and his creation.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Do Something Beautiful, by R. York Moore

For meditations on things bigger than you, pick up Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and a Guide to Finding Your Place In It.  R. York Moore, national evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, may not cover everything, as the subtitle so boldly states, but he has a lot of nuggets for the reader to think about. 

Moore calls for Christians to seek the glory of God and his beauty in the world, especially in the "times of of darkness, above the dirty, common, ugly conditions of the world."  Today's Christians are rightly concerned with issues of justice, but Moore reminds us that justice is a means, not an end.  "We can often do justice without embracing anyone at all, but we cannot give grace, hope, and love without embrace. . . . Justice is merely the doorway through which we must walk to get to the experienced reality of bounty."

That bounty is the beauty of the Lord.  Evangelism is our call to tell of his beauty.  "Sharing, liking, and re-posting the gospel is an act of beauty that can change us and change those around us.  Evangelism should be like that."  Evangelism is "trying to express a light from another world, an expression of beauty and wonder that is hard to put into words, . . . making known the bounty of God and inviting people to know the person of Jesus for themselves."

Do Something Beautiful is not a book to be skimmed, but to be read slowly, revisiting passages later on for deeper insight.  What a reminder to dig deeper and live fuller than "a few songs and a good homily, a plastic cup of grape juice and a wafer sliver."  We should live in the beauty and bounty of the Lord, remembering that "heavenly actions impact earth."

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Running is My Therapy, by Scott Douglas

Just about any runner will tell you that running makes them feel good.  I know that I feel better, in my body and in my mind, when I run regularly.  In case non-runners need convincing, or if runners need affirmation, Scott Douglas has the answer.  In Running is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier, Douglas not only gives anecdotal evidence of the benefits of running, but reviews the hard science behind it as well.

With a spirit of openness, honesty, and a desire to help others, Douglas talks about his own struggles with depression, and the role that running has had in helping him cope.  Based on his own experiences, as well as a wide range of interviews and medical research, Douglas discusses the impact of running on mental health.  Several points stand out. 
  • Doctors in some countries actually prescribe running before turning to pharmaceutical solutions for depression.
  • The health of the brain is improved by running.
  • Running actually promotes the growth of new brain cells.
  • Running promotes better memory and creativity.
  • Some benefits of running can be found in other forms of exercise, but running is the best.
The curious reader, or the medically or scientifically inclined reader, will find plenty to pursue in Douglas's source material.  Perhaps some will be inspired to replicate or expand on the cited studies.  Runners who read Running is My Therapy will find plenty of motivation here to lace up their shoes and go for a run.  Their mental health depends on it.

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Prime Meridian, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Amelia is a near-future equivalent of a millennial.  Forced to quit school to take care of her ailing mother, she gets by living with her sister, doing "Friendrr" gigs, and selling her blood.  It's a bleak life.  When her wealthy ex-boyfriend comes around, things may be looking up, but he turns out to be engaged to someone else.  Amelia has few prospects for a job, a career, or marital happiness, but she holds out home to, one day, go to Mars.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Prime Meridian is a thin little book, in more ways than one. Nothing about Amelia made me want to cheer her on in her dream to go to Mars.  I don't think I would even want to hang out with her.  I felt a little sorry for her, that she had to take care of her dying mother, and that she and her sister have such a bad relationship.  But she mostly came across as a whiny victim, certainly not as a heroine.

Moreno-Garcia paints a believable picture of the near future world of Mexico City in all its gritty, miserable reality.  Her subtle references to social trends, mores, and lifestyle give a sense of despair and hopelessness, but Amelia retains hope in the midst of this that she will get to Mars.  This is an interesting little book in some ways, but I didn't like it all that much.

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

A House Divided, by Robert Whitlow

When there are three lawyers in the family, what are the odds of the three of them ending up on opposite sides of a case?  In the case of Corbin Gage and his son and daughter, Ray and Roxy, the three of them get mixed up in case that has huge implications for all of their careers.  Robert Whitlow's A House Divided focuses on Corbin, a small-town lawyer with a big-time love of moonshine.  He's been functional enough, but as he gets older his drinking begins to impact his practice of law, and, more importantly, his relationship with his children and grandson.

Corbin's town is a company town, and the local plant has received a slap on the wrist for dumping waste.  When he begins to see a few local kids get cancer, and when the fish in his favorite fishing hole turn up dead, he decides to dig in a little.  In a town where almost everyone relies on one company for employment, going against that company doesn't make Corbin--or his son--very popular.  And when his daughter tries to quietly help out, it doesn't take long for her career to be on the line as well.

Whitlow's focus is less on the litigation of a toxic waste problem and more on the family dynamics of Corbin's family and Corbin's battle against alcoholism.  I enjoyed A House Divided, but not as much as I have many of Whitlow's other books.  Still, this is very good legal fiction with an element of faith, leaving the reader to start looking for the next Whitlow book to read.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I Can Only Imagine, by Bart Millard

Bart Millard of the band MercyMe wrote a huge hit with "I Can Only Imagine."  The inspiring song about the hope of heaven has now inspired a movie based on Millard's experiences and this children's book, I Can Only Imagine: A Friendship with Jesus Now and Forever.  Millard wrote the book with Laura Neutzling.  It is illustrated by Sumiti Collina.

In this book, a little boy tries his best to imagine what heaven will be like.  Of course from his perspective, heaven will include all the good things of this life, like fluffy pancakes, a cool playhouse, a great swimming hole, and ginormous scoops of ice cream.  (I fully embrace this last item.)

The best part of heaven is, as he imagines, that Jesus would be riding bikes with him, going on adventures together.  And that is the core of our hope: spending time with God.  He says, "Being with you is what I like most."  This promise is not just for heaven: "I'm sure of one thing that will always be true--I don't have to wait to spend time with You!"

This cute and colorful book will get kids thinking about heaven, even if much of it falls into the feeling that heaven "is exactly like where you are right now, only much, much better" as Laurie Anderson might say.  But Millard brings it around to conclude that no matter what we eat or where we play or what songs we sing in heaven, being in the presence of God is what is most important, and that friendship with God is available even here on earth.

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

Saturday, July 7, 2018

No! I Won't Go to School, by Alonso Núñez,‎ illustrated by Bruna Assis Brasil, translated by Dave Morrison

"I know two letters,
the N and the O.
On the first day of school,
they spell a word: NO!"

I think most of us can relate to this sentiment.  Alonso Núñez speaks for all kids who don't want to go to school in No! I Won't Go to School.  A little boy gearing up for his first day of school tells all the reasons why he must stay away.  The teacher is a monster, the bus eats kids, the principal will make the kids dig ditches.  It's like prison, a dungeon.

By the end of day one, though, he has decided school isn't so bad!  He is surprised by meeting new friends, learning numbers, learning words in other languages, and even liking the teacher.  In fact, "Tomorrow when the bus comes and it's time to go, maybe, just maybe, I won't say N, O."

Núñez's text, which is actually Dave Morrison's translation from the original Spanish, is fun-to-read rhyming verse.  Bruna Assis Brasil's illustrations include photographic elements, creating a cool collage-like feel to the book.  No! I Won't Go to School captures the feelings of kids everywhere in a fun way, while putting a positive spin on the first day of school.  Very enjoyable!

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

Unbroken Faith, by Diane Dokko Kim

Children are a blessing, and all children can present challenges to any parent.  But parents of children with disabilities know and experience unique challenges.  Diane Dokko Kim, who has a child with autism, has words of encouragement for parents in Unbroken Faith: Spiritual Recovery for the Special Needs Parent.

This book of testimony, devotionals, prayers, and scripture hits on themes that will ring true to parents of children with disabilities.  Kim writes with vulnerability, admitting her own sense of unpreparedness and inadequacy as a parent.  She writes of the grief of discovering one's child has a disability, whether in an ultrasound, in the delivery room, or even years after the child is born.  Yet she points to the great cloud of witnesses in scripture who "demonstrate that I can weep and worship at the same time."

Each short chapter offers stories from her own life and a few others, practical considerations for parents, relevant scripture, a prayer, and questions for reflection.  Obviously all families' experiences are different, but Kim points out how we all have the same access to God.  With great honesty, she reminds us that, especially in the Western church, we might be expecting life in Christ to be marked by comfort and ease.  As we experience disability in our families, we may face pain and injustice.  We face the reality that our children may never "victoriously cross the threshold of adult independence."  We realize that the world may view our child as lesser because of his or her disabilities.  Kim writes, "Our child with a disability may not be the one we expected--or the idealized child we wanted.  But God will repurpose disability, to refashion us into spiritual warriors and witnesses we didn't know we could be."

Unbroken Faith is brutally honest, scripturally sound, and ultimately hopeful.  These selections will help parents of children with disabilities feel a little less alone and isolated, and will encourage them to look to the scripture and its author for hope and truth.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Only Human, by Sylvain Neuvel

The robots have come.  The robots have left.  But when they left, they took some passengers with them back to their home planet.  Sylvain Neuvel picks up Only Human where Waking Gods drops off.  At the end of Waking Gods, a group of humans finds themselves trapped in Themis, heading back to the robots' home planet.  After a decade there, they are headed back to earth.

Only Human switches perspectives between the human's time on the alien planet, and their return to earth.  They find that in their absence, the U.S. managed to repair an alien robot and is using the technology to bring other countries under their control.  Russia, with the threat of nuclear weapons still viable, has held of the U.S., and it thrilled when Themis shows up in Russian territory.

The humans navigate the threat of impending war between the robots, try to navigate the racial and genetic territory of the robots' world, and navigate their increasingly complicated human relationships.  Neuvel brings together the themes and storylines from the first two novels in the trilogy, but this one was not as enjoyable to read as the others.  Light on action, heavy on the "messaging," it ends up sort of sterile and unengaging. 

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

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Confession, by Robert Whitlow

Assistant DA Holt Douglas's entire career is built on a lie.  When he was a teenager, he lied about the circumstances of the wreck that killed his best friend.  But to honor his friend's memory, he has poured himself into being the best assistant DA possible.  Robert Whitlow's The Confession starts with this premise, but the confession turns into confessions and Douglas's future as a lawyer is in the balance.

Whitlow once again gives us a terrific legal novel with interesting characters, realistic legal situations and procedures, and a subplot that deals with the main characters' faith journeys.  The scope of the potential scandal dealing with the possible murder of a wealthy town father, and the implications of Holt's decade-long deception, were probably underplayed, but it made for a quiet tension that permeated the story.

Whitlow's legal fiction is kinder and gentler than that of his more secular, mainstream contemporaries.  Not only does he include an element of faith and keeps the language, sex, and violence on a definite PG level, but he has a soft touch with romance.  The Confession is no exception to this.  Holt's romantic life gets a romance novel treatment.  That said, I enjoyed the novel as I have his others.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Backpacker Hidden Gems, by Maren Horjus

Have you ever gone backpacking and your "get away from it all" trip became a "getting away from it all in a small crowd" trip?  The United States has some terrific state parks, national parks, and other natural areas, but sometimes they're too popular.  Maren Horjus of Backpacker magazine has the answers for backpackers and hikers who want a bit more alone time on the trail.  Backpacker Hidden Gems: 100 Greatest Undiscovered Hikes Across America features routes that might be a bit less travelled than the popular ones (at least until this book gets wide circulation).

These have been featured in her Backpacker magazine articles, so they're not completely undiscovered, but they may take a little more effort and knowledge to get to, and are safe bet to be not as well known.  The 100 hikes vary in length and cover every region of the country.  No matter where you live, one of these is bound to be within a day's drive.

For each hike she covers basic route information and campsite descriptions, as well as the features you might enjoy in terms of flora, fauna, views, and water features.  The descriptions range from a few sentences to a few pages and include a map and other basic information.  You will probably want to dig into more detailed sources if you are planning a trip and the area is unfamiliar to you (like a 78 mile point-to-point hike in Utah), but you have enough here to whet your appetite.

Her description of a route at Yosemite is typical: "a secret trail, an unknown, heart-of-the-valley path that was dropped from the maps almost twenty years ago. . . complete with starry skies, staggering views, and crowd-free stream side campsites."  Crowd-free campsites at Yosemite?  I'm in.  If nothing else, you will be convinced that Horjus has the best job in the world.

I do a lot more trail running than backpacking.  I think trail runners will pick this up and say, "Oh, a 4.8 mile out-and-back, or a 13.8 mile loop, or a 18.8 mile lollipop-loop--sounds like a fun day of trail running to me!"  No question, trail runners will enjoy this book and these routes as much as a backpacker.

Now clear your calendar, check the map, and get out there!

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