Friday, August 31, 2018

The Gutfeld Monologues, by Greg Gutfeld

Greg Gutfeld's nightly appearances on Fox News Channel's The Five and his weekend show, The Greg Gutfeld show, are some of the most entertaining news commentary bits on TV today.  Gutfeld defies categories, abounds in strongly held (and strongly worded) opinions, and, most of the time, makes a whole lot of sense.  But above all that, he's hilarious to watch and listen to.

In The Gutfeld Monologues: Classic Rants from The Five, Gutfeld collects several years' worth of his monologues, splits them up topically, adds some commentary and updates, and calls it a book.  If you know Gutfeld at all, you won't be surprised by his takes on law and order, Islamic terror, Hollywood, or the environment.  It's fun to see how his opinions have aged on issues and events that were in the news during the Obama administration.  (Hint: they've aged well.)

Gutfeld's perspectives are reliably conservative, but not necessarily lockstep.  Clearly he opposed Obama and, while he was not a big fan of Trump, since the election he's been largely supportive of Trump's administration.  But what makes Gutfeld and The Gutfeld Monologues unique and fun to read is his self-deprecating humor, his random bon mots, and his silly turns of phrase.  Sometimes his jokes are a bit nonsensical, but that's his style.

A few random examples:
  • "The last time I got my hands dirty was April 3, 2005.  I can't get into the actual circumstance, because it involved a bucket of voles and a chinchilla."
  • "If you want to make something sexy, try to ban it.  It's why I started eating Tide Pods once everyone was saying they were bad for you."
  • "Imagine if Hillary had won.  We'd have to hear from these idiots [Hollywood leftists] every single day.  Wait.  Trump won.  And we still have to hear from these idiots every single day.  That's America!"
I could go on, but you should just read the book.

Gutfeld loves to point out silliness, expose hypocrisy, and shut down idiocy on the left.  He does it all with a smile (or maybe a sneer) and with little reluctance to offend.  He doesn't take himself too seriously, which is a perfect attitude in the current climate of political absurdity.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Irontown Blues, by John Varley

John Varley writes fun sci-fi in imaginative future settings.  Irontown Blues is set a few centuries in the future on a fully developed and populated Luna, one of several planets or moons that humans live on since the Invaders took over Old Earth.

On this future Luna, Chris Bach is a private investigator who lives a fantasy of modeling himself after the PIs of 20th century novels and films.  The fact that he still has access to this material, and that even his neighborhood is modeled after 20th century earth seems remarkable, as if someone in the 21st century built an entire neighborhood modeled after some medieval European village and embraced the music, literature, dress, and culture from that period all the time. That is essentially how Bach lives.

He and his faithful dog Sherlock hang out in their office waiting for clients.  Just like in the old noir stories Chris loves, a mysterious woman comes in with an unusual request: help her track down the guy who gave her leprosy.  As it turns out, it's all a ruse, and Chris is taken back to his time on the police force, when he took part in an ill-fated raid in Irontown.

For much of the book Chris is an unwitting victim, swept about by forces he doesn't understand.  His enhanced dog, Sherlock, sometimes has more a clue than Chris does!  In fact, a large part of the book is told from Sherlock's perspective, thanks to a dog interpreter.

As Bach and Sherlock use their teamwork to find out more about their mysterious client, Varley takes us on a tour of the history and geography of the human habitations of Luna.  It's a fascinating world, a believable future for a few centuries hence.  Varley doesn't trouble himself too much with providing a scientific explanation for the intricacies of life in the future.  The storyline and characters keep Irontown Blues fun and unpredictable.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Formerly Known as Food, by Kristin Lawless

Kristin Lawless's arguments in Formerly Known as Food: How the Industrial Food System is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture are alternatively obvious, shocking, and ridiculous.

First, the obvious.  Americans have become over-dependent on processed, packaged foods.  Due to convenience, cost, and economies of scale, our food supply has come to be controlled by a very small number of powerful companies, and we Americans happily eat it up.  Over the course of the last several decades, eating whole foods, close to their geographical origin and close their original form, has become more and more expensive and difficult.

Even packaged products that attest to be more healthy for us are subject to the processing, shipping, and additives that rob them of their nutritional value or make them more dangerous to us.  Lawless's description of the processing of milk made me want to avoid it, or to find a local dairy where I can get milk directly from a cow.

While we obviously ought to try to eat more whole foods and fewer processed, packaged foods, the sections dealing with the chemical effects of food, food additives, herbicides and insecticides, and packaging really rocked me.  In many cases, the chemicals in foods are so common that they are changing the way our bodies respond to food.  These changes are pervasive and are passed on to the next generation.  A couple of examples: certain chemicals actually make fat cells larger, causing obesity.  (So it's not TOTALLY my fault that I'm overweight; it the chemicals in the food I eat!) 

More chillingly,
We have caused one crucially important and protective strain of bacteria normally found in the baby's gut to go extinct in the Western world.  A woman of child-bearing age who was born by C-section, fed formula, or received antibiotics at any point in her life--or if this is true of her mother or grandmother, does not have the important bacterial species B. infantis--it simply no longer exists in her body.
This points to one of her biggest issues: the decline of breastfeeding and the use of formula, the first toehold of industrial food in our lives.  Lawless explains that while our life spans are longer than previous generations due to antibiotics and vaccines, that trend will begin to reverse due to industrial food and the impact it has on our bodies.

Lawless gets into the ridiculous with her sweeping societal solutions.  Guaranteed annual income, pay for one's own domestic work, shorter work weeks and longer leave for parents, and more socialist solutions.  Her answer to the question of how this will be paid for is, "Well, we spend way more on defense than we really need to. . . ." 

I share Lawless's suspicion of "big food," and she certainly convinces me to eat more whole foods and avoid heavily processed food.  But even she has to admit that large-scale industrial agriculture has made it possible to feed our ever-growing global population.  Small-scale urban farming and food co-ops are awesome.  But are they sufficient to food millions of people in a densely populated urban area?  I'm not so sure.  And her utopian, socialist solutions sound compassionate and simple on paper, but let's ask every socialist country in the world how their socialist programs worked out?  Not so well.

The bottom line on Formerly Known as Food: take heed of Lawless's warnings about the food we eat, and make every effort to include whole foods in your diet and avoid processed foods as much as possible.  However, for large-scale solutions, she--and we--have a lot more work to do.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trump's America, by Newt Gingrich

As we learned in his book Understanding Trump, Newt Gingrich has unique access and insight to Donald Trump.  In Trump's America: The Truth About Our Nation's Great Comeback, Gingrich looks at what Trump has accomplished during his first months as president.  Gingrich talks about the anti-Trump coalition, a broad group that includes not only Democrats and all manner of leftists, but also the "never-Trumpers," Republicans who, for a variety of reasons, oppose his presidency. 

If we are relying on the mainstream media to learn about Trump and his presidency, we're in trouble.  "Because the news media is fully a part of the anti-Trump coalition, its members will not accurately report what is happening in America under Trump."  Thus, Gingrich has written Trump's America "as a resource for Americans who want the truth about the significant accomplishments President Trump has achieved in his first year-and-a-half in office."

Topic by topic, Gingrich covers a wide array of policy decisions and progress under Trump, much of which most people would never have learned in the paper or on TV news.  By securing the borders, allowing for religious expression, and placing America's priorities first in international agreements, Trump is reversing trends started under his predecessors.  The economic gains have been impressive, resulting in record-low unemployment and a record-breaking bull market.  The anti-Trump coalition wants to give credit to Obama, or dismiss the gains, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Trump's presidency is not without its challenges.  Many Trump supporters wish he would just be quiet sometimes.  I wish he would hold his tongue and choose to ignore slights rather than sling personal insults.  Gingrich writes that Trump simply reflects his New Yorker attitude and, to be honest, many Trump supporters like to see a president who refuses to sit silently while he is being attacked constantly.

The legal challenges from within the government are particularly frustrating, when many of the players have been so openly against Trump and for Hillary, both during and since the election.  The double standard of justice is enough to drive anyone crazy.  Gingrich breaks down the events leading up the special counsel investigation, showing how the bias and collusion against Trump mock any sense of justice.

I know Gingrich is hyper-partisan.  I know he is interested in building up Trump.  But he presents enough factual material here that I wonder, how can anyone objectively look at the accomplishments of Trump's administration and not be pleased for the direction of the country?  The 2018 mid-term elections are approaching fast.  Democrats are running on little besides the "I hate Trump" platform.  To talk about issues, they have to say they are for tax hikes, for open borders, for socialist economic policies.  Those issues--hopefully--can't win, so they'll just keep bashing Trump and his tweets.  Even though Democrats probably won't pick up Trump's America, I'm glad Gingrich wrote it to keep the record straight. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Kill All Normies, by Angela Nagle

One of the themes of the 2016 presidential election was the influence of the so-called "alt-right."  The problem is that no one really knows what that means, or who was a part of it.  Unfortunately, Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right doesn't shed a lot of light.

Part of the problem is that Nagle and others assign labels that the people or groups themselves explicitly reject.  Milo, the Proud Boys, and others do not embrace the racist, white supremacist perspectives of many on the alt-right.  Further, she seems to attribute to the alt-right outsized credit and influence.

Nevertheless, the alt-right was a part of the conversation in 2016, and Nagle does a decent job of introducing them and reflecting on their methods and influence.  Her discussion brings up the larger question of the use of social media to bring attention to people and issues.  Unfortunately, this power is used more often for ill than good.  Sure, there are feel-good stories that go viral, but when the digital mob goes after someone in a public shaming, there's no turning back.  The internet, she writes, "became a panopticon, in which the many lived in fear of observation from the eagle eye of an offended organizer of public shaming."

That's where Kill All Normies is most instructive, as a warning against the abuses of the power of social media and the internet.  Curiously, the power of the so-called alt-right has waned since the election, probably because more mainstream sources pay less attention, and when they do, the rest of the world sees the alt-right for the fringe element that it is.  The recent "Unite the Right" rally in D.C. drew only a couple dozen participants, whose numbers were dwarfed by people opposing them.  Nagle's book is a record of a relatively insignificant blip in America's political history.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Not My Idea, by Anastasia Higginbotham

A little white girl sees a news story about a white cop killing an unarmed black man.  This raises all sorts of questions for her--and her mom.  Should she turn away and ignore this, or have a conversation about race?  Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness, written and illustrated Anastasia Higginbotham, tells this little girl's story of a growing awareness of race and racism.  We don't see color?  She says, "I do see color!  I see yours, mine, and everybody's!  You can't hide what's right in front of me."

Mom points out subtle ways that racism is all around: the scrutiny black kids get at the store, when white gets get little scrutiny.  The white people who lock their car doors when the see a black kid on the street.  At the library she reads about the ways white people have systemically denied black people economic opportunity, education, and residential choices.  She also learned about brave people--black and white--who have spoken out and created change.

Higginbothan paints a bleak picture.  This book has no pictures of our black president, and no hint that many black people are very successful today.  She writes, "Racism is still happening.  It keeps changing and keeps being the same."  The book is stuck in the middle of the civil rights era, or maybe even before.

And boy, does she lay on the white guilt.  In her "contract binding you to whiteness" she says you get: "stolen land, stolen riches, special favors," and whiteness gets "to mess endlessly with the lives of your friends, neighbors, loved ones, and all fellow humans of color."  What a bleak picture of race relations.  It makes me wonder if Higginbotham, who is white, is ever around other actual black people, or if she only gets her information about race relations on the news coverage of the Ferguson riots.

I'm not so naive to think that racism has completely disappeared, or that it will ever be purged from the hearts of men and women.  But the vision of Not My Idea seems stuck in about 1950.  Maybe her own white guilt is preventing her from getting out and seeing the wider world.

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Disruptive Witness, by Alan Noble

Modern life is distracting and shallow.  That goes without saying.  But how should a Christian respond in the modern environment of social media?  How can a connected life reflect Christian discipleship?  Alan Noble has a few things to say about these issues in Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age

A few things stand out as I reflect on the book.  First and foremost, Noble argues against a trivialization of faith.  This hit home to me as I think about my Facebook feed and the posts of my friends, both believers and non-believers.  It's easy for faith, as expressed through social media, to be seen as merely on choice among many, a lifestyle category.  You follow a particular style of music, sci-fi comics, political activism.  Well, I follow Jesus, as you can see from this meme I just posted. . . . Talk about robbing the gospel of its distinctiveness and immediacy.  But in many cases, that's exactly what happens.  Our connection to Jesus seems superficial, like our connection to a sports team.

Noble writes about the "double movement," which he describes as "the practice of first acknowledging goodness, beauty, and blessing wherever we encounter them in life, and then turning that goodness outward to glorify God and loving our neighbor."  A life online can only hint at this double movement.  While we can express our identity in Christ online to a limited extent, to glorify God and love our neighbor, we must log off Facebook and put down our smart phones.

Noble is not anti-technology or anti-social media, but he wants Christians to be reflective regarding how technologies impact the practice of our faith.  The more distracted we are, and the more the world around us becomes secular, it's worth taking some time to reflect on our own practices and connection to God and each other.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Spymaster, by Brad Thor

Scot Harvath is back in Brad Thor's newest novel of geopolitical adventure and intrigue.  In Spymaster Harvath, refusing to take a desk job at Carlton Group, is out in the field keeping threats to democracy at bay.  In this case, it's those pesky Russians again, longing for the pre-Cold-War days of running all of Eastern Europe.  Harvath's task: keep NATO out of a war with Russia.  The Ruskies are threatening to take back the Baltic States.  NATO's terms would require NATO members to defend the Baltics, and nobody wants that war.

Much of the action is centered on the strategic island of Gotland.  Out in the middle of the Baltic Sea, it's normally a quiet Swedish island.  But the Russians have their eye on it, and it's up to Harvath and his team to quash their plans.  Then they have to go to the source--Kaliningrad--to beat the Russians who are executing a terrorist bombing campaign.  (This was a geography lesson, too.  Did you know that Russia has a province isolated from the rest of the country?  It's a little slice of land between Poland and Lithuania that gives the Russians a port on the Baltic Sea.)

Spymaster shares many qualities with Thor's other novels.  The pace is breakneck.  Harvath and his team make good use of their private planes to hop around the globe.  The action is intense.  Harvath leaves a body count in his wake that must surely be dispiriting to his enemies.  And, of course, Harvath might lose a battle but you know he's going to come out on top.  Thor's fans will not be disappointed.  Someday Harvath is going to hit the big screen; Spymaster is ready.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival, by Terry Roberts

Terry Roberts grew up in North Carolina.  Reading his books, you'd think he grew up in North Carolina in the 1920s or earlier.  He knows the land, knows the people, and knows the stories.  In The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival, he affectionately takes us back to the 1920s, during a time when prohibition and speakeasies barely tolerated one another, and when tent revivals were a great form of entertainment and cultural life.

Jedidiah Robbins travels through the South by train with his merry band of an evangelistic team.  With a circus tent, and the circus roustabouts that came with it, they roll into town bringing a taste of old-fashioned revival fire.  On the sly, they bring a fire of another kind.  In the same train car where they carry their Bibles, they have cases of moonshine, which they surreptitiously supply to speakeasies, blind pigs, and juke joints in the less reputable parts of town.  They want to be certain that some of the town folk will have plenty to repent of!

Along the way, Robbins and his crew attracts crowds, but also attracts the wrong kinds of attention.  (Or, in a way, the right kind.)  When he preaches in Ashville, the crowd isn't the usual working class of farmers and coal miners that usual fill his benches, but the white collar, high dollar crowd.  So of course he preaches about the dangers of wealth and camels in the eye of a needle, offending most of the congregation.  When the leader of a fraternal organization fond of wearing white hoods and burning crosses asks for Robbins's support in their work, Robbins turns him away scornfully.  Unfortunately, his team pays the price for getting on the wrong side of the Klan.

Roberts's portrayal won't please many from a theological perspective.  Robbins is more about putting on a show and collecting the cash; the Bible is merely the means by which he has chosen to do so.  He eventually comes around to faith of a kind; his getting there is the journey of The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival.  The story takes the reader to another time, and could almost have been written in another time, like it dropped through a time machine from a publisher half a century in the past.  This is an enjoyable trip back to the 1920s.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mother Teresa, by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Natascha Rosenberg

When your name is basically synonymous with "the highest expression of Christianity and humanity," you know you are living right.  That is more true for Mother Teresa than for practically anyone else.  Isabel Sanchez Vegara distills Mother Teresa's life into a picture book for the "Little People, Big Dreams" series in Mother Teresa.  Accompanied by Natascha Rosenberg's cute illustrations, Vegara tells the heart of Mother Teresa's story.

From her childhood in Macedonia to her decision to become a nun as a teenager, from teaching children to India to helping sick people on the street, from opening hospitals and orphanages around the world to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa never wavered from her desire to serve the poor.

Mother Teresa captures the love and humility and joy with which she served.  As Vegara points out, "She received all the awards that could be given to a single person."  Her lesson for all of us is to love others, always.  What a great example she set.  And what a charming book to introduce young children to this model we can all emulate.

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

God, War, and Providence, by James A. Warren

As a Baptist, I was always aware of Rogers Williams's role as the founder of the first Baptist church in the New World.  But the more you know about Williams, the less that seems to be the defining characteristic of his life.  As James A. Warren writes in God, War, and Providence: The Epic Struggle of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians Against the Puritans of New England, Williams's legacy as a peacemaker and friend to the Indians of New England may be more impressive than his role as a clergyman.

For much of God, War, and Providence, Williams is a bit player, a character in a much larger drama.  Warren, a historian who has written about America's wars in the 20th century, goes into a lot of detail regarding the Indian's territories, factions, rivalries, and wars among themselves, as well as with the settlers.  His tone reflects that of Williams, who believed the English to have arrived at territory already held by sovereign people.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, "Williams did not see how the king could claim the right to grant English settlers land that had belonged for thousands of years to the current inhabitants."  This put Williams in the minority, and on the bad side of the crown.  But his actions backed up this attitude and put him in a place of respect with the Indians and in a position to negotiate between the Indians and the English.

Baptists are familiar with Williams's promotion of religious liberty, but his aims were larger than that.  Warren writes that Williams's ideas became foundational to the American character: "religious liberty for all comers. . .; complete separation of church and state; democratic government, in which magistrates derived their powers not from God, as Puritan political theory had it, but from the consent of ordinary citizens."  On religious liberty, or "soul liberty," Williams struggled to point out to his Christian brethren "that Christian faith was most likely to prosper in an environment where other faiths were permitted to flourish, unimpeded by the strong arm of the state."

God, War, and Providence is an enjoyable read.  If you can keep everyone straight, which is no easy task with the rival tribes, both Indian and English, the story Warren tells sheds a lot of light on this period of American history.  He doesn't overplay Williams's role, but the message is that Roger Williams's impact on the history of the United States is greater than many people are aware. 

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Burden, by Courtney Hargrave

When a Ku Klux Klan museum opened in a small South Carolina town, it made national news.  But the even better news story was when a white man left the Klan and was taken in by a local activist African-American pastor.  This is the story Courtney Hargrave tells in Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South.

Michael Burden was going nowhere--no money, no job, no prospects--when he moved on to John Howard's land.  Howard, a leader in the Klan, mentored Burden and put him to work, both in a Klan business and his more legitimate businesses.  Together they bought an old theater in Laurens, South Carolina, and opened the Redneck Shop.  Part retail store, part museum, part gathering place for Klan activities, the store became a flash point of tension in the community.

As Judy, Michael's girlfriend and later wife, becomes more and more disturbed by Howard's activities and Klan promotion, and as Michael's relationship with Howard deteriorates, Howard kicks them out of their apartment at the Redneck Shop.  With nowhere else to go, sleeping in their truck, they run into a local pastor, David Kennedy.  Kennedy and his church had for years assisted poor residents of Laurens, and made no exception for Burden and his family.

Offering material assistance, along with a huge helping of grace, Kennedy got the family a place to live and helped Burden find work.  Although Kennedy had been leading public opposition to the Redneck Shop, he "didn't seem remotely interested in discussing the Redneck shop or the inner workings of the Klan. 'He just wanted to talk to us as people,' Judy said.  'He wanted to know what he could do to help, to get us lifted back up.'"

So began Burden's involvement with Kennedy's church, and an interesting chapter in the history of Laurens and the Klan.  Hargrave weaves these personal stories into the larger picture of the history of the Klan and race relations in the South.  The ultimate outcome doesn't turn out to be as satisfying as one might hope; we are dealing with fickle, selfish humans here.  I would imagine the Hollywood version (starring Forrest Whitaker) will be a more dramatic story on one level, but, in this case as in most cases, the true story is more complex, interesting, and inspiring than a condensed movie version can offer.

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Beyond Justice, by Cara Putman

Hayden McCarthy is an up-and-coming lawyer in a D.C. law firm.  When a partner asks her to cover on an unusual case, she doesn't imagine the mess it will become, or that her very life will be in danger.  Beyond Justice is the first book in Cara Putman's Hidden Justice series of legal thrillers.  The central case is certainly timely, dealing with a Mexican teenager who died in a detention center for children who were caught crossing the border illegally. 

Beyond Justice isn't bad, but it's sort of "by the numbers."  The young, up-and-coming, pretty-but-thinks-she's-not damsel.  The most-eligible-bachelor, son-of-a-powerful-wealthy-family-but-eschews-the-trappings-of-wealth-and-power hero.  The corruptible lawyers.  The evil drug kingpin.  It was rather predictable, but enjoyable.  It reminded me of a crime show on TV.  Not terribly original, but with enough good stuff to keep you reading to the end.

Female fans of legal fiction who like their suspense with a very healthy dose of romance, especially the prince charming type, will enjoy Beyond Justice.

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

I Spy the 50 States, by Sharyn Rosart, illustrated by Sol Linero

Talk about a whirlwind tour of the 50 states!  In Sharyn Rosart's I Spy the 50 States, each state has a page of its own.  Key landmarks, plants, foods, or other distinctive (OK, many not-so-distinctive) features are shown in simple illustrations, about 15-20 per state.  Some are labelled, some are not.  Most make sense, but almost every page had one or two unlabelled illustrations that left me scratching my head.

Each page has a "I spy" challenge, with three things starting with the same letter.  I can see this as an activity book for very young nonreaders who have someone reading to them.  Adding a little interest is a hole to the next page, although in most cases it's just an eagle; there's a bald eagle on every state's page except Hawaii.

I Spy the 50 States is fun and colorful, and captures some of the highlights of each state.  But it's not terribly informative.  I would see this as level 1 of learning about the states.  Kids will want to move on to level 2 and 3 and 4 to learn more about our great nation.  (I'm not thinking of a particular book, just pointing out the very basic nature of this one.)

Gather the toddlers in your lap for an armchair cross-country tour!

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

Sky Runner, by Emelie Forsberg

Emelie Forsberg is one of the top trail runners in the world.  In Sky Runner: Finding Strength, Happiness, and Balance in Your Running, she gives a glimpse of her running life and spreads a bit of her contagious love of running.  The book is full of gorgeous photos of the mountains she loves to run in.  Her boyfriend and running partner, Kilian Jornet, took the terrific pictures.  (Jornet is an accomplished runner himself, who wrote Run or Die.)

The pictures not only show the beautiful scenery but show Forsberg running and enjoying life.  Every shot captures the joy and love of running and life.  Even without reading, the message is clear, to run, to play, to enjoy.  "RUN OFTEN! RUN FAR! RUN SHORT! RUN FAST! RUN SLOW!"  She writes about planning her life so that she can run every day and enjoy it.

Oh, and by the way, she wins a lot of races, both in mountain running and skiing.  Even though she talks about her training and diet, she makes all that winning sound pretty easy.  In this sense, she reminds me of Jornet.  Both of them grew up running and skiing in the mountains, and both certainly have the genes for distance.  They put in the training hours and miles on the trail, but I'm not sure many runners could follow their path, at least not at their pace!

Above all, even at my slower pace, I can learn from Forsberg's training tips, exercises, and especially her attitude.  For running, and for all of life, this is pretty good advice: "One way to find out if you're doing the right thing is to pause for a moment.  If there is nothing else that you would like to do there and then, nowhere else you would like to be than where you are, then it's right."  It's clear that when Forsberg pauses during a run, she knows that's exactly where she wants to be.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Not a Poster Child, by Francine Falk-Allen

Francine Falk-Allen is, thankfully, one of a small and shrinking group--survivors of polio.  Polio has all but been eradicated, but Falk-Allen and others do continue to live with the effects of the once-common disease.  As a child in the 1950s, Falk-Allen contracted polio and ended up with a partially paralyzed leg.  Throughout her life she has used crutches, limped, used a cane, worn a variety of orthotics or braces, or some combination of all of the above.  She writes about her life in Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability--A Memoir.

The subtitle tells the story in a nutshell.  Despite her disability and the other setbacks she had--of which there are many--Falk-Allen persisted in life, finding varying measures of happiness, satisfaction, and success.  She writes that in college, and really in many stages of her life, she "was trying so hard to be like everyone else that my self-image did not involve identifying with the group called 'disabled.'"  I suppose this is common among people with disabilities like hers.  One friend told her, "You're not disabled, you just have a limp."

But while her disability might seem of little consequence to the casual observers, she details the many ways in which it affects her.  Fatigue.  The inconvenience of not being able to walk long distances.  Having to buy two pairs of shoes every time. (Her feet are 4 sizes apart in size.)  The back and hip problems that result from her leg paralysis.  The self-image issues.  Wondering if anyone would love her romantically.

I enjoyed her honesty and transparency about her struggles.  I did, at times, wish she'd had an editor with a big red pen.  She included way too much information about her "becoming a woman," her troubled family, her free love and drug use stages, her Sufism, and more.  Granted, this all tells the story of who she is, but really it wore me out.  Snow skiing with a disability: good stuff.  Advocacy for disabled people whose disabilities may not be immediately evident: important.  Some of the other stuff, I could do without.

Falk-Allen's memoir is a word of encouragement especially for women with physical disabilities who wonder if they can have a fulfilling life.  Her story answers a resounding yes, while not sugar coating the difficulties she has faced.

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rehearsing Scripture, by Anna Carter Florence

Anna Carter Florence teaches preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, but besides drawing on traditional preaching methods, she harkens back to her days studying theater.  In Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God's Word in Community, she describes and models her method of community scripture reading.  Just as actors read a script together, Florence calls on Christians to read scripture together, aloud, in character, and including movement and even staging.

I know, it sounds awkward, right?  If all you normally do is read alone, or perhaps in a group where one person reads, Florence's method is a huge paradigm shift.  But what she describes has the potential to establish the truths and demands of scripture more deeply into our hearts, minds, and actions.  "When we read Scripture as a community, we're doing the same that musicians do at band practice, or singers do at choir practice, or actors do in rehearsal: going through the script and practicing ways to play it." 

A starting place is focusing on the verbs.  Many nouns in the Bible are unfamiliar, whether names, places, measures, tools, or other dated references.  But "reading the verbs in Scripture allows us to talk about what we know, first--before we plunge into the mysteries of all that keeps us wondering."

I can see Florence's methods being very effective and having a great impact--with the right group.  It would take strong leadership to direct the readings, and lots of patience and willingness on the part of the participants.  The good news is that she does provide a great deal of guidance, so that someone wanting to coordinate rehearsing scripture with a group can get a head start by following her lead.  I could see this method dovetailing nicely with something like Discovery Bible Study, a method of Bible study that has been used effectively by InterVarsity, Cru, and other groups to introduce the Bible to seekers and new believers.

Florence's method is unique, and many readers of the Bible will be uncomfortable with it, especially as they first try it.  But I can definitely see it being useful and effective.  Any means to bring the Bible to life and deepen its role and meaning in our lives is worth pursuing.

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

It's Just a . . . What?, by Hartley Steiner, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

If you or someone in your care has sensory processing issues, you will get a kick out of this book.  You know what it means when that tag just won't quit bothering you. . . . Or that thread in your sock. . . . The tag feels like a prickly porcupine. . . . The thread feels like a dinosaur eating your foot!  When your child complains about something that seems so minor, your first inclination might be to ignore it or ignore them, but you quickly realize that their struggle is all too real.

Hartley Steiner knows how it is.  She has written about sensory issues and autism, and now writes It's Just a . . . What?Little Sensory Problems with Big Reactions.  With cute illustrations by Anait Semirdzhyan, she presents a problem a child is having--sand's too hot, goggles are too tight, tag is itchy--and the child's response to the adult's "It's just a . . ." remark.  At first, it seems like the adult is downplaying the offending bit.  But in each case, the adult assists with a practical solution: put on flip flops, adjust the goggles, cut off the tag.

Children who read this will receive a validation of their struggle.  They are not the only ones who experience extreme discomfort from tiny things that don't bother most people!  It's a good reminder to adults, too, not to ignore the pleadings of a child who complains about something seemingly so trivial.  I was surprised that she left out audio and visual stimulation.  Many kids experience discomfort with loud noises or bright lights; those would have fit in well in this book.  Nevertheless, It's Just a . . . What? is a great teaching tool for kids with sensory issues, as well as for the adults who support them.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Daring to Hope, by Katie Davis Majors

In Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis tells the story of moving to Uganda as a teenager, adopting a whole bunch of daughters, and starting a ministry to families and orphans in Uganda.  She has been in Uganda for a decade, adopted a few more children, and married another missionary.  Now Katie Davis Majors, she writes about her life and continued ministry in Daring to Hope: Finding God's Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful.

Several things strike me about Daring to Hope.  First and foremost is her intimate relationship with God.  She talks about speaking with him and spending time with him in a personal, tangible way.  This is no great revelation, of course.  This is how God wants us to relate to him.  But I, and I suspect most Christians, fall short of this kind of intimacy.

Second is the apparent ease with which she serves her family and neighbors.  To read her account, having thirteen children, frequent house guests, huge dinner parties, and constantly serving her neighbors is no big deal.  I don't know about other families, but keeping up with my three kids and having dinner guests over a couple times a month seems like a challenge sometimes.  Yet she does so much with her family and in the community, and for much of the time she has been in Uganda, it has been as a single mom.

The book is full of heart-breaking stories about the painful lives of many of her neighbors.  Poverty and disease are a fact of life in Uganda, more so than in more developed countries.  She is privileged to have a ministry of service and a reputation for compassion, but that means that people come to her with their broken lives, giving her opportunities to love with the love of Jesus but also to share in their suffering.

I couldn't help but wonder what else she does away from home. . . . She started an organization, Anazima, to "educate and empower the people of Uganda with God's love," but she writes little about her day-to-day activities with the organization.  I suspect she is more involved than the narrative of the book lets on, but with all she has going on at home, she might be content to delegate the operation of the ministry to others.

In a broad sense, Daring to Hope led me to wonder, What might I be able to do if I was fully supported financially, freeing me to minster to my family, my neighbors, and my community full-time?  It seems like this is the case for Katie.  Many people would not live and intentionally and inspirationally as she has, were they given the opportunity.  But she does inspire me to live more outwardly and sacrificially for those around me.  I don't have to go to Uganda to love my neighbor.

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Blurred Lines, by Vanessa Grigoriadis

If you think that the Columbia student who lugged her mattress around campus for year is a real hero (or, I guess I should say, "shero"), then you'll probably love Vanessa Grigoriadis's book Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus.  If you think Mattress Girl is a vindictive attention seeker who wrongfully made an ex-boyfriend's life a living hell by continually publicizing his name and the alleged act of rape, smearing his name all over campus and the national media, then reading Grigoriadis's book will be a frustrating and infuriating experience.

Grigoriadis spent a few years traveling to college campuses to interview Mattress Girl and her friends and like-minded survivors/victims and activists at Columbia and elsewhere.  If her account is all you ever know about college life, you will get a picture of hyper-sexualized post adolescents who have sex all the time and frat boys who have no qualms about having sex with passed-out young ladies.  You will be disturbed by the author's accounts of young ladies who knowingly attend parties where they know vast quantities of alcohol will be consumed and where the male hosts intend to have sex with someone--anyone--before the night is done, and then they're shocked--shocked!--when a girl wakes up hungover, her panties off, her clothes in disarray, and doesn't remember who or how many guys she had sex with.

In this world, it's perfectly OK to ruin a young man's reputation and educational experience over a misunderstanding about intercourse, or even kissing or groping.  It's perfectly OK to willingly have sex with a bunch of fraternity brothers, then turn them all in to the school administration when they compare notes and make up a bawdy story about their shared experiences.  And it's perfectly normal to go to an ABC (anything but clothes) party and not expect that the guys there won't see the presence of a bunch of mostly naked women as an invitation for a bit of whoopee.

Look, rape is horrible.  No one should ever be forced to have sex.  No one should take advantage of a passed out drunk person.  I think everyone agrees on that.  But Blurred Lines and other books and articles written from a similar perspective weaken the case of rape victims by placing them in the same category as a girl who gets mad because the guy she was grinding with on the dance floor grabs her boobs without asking, or the girl who is on the receiving end of an unwelcome kiss from a guy she's talking with at a party. 

Grigoriadis does talk with and about guys who claim to have been wrongfully accused, but she seems to minimize their plight.  The whole "believe the victim" mentality puts guys in a position of "guilty until proven innocent."  In fact, Columbia found Mattress Girl's accused perpetrator innocent, which prompted her to begin her years-long smear campaign.  After suffering her public shaming, which Columbia allowed and even encouraged, he won a lawsuit against the school, getting some measure of satisfaction, but his name is forever linked to this case.

Here's what I would have liked to have heard from Grigoriadis, but she and her ilk will not say.  "Ladies, you think you are liberated by having lots of sex.  But you're not weighing the costs."  Even though she mocks calls for abstinence before marriage, there is no question that a lifestyle of chastity keeps young people away from much of the pain and hardship she discusses.  The vast majority of cases of campus rape and sexual assault are in the context of sexually promiscuous lifestyles.  Does that make it OK?  Of course not.  But if college kids embrace a culture of sexual promiscuity, the opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication, especially after a few drinks, increase exponentially.

If you read Blurred Lines and still get excited about sending your kids to college, you're crazy.  The college life she portrays herein is predatory males, non-stop drunken parties, hookups and promiscuity, and very little studying and academic work.  Weep for our culture and teach your sons and daughters to live right. 

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