Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Double Agent, by Peter Duffy

Peter Duffy's Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring is an example of a great story that doesn't necessarily make a great book.  I like this book, and am glad to learn more about this period of history, but Duffy's narrative lost me from time to time and didn't seem to convey the powerful consequences of these events.

William Sebold was born in Germany, but his adopted home of the United States is where his loyalty lay.  The Germans tried to recruit him to spy for them--he worked in the aerospace industry--but he went to the FBI and offered to be a double agent for the U.S.  The story is at once complex and mundane.  He was a normal guy, doing normal things, with lots of normal people.  But in this time leading up to war, normal people get involved in extraordinary circumstances.

I enjoyed Duffy's descriptions of the setting and tone in the U.S. during these years before the U.S. entered the war.  On this side of history, it's hard to imagine that a large number of Americans were calling for the U.S. not to enter the war.  Many even sided with the Germans.  German Americans in Nazi regalia held public demonstrations.  People were in denial about the implications of Hitler's policies in Germany.

In a sense, this makes Sebold even more a hero, as some of his German friends and family in the U.S. and Germany would certainly have supported Hitler's plans.  But as Duffy tells Sebold's story, he got me lost in the wide cast of characters and their interweaving stories.  I admit, this was probably as much my small brain as Duffy's writing skills, but, well, I don't know.  I'm still glad I read it.

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

Monday, October 29, 2018

Redemption, by Friedrich Gorenstein

Friedrich Gorenstein's 1967 novel Redemption is now available for English readers.  Set shortly after the end of World War 2, in a Soviet town that had been occupied by the Germans, Redemption is a revealing snapshot of life in that time and place.  Other than that, it doesn't have much going for it.

Sashenka lives with her mother, whom she resents for dishonoring the memory of Sashenka's father, who "died for the motherland."  Surly and vengeful, Sashenka constantly acts disrespectfully toward her mother.  Parents of teenage daughters might be able to relate to this description: She "walked into the large room, clenching her teeth in angry irritation again, because she realized that if she once smiled and stopped being angry and suffering, she would forfeit her power in the home."

Her attitude reaches is nadir when she reports her mother to the police.  Her mother brings home leftover food from her kitchen job.  It's clearly a violation of the rules, but she does it to feed her destitute household.  Nevertheless, Sashenka's report gets her mother thrown in jail. And so it goes.

The family drama takes a back seat to the cultural setting.  The misery is layered.  Their town is full of the rubble of bombed-out buildings.  Neighbor is divided against neighbor as they remember who cooperated with the Nazis.  The Soviet police state is entrenched, encouraging everyone to spy on everyone.  People constantly relate to each other with suspicion and quarreling.  Altogether Redemption is a bleak, unenjoyable slice-of-life narrative that I would not recommend except for its historical and sociological qualities.

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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Please Don't Grab My P#$$y!, by Julia Young & Matt Harkins, illustrated by Laura Collins

We all remember the tape of candidate Trump bragging about grabbing women's private parts.  It nearly brought down his candidacy.  Lucky for the United States, it didn't.  Lucky for the left, it inspired a rallying cry against the president.  Julia Young and Matt Harkins try to keep the joke going in Please Don't Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide.  Each page has a little rhyme, accompanied by crude illustrations by Laura Collins.

These rhymes are mildly amusing.  If you're into this sort of thing, each rhyme does cleverly come up with a new synonym for female genitals.  Haha, hooray for potty mouths.  Trump haters will love this.  Trump lovers might get a kick out of it.  My opinion: it's a dumb response to an overblown event, designed to perpetuate a misleading narrative about Trump and his presidency.  Don't bother.

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Trigger Warning, by Nick Hume

Trigger warning: "a statement at the start of any piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains material they might find upsetting or offensive."

Nick Hume has a warning for us.  Free speech is under attack.  In Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? Hume details the many fronts on which free speech is losing ground to the "reverse Voltaires."  Voltaire said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it."  The reverse Voltaires, who have taken over college campuses, politics, and the media, say, "I know I will detest what you say, and I will defend to the end of free speech for my right to stop you saying it."  As Hume says, "Strange . . . that so many now choose to exercise their freedom of speech in order to tell the rest of us what we can't say."

The turn-around has been rapid and ironic.  Hume points out that "feminist, trans, [and] anti-racist activists today . . . demand restrictions on free speech as a means of protecting the rights of the identity groups they claim to represent."  The irony is that "without the efforts of those who fought for more free speech in the past, these illiberal activists would not be free to stand up and fall for less of it in the present."

In this age of the "self-censoring 'sorry majority,'" microaggressions, speech codes, Twitter censoring, and social media shaming, Hume pulls us to return to a place of free speech, open minds, and open expression.  Today it seems like "offending others is the worst offense of all."  But limits on offensive speech are limits on free speech.  We need to reject the "reverse Voltaires" and celebrate the freedom to say what we want, no matter who it might offend.  As Hume writes, "Trigger Warnings that hold a pistol to the head of free speech should have us all reaching for our metaphorical guns to fight for the right to things what we like, and say what we think."

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

When It's a Jar, by Tom Holt

Tom Holt has a gift for writing funny scenarios and laugh-out-loud lines.  Sometimes he strings these together into a semblance of a story.  When It's a Jar fits this pattern.  There's plenty of "funny" in this book, but only a limited amount of "story."  This is a sort-of sequel to Donut, which was even more structurally unsound than When It's a Jar.  So if you enjoyed Donut, definitely pick up When It's a Jar.  But if you thought Donut was a nonsensical mess, avoid When It's a Jar.

Maurice is an everyman who inadvertently gets caught up in traveling around the multiverse.  Theo Bernstein (from Donut) is trapped in all the multiverses at once (sort of).  Maurice figures out what's going on (sort of) and so can you (sort of).  When It's a Jar is a sometimes entertaining but ultimately very unsatisfying read.  You'll either love it or hate it.

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

Finding Holy in the Suburbs, by Ashley Hales

Ashley Hales's Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much reminds me of those niche devotional books, like The New Testament for Outdoorsmen or Devotionals for Quilters.  The content is, by definition, just about the same for those books, but it's dressed up for particular people groups or interests.  In Hales's case, I felt like I was reading something like Spiritual Disciplines for Middle-Class Suburban Moms.

Hales takes some decent material on spiritual disciplines and Christian life, and forces it onto a template of stereotypes about "the suburbs."  Much of it felt artificial, contrived, and insulting.  She weakens her position early on when she writes that "more than 50 percent of Americans live in the suburbs."  Then she proceeds to develop the worn-out supposed distinctives of suburban life: consumerism, busyness, obsession with safety, superficiality, isolation, etc.  First of all, these qualities exist everywhere, not just in the suburbs.  Second of all, she keeps up this suburban picture of wealth, privilege, and segregation, while American suburbs become more diverse, racially and economically, all the time (as you might expect since more than half of us live there).

For example, she writes, "Buying is our suburban form of worship."  Oh, only suburbanites succumb to this?  "In the suburbs we like the sheen of community, but real community is messy and unkempt."  Because inner-city neighborhoods are always so naturally community oriented?  "The suburbs keep us busy because we think the more we move, the more we work, the more valuable we will be."  Is this in contrast to city dwellers, who are know to be so much less career-, work-, and task-oriented?  "Although we are materially wealthy in the suburbs, we are spiritually poor."  Again, suburbs are diverse, not only full of wealthy people.  And materially poor people are just as likely to be spiritually needy as materially rich people.  "In the suburbs the default setting is to fill our soul hungers with fast-food versions" of commerce, relationships, and love.  Why would she insist this is any more true for someone in a suburb than for someone in the city?

I want to emphasize that there is plenty of good food for thought in Finding Holy in the Suburbs.  It just drove me crazy, the whole time I was reading, that she maintains this attitude of denigrating suburban life, seeming to say that one must struggle to overcome the natural pull of suburban life to grow spiritually.  The implication is that in the city or in a rural area, spiritual growth is more natural and part of one's surroundings.  I find that to be completely bogus.  Everything she says about the suburbs can be applied to anywhere you live.

Toward the end she writes, "The man from Galilee is the one who bears our suburban sins in his body and takes them to death."  Well, that's true, but you might as well take the word "suburban" out of that sentence, and it is no less true.  To me, it just seems a little silly to force the gospel and Christian spirituality into a particular demographic.  Maybe we can edit this a little bit: Finding Holy: Living Faithfully Wherever You Are.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The 50 State Fossils, by Yinan Wang, illustrations by Jane Levy

Does your state have a state fossil?  Most do, and those that don't usually have a state dinosaur or state stone instead.  In Yinan Wang's The 50 State Fossils: A Guidebook for Aspiring Paleontologists, we learn about each state's fossil (or dinosaur or stone), getting an introduction to the fascinating world of paleontology.

One of the surprises to the uninformed (and the target age of the book is elementary school students who are, by definition, uninformed!) is the presence of aquatic animal fossils in land-locked states like Kentucky and Nevada.  Wang works in discussions of the changing geography of North America.

For each state, Wang describes the fossil, dinosaur, plant, or whatever in a few paragraphs, sometimes including details about the fossil's discovery and addition as the state fossil.  He includes photographs, a map of where the fossil is found in the state, and illustrations by Jane Levy of what the original organism would have looked like.

The fossils from from tiny invertebrates to large reptiles and mammals.  (The mammoth is a popular state fossil.)  I'm guessing the states that got in early on the state fossil game snatched up the cool ones like triceratops and stegosaurus, leaving lowly creatures like the trilobite to Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Just kidding, I'm sure those states are rightly proud of their small but interesting ocean-floor-dwelling creatures.

I was a dinosaur-loving kid many years ago.  I was also so jealous when I would read about a kid who found a fossil out on a creek bed or something.  The 50 State Fossils is sure to foster curiosity and passion about the creatures and plants that occupied our space many millions of years ago.

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Past Tense, by Lee Child

In Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, Past Tense, Reacher once again demonstrates his knack for finding the worst kinds of trouble dwelling in a random small town.  As the story begins, Reacher starts out on the long trek from Maine to San Diego.  He doesn't get far.  His ride drops him in the middle of nowhere.  Not that Reacher minds.  After he's dropped off, he notices a sigh to a small town--the very town where his father was born!  Curious to see what he can discover about his father's past, he decides to check it out.

Of course, it's never easy for Reacher to get in and out of town without getting into trouble.  When he helps a young lady by beating the tar out of a stalker, it turns out that the stalker is the son of a Boston crime boss, who sends his goons to teach Reacher a lesson.  (They don't succeed.)  When a local man takes Reacher out to see where his grandparents live, it turns out that a local family is squatting on nearby land.  They don't take kindly to strangers, and want to teach Reacher a lesson.  (They don't succeed.)  Meanwhile, a distant relative of Reacher's is a few miles outside of town preying on unsuspecting travelers.

Reacher is Reacher.  Have toothbrush, will travel.  In Past Tense, Child says very little about Reacher's peculiar habits.  I don't remember a single shopping trip where he leaves his clothes in a trash can.  Another unlikely story element: even though Reacher befriends the pretty cop and the pretty county employee, he doesn't end up in bed with any women!  Maybe he's getting old and losing interest.

Speaking of losing interest, does he lose interest in some of the things he's encountered in the past?  When he discovers what his distant cousin is up to, I wonder if he thinks, "Wow, this reminds me of that insane human torture operation I saw in Make Me"?  Or, "This reminds me of that human smuggling ring I discovered in Worth Dying For"?  This is simply to say that, as rule, Child likes his Reacher books to be stand-alone stories like Past Tense.  But that sometimes makes Reacher seem static and not self-aware.  Every now and then a book will have a returning character or a bit of story line that continues from a prior book.  Not this one.  That being said, we do learn new information about Reacher's father, revelations that surprise Reacher but don't prompt him to make any changes in his life.

I'm definitely a fan of Lee Child's Reacher novels.  I love this kind of book, that stays on my mind when I'm not reading it and to which I am eager to return.  Past Tense was a little big quirky and somehow different from some prior books, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Having Nothing, Possessing Everything, by Michael Mather

Michael Mather is pastor of a church in inner city Indianapolis.  But forget whatever stereotypical image comes to mind when you read that.  In Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places, Mather writes of the changes he went through to re-imagine what it means to be a pastor in a poor community.  When he started out in ministry, he "began by seeing scarcity, seeing only the need and the things that seemed to be missing in the neighborhoods in which I pastored.  What I learned . . . was how to see abundance--I learned to see the love and power that was overflowing in even the most economically challenged neighborhoods."

Over time, Mather has developed practices that enrich and empower his neighbors, building up the community in which the church is placed.  Rather than looking upon the people in this poor neighborhood as needy people needing assistance, "We were practicing the theology of abundance by looking for and naming the gifts of people who are thought of as poor and needy."  When someone came to the church, or when the met someone in the neighborhood, Mather asked what they have to offer.  What gifts do they have?  What gives their life meaning?  Is there some skill they have that they can teach someone else to do?  They began to focus on people's capacities rather than their needs.

They discovered talented chefs, whom the church would pay to cater events.  They discovered skilled bicycle repairmen, who the church assisted with setting up a repair shop.  Photographers, tutors, artists, mechanics, health care workers, gardeners all had something to offer, to teach, to contribute the community.  The church shifted from a mentality of helping people with material needs to helping people by recognizing their gifts and finding places where they are valued.

Mather resists "the paternalism that comes from controlling the purse strings" and rejects long-practiced "anti-poverty efforts" that "offer solutions that have been proven not to work."  The church focuses on the neighbors, their interests and needs and gifts, rather than programming from above.  "Doing things for people and involving neighbors in what 'we' (as institutions) do hasn't been effective.  At our church, we experiment with ways to invest in the good things our neighbors are doing before we ask them to be involved in what we're doing."

None of this should be a radical idea, but, unfortunately, it is.  I love the use of staff and interns whose tasks consist of walking around the neighborhood listening to people.  They build bridges of relationships across common interests, bringing people together in such a way that their gifts are used, shared, and passed on.  I love the model of ministry and community Mather presents.  I wish he would have said more about tying it all in to the gospel.  He talks about not forgetting Jesus, and he talks about community, but he says little about bringing neighbors into communion and relationship with Jesus.  After all, the church is not a community center, a social club, an educational resource, or a supper club, but the body of Christ, Jesus' witness to the world.

Mather's model is not a template to be replicated, but the questions he and others in the church ask can be asked anywhere.  The time spent discovering people's gifts is valuable time in any church and community setting.  Having Nothing, Possessing Everything got me thinking a lot about discovering and empowering the gifts of people in my church and neighborhood.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Nobody's Girl, by Barbara Amaya

Barbara Amayah spent many years as a teenage prostitute, working for a pimp and strung out on drugs.  If that sentence brings to mind a stereotypical picture, you're not too far off Barbara's reality, but it's only a snapshot.  The full picture of who she is is more tragic, painful, and redemptive than that nutshell can convey.  In Nobody's Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery, and Redemption Amaya tells her story.  Reading this book will change the way you view sex workers and sex slavery.

Every woman's story is different, of course, but Amaya provides a template that has likely been followed many, many times.  She did not become a prostitute overnight.  She never really chose that occupation and lifestyle.  The amazing, tragic, beginning of this path began at her ostensibly normal home.  When she was a little girl, her father began sexually abusing her.  Then her brother raped her.  She ran away from home multiple times.  While she made some friends out on the streets, plenty of people came along to take advantage of her.  Her "friends" sold her to a pimp who took her to New York, where she walked the streets, had sex with multiple men every night, and brought her earnings home to her abusive pimp.  A friend of hers got her hooked on heroine, so she became even more needy, sometimes only earning enough money for the next fix.  She finally had enough of her pimp's abuse and fled, eventually settling down to a more normal life.

Amayah's story is raw, violent, painful, and hard to read.  She dispels any notion of romanticism or appeal one might have about the life of a prostitute.  The good news is that she has a happy ending, as a mother and as an advocate for young women.  But some things will never change.  The reality is that her own family started her down the path she followed.  I can't fathom the mentality of a father treating his daughter the way he treated Barbara.  A mother willfully ignoring it.  A brother joining in the abuse.  I can't fathom the mentality of people who take advantage of young women--no, little girls--to make money off selling their bodies.  Slavery is the word for it, for sure.  It's appalling.

How many times is Barbara's story being played out in our streets every night?  How may men excuse the occasional fling with a prostitute without considering the story of their companion?  How many families drive away their children through abuse?  How many women are desperate for a way out of the lifestyle they have been forced into and are trapped in? 

Nobody's Girl is not a fun book to read, but Amaya's story should provoke us and open our eyes to reconsider the way we view prostitutes we see in our streets.  Chances are, they are crying out for help.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hello, My Name Is, by Matthew West

A couple years ago it seemed like every time we got in the car Matthew West's "Hello, My Name Is" was playing on the radio.  He has expanded on the message of that song in Hello My Name Is: Discovering Your True Identity.  With inspiring stories and abundant scripture, West reminds the reader to find his or her identity in Christ.  As the song says, "Hello, my name is child of the one true king."

As Christians, we have been saved, changed, and set free, but we don't always live like it.  West's songwriting gift, it turns out, translates beautifully into a gift for story telling.  Hello My Name Is is chock full of heart-warming, faith-building stories that encourage readers to remember to live like they're saved, changed, and set free.

I enjoyed hearing the back stories not only of this song, but of others West has written for and about people.  Clearly West has a passion for seeing lives changed and inspired through his music.  On the radio and in live shows, his songs have touched lives in deep and lasting ways.  Even if you don't enjoy his music (although, how could you not, it's very easy to like) you will enjoy hearing about how this man uses his gifts to touch others.  Read this book and his stories will touch you, too.

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hold Texas, Hold the Nation, by Allen B. West

As the bumper stickers say, Allen B. West is not a Texan but he got here as fast as he could.  Lieutenant Colonel West represented a Florida district in the U.S. Congress after a twenty-two year career in the Army.  He was the first African-American elected to congress from Florida since the 19th century and has continued to promote conservative and Republican ideals as a Fox News commentator and as a researcher for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis.

West sets up Texas as an example for the rest of the country to follow in Hold Texas, Hold the Nation: Victory or Death.  Texas's great strength, as one of the strongest economies in the nation and in the world, is a business-friendly, low regulation environment.  "Texas benefits from low taxes, a fair legal system, and leaders who know how to close a deal with incentives."  West gives example after example of businesses that have relocated from California, New York, and other locales, describing the various financial and practical motivations for their moves.

West spends the most time comparing California and Texas.  Both started with conservative, frontier self-determination.  But now, while Texas leans pro-business, suspicious of federal government control, and promoting individual liberty, California has become a haven for centralized, top-down control, leading to deficits and hoards of people and businesses leaving the state, many to come to Texas.

Texas's economic success and welcome mat for businesses and workers has led to those very people--Yankees and Californians--bringing along sets of non-Texan values.  It's no coincidence that the Austin area, a hub for tech migrants from California, is one of the most liberal parts of the state.  West calls on all Texans, whether descended from Texians or recent arrivals from blue states, to recognize and acknowledge what has made Texas an economic powerhouse and to resist the temptation to move Texas away from its conservative roots.  (This means you, Beto, and your progressive socialist fans!)

On a couple of points West's arguments do fall a little flat.  His discussion of health care hits a lot of the right notes, but he's got some work to do on articulating his argument to people who are reliant on government health care.  The disabled and elderly have few options, and most rely on the largess of various government agencies for their care.  I know other fellow conservative Texans for whom this issue is life-or-death, and platitudes (as they see it) about a free market in health care don't cut it.

West is calling on Texans to stand strong for conservative Texan principles.  "Progressive socialists want to turn this great state blue, but I'm drawing the line in the sand.  The conservative principles that have helped us succeed are worth fighting for."  Take a long look at Texas, compare Texas to California, and take a stand with West.  Don't let the progressive socialists win.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Don't Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile, by Jacob Lambert, illustrated by Tom Richmond

The goofy crew at MAD magazine have put together another hilarious parody of a popular children's book.  Of course they would reimagine Mo Willems classic Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus as Don't Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile.  Writer Jacob Lambert and illustrator Tom Richmond mimic Willems's distinctive style while bringing in the characters from Batman.  They go with the campy TV show rather then the darker movies in the style of the characters.

Batman has gone on a crime-fighting errand, and wants to be sure no one lets Penguin drive the Batmobile in his absence.  Robin and Commissioner Gordon won't cooperate with his wishes.  The Riddler, the Joker, and Batgirl taunt him.  In the end, he has a great imagination and throws a tantrum, but the Batmobile is safe.

I would imagine that kids who grew up on Willems's books would not be familiar with the old TV show, but their parents will appreciate this pop culture mash-up.  It's fun times with the Penguin!

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Welcoming the Stranger, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang

Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang both work for World Relief, which started as a branch of the National Association of Evangelicals to provide assistance for refugees.  This tells you two things you can assume about their book Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate.  First, you know they have a big heart of compassion for immigrants.  Second, their perspective is biblically and theologically sound.  Both assumptions would be true.

Their case for biblical compassion for immigrants is clear and pretty much irrefutable.  Who can argue with treating others with dignity and grace, no matter their place of birth?  The scriptural basis for loving the alien is plentiful.  But more than that, Soerens and Yang speak from their own experience, telling the stories of individuals they have known, to put a human face on immigration.  They also spend a lot of time debunking persistent myths about the economic productivity (strong) and criminality (unusual) of immigrants, legal and illegal.

On one level, Soerens and Yang have me wholly in their corner.  (Full disclosure: I have directed fund raisers for World Relief at my local church.)  Yet here's where they fall short.  For all their arguments for the economic benefits of immigration and the general lawfulness of immigrants, they didn't convince me that there should be no limits on immigration.  Does my personally welcoming a stranger to my home or church or neighborhood necessarily mean I must support policies that welcome all comers to live in the U.S.?  That sort of policy is unsustainable. 

I know there's a tension here.  I believe I can treat an undocumented immigrant family with love and neighborliness while seeking political answers to end illegal immigration and promote legal, limited immigration policies.  It's a hard balance that requires turning some people away, but there is no way all the huddled masses can fit in the U.S.  (What's the alternative, you ask me?  Promoting democratic capitalism across the globe.  That's a topic for another book.)  Soerens and Yang bring sanity, facts, and compassion to this controversial conversation.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Russia Hoax, by Gregg Jarrett

Gregg Jarrett says at the end of The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump that he understands few who need to be convinced of his thesis will read his book or will dismiss it out of hand.  But Jarrett, who has worked at CourtTV, MSNBC, and, currently, Fox News, digs into the story behind supposed Russia collusion and concludes that the same forces that downplayed Hillary Clinton's law-breaking and let her off the hook not only went after Trump for the Russia story but created the story itself.

Rather than try to summarize the case Jarrett makes, I would simply recommend that if you have any doubt that the case of Russian collusion is a scam, read this book.  Jarrett names the names of the specific individuals who used their positions in federal law enforcement to protect Hillary from prosecution.  Those same individuals conspired--yes, I believe it warrants being called a conspiracy--to concoct a fake dossier and create a specious case against Trump.

Two things stood out to me.  First, the blatant lack of charges against Hillary and her defenders and co-conspirators.  Jarrett covers many violations of the law that are factually known but that have not made their way to the courts, but that should result in jail time, fines, or, at the very least, public discrediting.  Second, the systematic effort to set up Trump, derail his campaign, and damage his presidency.  I know plenty of people like him, but to hate him so much to falsely go after him without regard to the damage they do to the country is beyond me. 

This is a frustrating book.  Liberals will be frustrated that Jarrett is so one-sided.  Conservatives will be frustrated that many of the players Jarrett names are still in the game, and that most of those who are not in the game have faced so little, if any, consequence.  Politics makes people do terrible things.  And a lot of them get away with it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Alienist, by Caleb Carr

It's the late 19th century and a crazed killer is on the loose on the streets of New York City.  In Caleb Carr's The Alienist, a newspaper reporter teams up with an alienist--an archaic term for a psychologist--to track down the killer.  In one sense, this is a pretty standard criminal investigation novel.  They profile the killer, find evidence and draw connections that the run-on-the-mill police detectives miss, and get themselves into trouble. 

The setting of The Alienist is the best part.  The culture and geography of New York City is at once foreign and distinctly recognizable.  For lovers of NYC nostalgia, this trip to the past will be a thrill.  The nature of the crimes the reporter and the alienist investigate is repulsive.  The targets are young boys who work as prostitutes.  The descriptions of this tawdry trade are shocking and eye-opening.  (I assume Carr bases this on historical fact.  I'm either too naive or sheltered to have been aware of how wide-spread this culture was.)  The murderer at large took these boys and mutilated them grotesquely.  Thankfully one can skim over Carr's vivid descriptions to minimize the mental imagery.

Besides the dark, dreary, and stomach-churning crimes, Carr's protagonists have too easy a time getting to the bottom of the case for my taste.  That makes for a breezy, fast-paced read, but it was a little unsatisfying, like a made-for-TV movie that hits the right buttons but doesn't grip you.  In terms of entertainment value, suspense, and the "I can't wait to read something else by this author" factor, The Alienist is just OK.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Book of Onions, by Jake Thompson

Do you have an odd sense of humor?  Do you enjoy absurd, pithy comics?  You might be a candidate to enjoy The Book of Onions: Comics to Make you Cry Laughing and Cry Crying.  Jake Thompson, creator of the "Jake Likes Onions" webcomic, has collected some of his work in an actual print book.

Granted, his themes are often pretty bleak.  I know we shouldn't laugh at other people's depression and misfortune, but that seems to be what Jake wants us to do.  Oh, and death.  But really, these are pretty funny comics, if you don't mind a lot of dark themes and rated-R language.  Go ahead, laugh.

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

Miracles, by Eric Metaxes

Eric Metaxas, one of today's great communicators of big ideas, wants you to believe in miracles.  In Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life, Metaxas talks about miracles in the Bible, but spends most of the book talking about miracles in the lives of people he knows today.

With his trademark clarity and wit, Metaxas considers the question of miracles from a natural and biblical perspective.  Miracles in the biblical account differ, he argues, from myths in other traditions.  Readers can be confident that the biblical accounts are not only accurate but are not unique to biblical times.

The second half of the book contains numerous stories of modern-day miracles, mostly involving people personally known to Metaxas.  While most of think of miracles in terms of healing or provision, Eric points out that they are much broader than that.  He starts with the miracle of conversion.  I have to agree with him, that when you see someone's life truly changed, it's nothing short of a miracle.  He recounts some healing miracles, but is sure to include miracles of inner healing as well.

His stories inspire and challenge us to look for that which is beyond our everyday experience.  These are moments in which God reaches in and touches our lives in out-of-the-ordinary ways.  Sometimes the miracle is specifically sought and asked for.  At other times, though, it's an un-sought-after event.  I wish he would have addressed those times we all experience when we need a miracle and earnestly implore God but no miracle occurs.  While this question always lurks behind stories of miracles (That's cool that God healed her, but what about him?), it doesn't, or shouldn't, take away from those times when God does intervene.  Thanks to Metaxas for reminding us to look to God and celebrate those times that he touches our lives.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Battlestar Suburbia, by Chris McCrudden

Ever since reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a teenager, humorous sci-fi has been a favorite genre of mine.  Many have tried to follow in Douglas Adams's footsteps, but none can match his brilliance and wit.  I'm not sure if Chris McCrudden sees himself as carrying on Adams's literary mantle, but I would add Battlestar Suburbia to the list of sci-fi comedy efforts that fall short.

Millennia in the future, machines are self-aware and sentient, and humans are only tolerated as cleaners.  Humans live in orbiting housing projects, commuting to earth for their daily cleaning jobs.  A few humans more or less accidentally start a human revolt, with the assistance of bread maker who has developed compassion for the plight of humans.

It took me a while to wrap my mind around the sentient machines, and I never really did embrace them.  If it's been millennia, why do these machines retain their human-serving forms?  In the case of the bread maker, a human engineer transfers her consciousness into a motorcycle.  Why wouldn't machines take initiative to develop more versatile bodies?  It makes no sense.

The premise didn't grab me, and, while there were certainly some original and funny ideas, the story didn't engage me.  I got bored and found myself skimming to the end.  Good effort, but not that great.

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Liars, Leakers, and Liberals, by Judge Jeanine Pirro

Judge Jeanine Pirro has a show on the Fox News Channel, and has been a friend of President Trump for decades.  So it will come as no surprise the in Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy she defends Trump and his policies and harshly criticizes Trump's many critics.  If you've ever seen her show or her appearances on other shows, you know her fiery personality.  That comes through loud and clear in this book.

She writes that "the anti-Trump movement is a conspiracy by the powerful and connected to overturn the will of the American people."  On Trump's part, he "gave up the fairy-tale life of  a successful billionaire" to be the president.  Pirro runs through a variety of issues that have marked Trump's presidency, pointing out the hypocrisy and irrationality with which critics of Trump try to tear him down.

Much of what you read hear is familiar if you've watched Fox News or read other recent books by Trump defenders.  Liars, Leakers, and Liberals is full of great information and analysis, but what sets it apart is Pirro's personal touch.  She tells stories from private life, long before he was a candidate or president, that reveal Trump's generosity, friendship, and character.  He has long been patriotic and a promoter of people around him.  He was known as a big tipper and an outgoing, giving guy.  While some of this came through press about Trump in the past, once he became a candidate and now president, the press completely turned on him, forgetting all the positive stories they had written in the past.

While the mainstream press constantly beats the drum against Trump, distorting his every statement and action, it's nice to hear from the other side, from someone who knows Trump well.