Monday, March 25, 2019

26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi

If you follow road running at all, you know Meb Keflezighi.  He's one of the United States's most accomplished marathon runners, having won Boston, New York, and winning a silver medal at the Olympics.  In 26 Marathons: What I've Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from Each Marathon I've Run, Meb writes about the 26 marathons he ran over his 15 year career as a marathoner. 

For someone who most of us would view as a superhuman, Meb reveals his humanity.  As a recreational runner who has run a few marathons, I could relate to many of Meb's struggles.  Of course, there are differences: he runs a marathon twice as fast as I do, and trains well more than twice as much.  But a big theme of the book is fighting through struggles and overcoming adversity, in racing and in life.  He writes that he runs to win, but points out that "isn't about finishing first, but about getting the best out of yourself." 

As the saying goes, life is a marathon, and Meb's example proves what that saying implies.  For him, life and training and racing is about patience and perseverance.  "Grow your capabilities over time, not suddenly two months before a big race."  He writes that "The people who have long, successful careers in any endeavor are those who consistently work hard but don't push themselves so much that they break down." 

And when you meet your goals, celebrate them.  "Celebrate every personal best, even it's only by one second."  Meb certainly had plenty of personal bests to celebrate.  But he was also realistic.  For each race, he would set a series of goals, for example, first place, top 3, top 10, or simply to finish.  Sometimes during a race, you have to adjust your goals, but can still celebrate.

Meb tells some great stories, and shows why he has become so beloved by marathon fans around the world.  As you read, you'll cheer for him at every race, grieve with him as he fights injury, and celebrate with him as he bounces back.  His is a great American success story.

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

Sunday, March 24, 2019

We Chose You, by Tony & Lauren Dungy

I know who Tony Dungy is--NFL coach, outspoken Christian--but I didn't know he is the father of 10 children, most of whom are adopted.  In We Chose You, which Dungy co-wrote with his wife, Lauren, a mom and dad explain to their son that they chose him, that God makes all kinds of families.

Calvin came home from school worried about his project for the next day, in which he was going to have to tell the class about his family.  Calvin's mom and dad explained to him that they had prayed and prayed for him, and that God chose him for them, and chose them for him.  Dad reassured him that "Once we became your parents, we all became a family.  You can't un-choose family."

It's a simple message, but one that many adoptees struggle with.  Mom makes it clear to Calvin that even though he didn't "grow in her tummy," they are just as much a family.  I'd be interested to see how the Dungys would address Calvin's questions if he had siblings who were biological children.  I have not doubt that they would assure Calvin that of course they love him just as much as their biological children.  Since the Dungys have both biological and adopted children, perhaps the next book will cover that territory.

This is a cute book with a great message for any child whose life is touched by adoption.

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

Friday, March 22, 2019

Inherit the Stars, by James P. Hogan

James P. Hogan's 1977 novel Inherit the Stars has one of the great set-ups in sci-fi.  Human explorers on the moon uncover an unusual find: a human in a space suit.  Clearly he's been dead a while, but no group of humans will own up to a missing crew member.  Soon researchers get the most shocking news of all: the corpse is 50,000 years old!  This discovery and subsequent related discoveries spark an investigation into the very origins of human life.

Upon reflection, one interesting thing about Inherit the Stars is that despite its being science-heavy, with lots of conversations between scientists comparing theories, it's very readable.  Also, with much of the text being made up these conversation among scientists, there's not a lot that actually happens, yet it's a fun and entertaining read.  And although it was first published more than 40 years ago, Hogan's anticipation of technological developments (and the fact that tech is not central to the story) has kept the story fresh.

Inherit the Stars, Hogan's first novel, established him as a reliably entertaining writer of hard science fiction.  This is definitely a novel that is worth revisiting.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Big Lie, by Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D'Souza has built a reputation as an author, filmmaker, and public speaker for defending conservative American principles against the onslaught of leftism that continues to spread in the U.S.  by exposing the lies and agendas of Obama, the Clintons, and other leftists, he has provided ammunition for people to oppose them.  In The Big Lie: Exposing the Roots of the American Left, he digs into he current expressions of liberal, progressive politics in the U.S. and shows their inextricable link to Naziism.

Does that sound outrageous?  Over the top?  Read the book.  Look at the history D'Souza lays out and judge for yourself.  The left is fond of calling Trump a fascist and comparing him to Hitler.  But what is fascism?  What did Hitler and the Nazi party stand for?  You'll see they have much more in common with modern Democrats than with Trump and the Republicans.  That's part of the Big Lie: using references to mean the opposite of what they actually mean.  A perfect example: Antifa.  They say they are fighting fascism while behaving exactly like fascists of the past and supporting literally fascist policies.

There are some important and troubling historical ties to support D'Souza's claims.  As the Nazi's were taking over Germany, they wondered about a method by which they could segregate a whole class of people within their own nation.  They looked to the example of the policies established by Democratic politicians in the U.S.  The second-class treatment of blacks in the U.S. and the displacement of Native Americans both provided great inspiration to the Nazis.  The concentration camps (the work camps, not the death camps) were like Southern plantations.  D'Souza attributes these policies to the Democrats who established them, and draws a line to modern-day Democrats.

It's amazing to hear how enamored American Democrats and liberals were with Hitler and Mussolini in the years leading up to World War 2.  Thank God that war exposed and defeated the evils of Nazism and fascism.  But the love of their political and social principles lives on in the Democratic party.  Thank God D'Souza is doing the good work of exposing the history behind the current political environment, and thank God Trump is working to defeat it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Gospel at Work, by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

For Christians, especially lay Christians, I'm not sure we can talk enough about how our daily, secular lives should reflect the gospel.  In The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Meaning and Purpose to Our Jobs, a pastor and a businessman team up to guide Christians who have one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom (that is, all Christians).  Sebastian Traeger is a businessman and entrepreneur, and Greg Gilbert is a seminary graduate and pastor.  Together they help the reader realize that no matter what you do with your life and career, Christians have one boss: Jesus.Edit

Most of us navigate between the two extremes of idolatry and idleness.  You may make an idol of your work.  If your identity is tied up exclusively in your job, or the time commitments of your job prevent you from doing anything else in your life, or if  you find yourself valuing job status or rewards over relationships, you are probably on the "idol" end of the spectrum.  On the other hand, your problem may be idleness.  This includes literal idleness, which needs no explanation, but on a spiritual level, Traeger and Gilbert mean "when we fail to see God's purpose in our work. . . . when we neglect our responsibility to serve as if we are serving the Lord." 

That is really the key: no matter what you're doing, whether full-time ministry or a secular job in the marketplace, work as if your boss is Jesus himself.  Accepting that fact will shape the way you work and live.  I was convicted by their points on a number of levels.  Representing both the business world and the professional ministry world, the authors are careful to emphasize that full-time ministry is not a superior calling to business or secular labor.  In fact, they point out that given a normal work week, less than half of our waking hours are spend in a job.  God is just as concerned with how we spend the other 65% of our days, with family, church, service, and leisure.  As a seminary graduate who struggles with the fact that I am working in the secular world, this reminder is a great encouragement and challenge to me.

Traeger and Gilbert offer a refreshing perspective on work and calling.  Jesus is our boss, whether or not we are in full-time ministry.  We shouldn't get hung up on what we are "called" to do, but pursue what we desire, are gifted in, and have opportunity to do.  Above all, no matter how we spend our days and make our living, we must simply  "Follow Jesus and bring him glory."  Amen, brothers.

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Right Hand, by Derek Haas

Derek Haas has made a name for himself in movies and TV with his screenplays and shows like "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago PD."  Turns out he can write a decent action novel, too.  In The Right Hand, he delves into territory familiar to fans of Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne.  Haas's hero, Austin Clay, works on his own, checking in with his handler, but outside of much structure and accountability.  He's on a mission to rescue another agent, and find Marika, a young lady who has information about their Russian foes.  Of course, things go off the rails when the other agent gives up all he knows, and Clay decides that Marika is worth saving rather than using her as a pawn.

Haas keeps the action going at break-neck speed.  He gives some glimpses into Clay's background and childhood, but the focus is on the chase.  Like any action hero worth his salt, Clay is adept with weapons, evasive driving (car or motorcycle), spycraft, and killing.  Especially killing.  He leaves quite a wake of bodies.  But it's not his fault!  The bad guys just keep coming after him, and his survival instinct kicks in.  I like this about him, too: even though he could get the girl, he turns her down, keeping her best interests in mind.  A real gentleman.

The Right Hand doesn't try to make any big geopolitical points, although the plot has plenty of international intrigue.  Haas focuses on the action, the characters, and the body count.  This is, in my mind, what a fun spy thriller should focus on.  Haas may not measure up to the great writers of spy fiction, but he certainly can tell an entertaining (and cinematic) tale.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons, ed. Bob Eckstein

If you are an avid reader or book lover, you will relate to the cartoons that Bob Eckstein has collected in The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons by the World's Greatest Cartoonists.  Eckstein features several dozen cartoonists whose cartoons have appeared in various publications.  The New Yorker magazine is where most of these originated.  If you have an idea of the style of the cartoons they publish, then you have an idea of this book.

Several themes show up throughout the book.  The quirky interactions of author appearances and book signings.  The loss of the traditional bookstores, either to online retailers or to "bookstores" that sell all manner of things besides books.  The struggles of the lives of authors and editors.  The lifestyle of someone who simply likes to read.

As Eckstein writes in the introduction, "Long live books, bookstores, and cartoons!"  Book lovers understand.

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

Funny, You Don't Look Autistic, by Michael McCreary

Canadian comedian Michael McCreary found an unusual niche in the world of stand-up comedy: the autistic comedian.  (You can see his performance schedule at  In Funny, You Don't Look Autistic: A Comedian's Guide to Life on the Spectrum, McCreary talks about his life on the spectrum and on the stage.

More than a memoir or biography, more than a book of humor, more than a primer on autism, Funny, You Don't Look Autistic contains all those elements.  McCreary writes about his diagnosis at age five, and the experiences that led to the gradual realization that he was destined for a career in comedy.  While he does write about his own diagnosis, as well as about his brother's, he makes it clear that he's not writing a "comprehensive and detailed examination of autism and its myriad workings in the brain."  He said that if that's what you want, put this book down "and pick up something that wasn't written by a comedian."

That said, his accounts and descriptions of his struggles shed light on autism.  He writes, "Having autism is like having too many tabs open on a computer.  Or more accurately, it's like trying to surf the web without an ad blocker.  Every time you click on something, another window pops up."  One of his big struggles, like many with autism, is social interactions and awkwardness.  He describes rehearsing conversations he anticipates having; many of his interactions are scripted, in a sense.  He says "awkwardness might be the defining emotion of being on the spectrum. . . . People told me I would grow out of my awkwardness once I reached high school . . . I'm still waiting."  (McCreary is in his early 20s.)

As he embarked on his stand-up career, many of his gigs were for groups of autistic people or advocacy or parent groups.  He was told repeatedly how inspirational he was.  "At eighteen, I didn't want to be inspirational; I just wanted to be funny."  But he came to see and appreciate the value he brought to his engagements when he heard comments like, "You gave me hope for my kid."  He came to understand that "An advocate can be a carefree prankster, and comic can be a deep-thinking philosopher.  Your job does not define you."

Despite his protestations, McCreary is inspirational and informative.  What a great advocate for people with autism, demonstrating that one need not hide one's disability, nor should one hide behind it.  He has used his gifts and embraced his struggles to make a niche for himself in his chosen career and in life.  I enjoy reading McCreary's story and am, yes, inspired by him.  (But, to be sure, he made me laugh a lot, too.)

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

Bird Box on Netflix got a lot of hype and seemed to be very popular, so when I saw the audio book by Josh Malerman at the library I decided to check it out.  It's not the worst book I've ever read, but I didn't like it very much.

Here's the premise, crudely stated: some kind of entity or creatures or something has invaded the world.  Anyone who sees them/it immediately becomes violently self-destructive.  People are killing themselves.  The whole world descends into suicidal madness.  A few people realize that they are safe as long as they don't see the thing.  So they live in houses with all the windows boarded up.  If they need to venture outside for food or other supplies, they must wear a blindfold.

The story focuses on Malorie, who survives for a while with a small group of people.  She and her two kids attempt to float down the river to meet up with a community with whom they had brief contact by phone.  The story shifts between the weeks immediately following the initial outbreak or invasion and their flight by boat.

I like speculative stories and read lots of sci-fi, but this book is full of so much absurdity that I grew weary of it.  The reader is kept in the dark just like the characters.  But please, give me a little context or explanation.  You look at it and want to kill yourself?  Whatever.  Malerman writes some decent scenes, and has a good sense of suspense and the slow reveal.  But the whole package just didn't work for me.  For a suspense novel it turned out to be rather dull and uninteresting with a disappointing ending.

By the way, after I listened to the audiobook, I watched the movie.  I'd say the movie is marginally better than the book, but still not very good.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Radically Normal, by Josh Kelley

I really liked Josh Kelley's book Radically Normal: You Don't Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus.  Before I talk about the content of the book, I want to mention one reason I especially like it.  I've read many books by popular pastor/authors.  Publishers like these guys.  They grow a big church, gain some notoriety for their congregation size or growth, and have a ready audience of several thousand.  Publishers figure that even if the book isn't that great, they can count on sales of at least a few thousand from the pastor's congregation.  As Kelley says, he grew a congregation of 100 to 75 under his leadership, and eventually shut the place down.  Not only is there a high level of humility in this, it is also evidence that a publisher took a chance on him due to the quality of the work rather than the security of a ready reader base.

Aside from the question of the size of Kelley's congregation, Radically Normal is an enjoyable and challenging take on the Christian life.  Kelley describes radically normal Christianity as "the biblical art of fully engaging this life while focusing on the next."  The Christian life is about maintaining a balance between complacency and obsessiveness.  On one hand, "the distractions of this life are constantly pulling us away from God."  On the other hand, some Christians get hung up on dos and don'ts (mostly don'ts).

With good-natured aplomb, Kelley covers a spectrum of life choices and emphases, like work, finances, celebration, and church life, navigating between the two extremes.  He calls on Christians not to be dismissive of the blessings of this life.  He writes, "the more I've learned to properly enjoy earthly things, the more I long for heaven."  Further, speaking of creation care specifically, but applying this attitude more generally, he writes, "Rather than treat this world like a hotel room that someone else will clean up, we should treat it like a lakeside cabin that our boss let us borrow for the weekend."

Christians live between the already and the not yet, the temporal and the eternal, the kingdom of this world and the eternal kingdom.  We walk the line between complacency and obsessiveness, keeping our eyes on the promise of heaven while seeing the glory of heaven in the everyday.  Kelley is a worthy guide on this path.

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Outrunning the Demons, by Phil Hewitt

Runners know the power of running for healing, therapy, happiness, and a whole slew of health benefits, mental and physical.  Few runners know the power of running like author Phil Hewitt.  After suffering a brutal beating and stabbing by a mugger who wanted his camera, he found solace and recovery from the trauma through running.

In Outrunning the Demons: Lives Transformed Through Running, Hewitt tells his own story, but he also gathers stories from dozens of runners around the world for whom running has been essential to their own lives.  Through his profiles of the runners, interspersed with the interviewees' own words, Hewitt writes about runners overcoming PTSD from war and from other traumatic experiences, running to overcome addiction, running to bounce back from loss and tragedy, running to deal with disabilities, and running to feel whole again.

Many runners can relate to sentiments like these:

  • "Always he could come back, determined to quit.  And every time he did, he would put on his running shoes."
  • "When [her] world fell apart, she turned to running."
  • "Running helped me find the mental strength to carry on."
  • "Running is pure and beautifully simple.  You carry with you only what you need, then put one foot in front of the other until you get where you need to be."
  • "It was running she turned to in her moment of need, and it has been running that has maintained her ever since."
  • "Running gave me the confidence that I so desperately lacked."

I would guess most people start running to get in shape, stay in shape, keep the weight off, or maybe as a competitive outlet.  Runners are also aware of the psychological effects, as Hewitt points out, of "feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals . . . that can enhance your sense of well being" and dopamine, which "can provide a natural high."  For many runners, running is a social outlet.  But no matter why people get into or stick with running, these stories remind us of the deeper, more profound potential that running holds for healing.  As Hewitt writes, "Running sets our spirits soaring.  No wonder we feel better when we run."

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

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, by Greg Gutfeld

I really enjoy Greg Gutfeld on Fox News Channel's "The Five."  He's hilarious, irreverent, and is a conservative who's not afraid to ruffle feathers by straying from conservative talking points.  In his book The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, he offers some of his characteristic political commentary, but mostly it's full of his characteristic non-political social commentary and general goofiness.

The goofiness, unfortunately, sets the tone of the book.  Maybe, since these pieces were originally short, stand-alone magazine pieces or magazine marginalia, that goofiness was more palatable in small doses.  But in concentrated form in the book, it gets old.  Examples: "Back when I was a teenager/transgendered tennis pro in the 1980s. . . ."  "So there I was, lounging in my shorty robe made of sliced meats . . ."  "I spend my time doing what all good journalists do: trying to find my pants."

Amid this sprinkling of silly non sequiturs, Gutfeld has a solid take on the topics he covers, even if he communicates his take in a snarky, dismissive style.  Of course, that's what he's known for.  Oh, and I haven't mentioned that this is definitely not a book for kids.  He jokes a lot about drinking, sex, cannibalism, and other off-color topics  Gutfeld's fans will enjoy the book.  Readers looking for a bit more substance will be disappointed.  Nevertheless, all readers will get a good laugh.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Constitutional Rights and Constitutional Design, by Paul Yowell

Paul Yowell, an American legal scholar who teaches at Oriel College, Oxford, has some proposals for altering the judicial process in the US and other nations with a similar model of constitutional courts. In Constitutional Rights and Constitutional Design, he proposes that American-style court systems would benefit from moving toward a Kelsenian model.

Named for Austrian jurist Hans Kelsen, the Kelsenian model dominates many European courts. In contrast to the American system of appellate courts, the Kelsenian model allows for more political and legislative authority, aside from its legal authority.

Yowell argues for a broader scope of the American court’s bases for its rulings.  Whereas every Supreme Court justice is a graduate of one of two elite US law schools, he argues that the court would benefit from a legislative council which can inform the court on non-legal technical matters. The fact that courts have relied increasingly on extralegal source materials, including popular publications and the free, collaboratively written Wikipedia, as well as more academic and social science resources, points to the need for expert consultants from a variety of fields.

By their nature, legislatures tend to consist of men women from a variety of professions. Many, of course, are lawyers, but many are businessmen, doctors, civic leaders, investment professionals, even bartenders.  Their varied backgrounds combined make for a body that has greater expertise than the courts in shaping legislation. Many court decisions hinge on technical legal interpretation, but more and more rulings rely on the aforementioned non-legal sources.

The American appellate court structure has, in a sense, elevated the courts above the legislature.  The American process is designed to mete out justice and to protect the rights of minorities, but as Yowell points out, court rulings have at times done the opposite, requiring corrective action by the legislature.  Ultimately, "judicial review of legislation can work injustice to individuals no less than abuse of power by legislatures."

Yowell's analysis is challenging and thorough, engaging case law and specific examples of rulings, as well as legal scholars and ethicists to bolster his case.  American jurists take note: Yowell's ideas are worth considering.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Love Does, by Bob Goff

In Bob Goff's book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, he tells story after story about his adventures in loving people, loving life, and following God.  It's part memoir, part inspirational, and part just-a-good-time.  He has lived his life with abandon, whimsy, and faith, and seeks to pass some of that along to his readers.

Goff is one of those guys who doesn't use the words "No" or "I can't" very often.  If he did, he wouldn't have travelled to Africa to free children from prison, or taken his kids to eat ice cream with heads of state.  He tells funny stories and inevitably brings it around to a solid life lesson.  As a Christian, he has found unique and effective ways to serve God around the world.  It's fun to read his stories and be challenged by Goff's willingness to take chances in following God.

My delight was tempered, however, by the fact that as he tries to model whimsical living and obedience, he doesn't seem to grasp how unrealistic his modeling is for most people.  Your little girl wants to have high tea?  Take her on a trip to London!  Your kids write to world leaders and get invitations to come for a visit?  Travel across Europe!  Taking trips with your friends on your motorcycle and sidecar, or inviting your dying friend's family to vacation at your family's lodge in Canada, or sailing with your son in his new boat to park it on the dock in your backyard, I mean, who wouldn't want to do these things?  Apparently his wallet is thicker than mine (and I suspect most of his readers).

Nevertheless, Goff seems like a great guy and he tells good stories.  Should I have more whimsy in my life?  Should I be ready to follow God into crazy adventures?  Yes and yes.  Too bad the realities of life and finances so often prevent me from doing things I dream about.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Baggage Handler, by David Rawlings

Three weary travelers, each having flown to the same city for important life events, get their luggage switched at the airport.  That's the start of David Rawlings's The Baggage Handler, a novel with a message.  Once the travelers realize they have the wrong bags, their trip--and maybe major life opportunities--seem to be dashed.  The young man trying out for a track scholarship doesn't have his spikes.  The business man trying to justify his branch's continued operation doesn't have his presentation.  The mom who is jealous of her sister's perfect life doesn't have the clothes she needs for the big wedding weekend.

As each calls the airline to arrange to recover their luggage, they are directed to an unmarked warehouse in a seemingly deserted area of town.  There they each meet a baggage handler whom they had seen at the airport.  Soon he reveals the real reason for their being there.  He's the baggage handler, here to help them deal with the baggage in their lives.  No, not their luggage, although he helps with that, too, but their baggage, the things that prevent them from being who they were made to be.

The Baggage Handler reads as you might expect from a story that's really not about telling a story, but about teaching a lesson.  It's a valuable lesson that we probably all need to hear.  Perhaps you have baggage holding you back, whether it's comparing yourself to others, trying to live up to your parents' expectations, harboring unforgiveness, or being overly critical of yourself.  Maybe you have some baggage you need to hand over to the baggage handler.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge

If you have a taste for epic sci-fi with imaginative world-building, intricate plotting, and varied characters and settings, Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep may strike your fancy.  Since it won the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Novel, sci-fi lovers have lauded it.  Reading it now, 27 years after its publication, I can attest that it has stood well the test of time.

This is the first novel in Vinge's "Zones of Thought" series.  This part of his storytelling is the hardest for me to wrap my mind around.  In his world, there are transcendent beings in different zones of the Milky Way.  As you travel from one zone to another, their reach is limited, laws of physics change, and a ship's capabilities may be compromised.  The Zones are surely much clearer in Vinge's mind than in my reading.

On the other hand, the core of the story is much simpler: two kids crash on an alien planet whose technology is similar to medieval times on Earth, and whose dominant species is a race of dog-like beings with hive minds.  Light years away, a transcendent being has begun destroying entire planets.  A couple of humans believe the secret to stopping it is on the ship the kids were on, so they begin a months-long journey to find them.

The key to the story is that the choices and acts of insignificant people (of many species) have a far-reaching, consequential impact on the very structure of the galaxy and the fate of billions of its inhabitants.  A small boy's relationship with the dog-like beings he now lives among, the human researcher's relationship with a man who first lived thousands of years ago, a research station's inadvertent release of a powerful entity, the tribal conflicts of a bunch of pre-modern packs of sentient dogs, it all works together to shape the destiny of the galaxy.

A Fire Upon the Deep may not satisfy some readers.  It's a mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy, with the extensive history of space-faring species on one hand, and the packs of dogs living in medieval castles and using bows and arrows on the other.  I wouldn't call it hard science fiction, but it sure is fun, entertaining story telling.

Monday, February 25, 2019

9 Common Lies Christians Believe, by Shane Pruitt

As a pastor, church planter, evangelist, and denominational leader, Shane Pruit has seen and heard from Christians in all walks of life and stages of maturity.  Along the way, he's learned that some things Christians say and believe are flat wrong.  In his book 9 Common Lies Christians Believe, with wit and grace he disabuses his readers of notions that they may have been holding on to.

Each chapter introduces one of the nine ideas, discusses the impact these ideas have on the way we live and believe, and offers a right way of thinking about each flawed idea.  For example, how many times have you heard, when someone passes away, "God gained another angel."  A nice sentiment (I guess), but Pruitt points out that angels and humans are different by nature, and that "it's actually better for you to be human than to be an angel."  When someone dies, a better note of comfort is that "God does not gain another angel.  Rather, God calls another worshipper to come home."

In another encouraging chapter, Pruitt challenges the notion that some people never change.  He writes, "No one is too far gone.  There is no human still alive who is outside the possible reach of God's forgiving and transforming grace."  I need this reminder all the time.  It's easy for me to dismiss people without remembering that everyone is in need of a savior and the the power of the gospel can transform even the most hardened sinner (or annoying neighbor).

As Pruitt runs through his list of nine lies, there are probably some that you never have believed.  I would bet there are some that you have, unconsciously if not consciously.  And I'm certain that people sitting in the pews around you each week embrace some of these.  With love and a pastor's heart, Pruitt points us in the right direction, reminding us to be sure that what we believe is in line with scripture.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2019

There's No Wrong Way to Pray, by Rebecca Ninke and Kate E. H. Watson, illustrated by Liam Darcy

Pastor Rebecca Ninke and 10-year-old author Kate E. H. Watson have teamed up to convey a crucial message to children: There's No Wrong Way to Pray.  Every child--and most adults--needs to hear this message, reminding us that prayer is simply talking to God.  The little girl featured in the story talks about praying in every circumstance.  She prays for herself, her pets, and her family, but she also prays for people in need, strangers affected by tragedies she learns about in the news, and for kids at school.  She even realizes that praying for her team to win may not be the best approach, since the kids on the other team are likely praying the same thing, so she decides to pray that no one gets hurt.

The theology is thin here, as you might expect for a book aimed at very young children.  In every case, she is praying to God; the name of Jesus is never mentioned.  But the overall message of the book is clear: we serve a God who loves us, who wants a relationship with us, and who cares about the things we care about.  Further, our eyes should not only be turned toward ourselves, but also to others.  I think we all need a reminder to talk to God, "wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, whoever I'm with."

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Swamp, by Eric Bolling

Former Fox News host Eric Bolling has some advice for President Trump.  In The Swamp: Washington's Murky Pool of Corruption and Cronyism and How Trump Can Drain It, Bolling runs through a sordid history of Washington politics and offers modest recommendations for the Trump administration.

The bulk of Bolling's book is a historical tour of the continual fount of corruption that is Washington, D.C.  This is not a new phenomenon; it dates back to the country's founding.  As Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Throughout American history, the power of government has been on an upward trend, and levels of corruption have kept pace.  Bolling writes, "Washington is a city of no-bid contracts and general cronyism despite the constant pretense of scrupulous ethics rules and press watchfulness."

Moving into the modern era, Bolling will disabuse you of any notion that the supposed corruption of the Trump administration is anything new.  He reminds us of the scandal-ridden Bill Clinton administration (which was not necessarily out of the norm) and points out that "Many Clinton supporters went into the 2016 election so dead set against Trump being president that they were willing to overlook decades of wrongdoing by the Clintons."  By electing Trump, an outsider who had never been elected to public office, Americans chose another option besides "watching control of the Swamp lurch back and forth between two parties that were opposites on things that don't matter and all too similar on things that do."

The temptations for anyone in elected office in Washington are great.  "Once you're in Washington, no matter how many emails you get from constituents, the voices of the public will never be quite as loud as the voices of the lobbyists and fellow politicians sitting right there in the room with you day in and day out--including the ones pleading for more spending and more special favors at endless committee hearings."

Bolling's solution: tune it out!  Ignore the bureaucracy's demands!  He writes, "The haters are going to hate--and scream--whether you make a 1 percent cut in a single program's budget or a 90 percent cut in every program's budget, so you might as well aim for the latter while you're at it."  Sounds good to me.  Time will tell whether Trump will continue to shake things up.  "We have a strange, unexpected chance to break with business as usual" in Washington.  Trump really needs to figure out how to reduce spending while he reduces regulations.  Deficits are way up under him.  Will he live up to the promises that got him elected?  We'll see.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Raising Men, Not Boys, by Mike Fabarez

The danger of reading a book like Raising Men, Not Boys: Shepherding Your Sons to Be Men of God after your sons are pretty much grown is that you might end up thinking, "Ugh, there is so much that I could have and should have done differently."  The good news for me, whose sons are 17 and 19, is that my boys are godly young men, so I must have done something right.  The good news for dads of younger boys is that pastor Mike Fabarez has provided a guide for getting there.

Raising Men, Not Boys gives clear direction without condemnation, lifestyle guidelines without onerous strictness.  You can't talk about raising kids without some nod toward rules, but Fabarez makes it clear that he is not a legalist, especially not in a theological sense.  "Good behavior as a means to gaining or keeping a relationship with God is offensive to God, but good behavior done to please God by those who are in relationship with him is prized by God." 

Besides cultivating a heart that leans toward obedience, Fabarez provides strong, practical tips for parenting boys.  Promote physical activity, instill a solid work ethic, promote wise financial choices, learn balance in entertainment choices.  All told, Fabarez isn't particularly innovative in his guidance and recommendations.  But he provides wisdom and very practical, applicable suggestions that you can immediately implement, all under a broad attitude of living in godliness.  One of his themes is that we must model behaviors we expect our sons to emulate.  Being a dad isn't easy.  Fabarez gives help and hope for shaping godly men.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Restless Faith, by Richard Mouw

It has become popular, especially since the 2016 presidential election, for evangelicals to publicly eschew the label evangelical.  Richard Mouw, who has taught at Fuller Seminary since 1985, and served as president of the seminary from 1993 to 2013, acknowledges that those who distance themselves from the evangelical label have reason for concern.  But, as he writes in Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels, he's not willing to give up the label: "For myself, I can't think of a label that suits me better than 'evangelical.'"

Mouw wants the evangelical tradition, a tradition he loves and that he nurtured him, to be preserved, and calls on "intellectual leaders who have been talking about simply resigning from the evangelical movement" to lend their aid to its preservation.  In Restless Faith, Mouw addresses some of the criticisms while affirming the strengths of the movement.

Mouw himself was active in the evangelical social movement in earlier decades, and rejects much of what the religious right, as it arose in the 1980s, stands for.  He makes it clear that one needn't embrace the religious right if one is to be an evangelical.  At the same time, Mouw's theological statements herein should disabuse anyone's suspicions that he is a universalistic theological liberal.  He absolutely affirms, for example, the need for individual faith in Christ for salvation, but goes on to say that "individual salvation is not enough."

Mouw's work is encouraging and challenging.  He has, in his academic life and public service, exemplified an evangelicalism that holds firm to faith while living with, speaking with, and cooperating with culture and society at large.  The bottom line, as I read him, is that evangelicals should not permit people and cultural forces outside of evangelicalism to define what is meant by the term.  The burden, then, is for evangelicals to model and preserve its meaning.

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Money Problems, Marriage Solutions, by Chuck Bentley

I know Chuck Bentley must be a great guy because he's a graduate of Baylor University--sic 'em!  Beyond that, he is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, where he has helped millions of people with his financial wisdom.  In Money Problems, Marriage Solutions: 7 Keys to Aligning Your Finances and Uniting Your Hearts, he offers couples assistance in keeping their marriages and finances strong.

While Crown offers resources for budgeting and planning, and Bentley does direct readers to those resources, the 7 keys here go much deeper than that.  His practical advice in support of marriage applies to any couple, no matter their financial status.  Bentley's guidance is doable and relatable.  Strengthen your marriage, strengthen your family's finances.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Ultimate Droodles Compendium, by Roger Price

You may or may not know what a Droodle is, or who Roger Price is, but I can almost guarantee you've seen Droodles, the creation of Roger Price.  In The Ultimate Droodles Compendium, "the absurdly complete collection of al the classic zany creations of Roger Price," Fritz Holznagel has collected Price's Droodles, Price's commentaries, and some additional background and historical material. 

So, first of all, what is a Droodle?  "Droodles are small sill drawings in a square box that 'you don't understand until you ask, and the it's too late to wish you hadn't.'"  They were most popular in the 1950s, in the funny papers but also in commercial ads.  But they lasted long enough in popular culture that I remember seeing them in my childhood a couple decades later. 

Frank Zappa made a lasting contribution to the popularity of Droodles by naming an album after a Droodle and featuring it on the cover: "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch."  This exemplifies the clever simplicity of Price's Droodles. 

This book brings Droodles back to public attention, and provides context for  Price's career.  Granted, I don't know that a huge Droodles fan base was clamoring for this book, but it makes the point that Price was a key figure in American comedy in the middle of the century, not just for his funny drawings, but for his other contributions as well. 

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

I've been a fan of Dilbert since my college days, and I'm pleased that the strip is still going strong.  I didn't know much about Dilbert creator Scott Adams so I decided to check out How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.  Part testimonial, part biography, part self-help, Adams gives his readers and fans plenty to think about in a no-nonsense, experiential style familiar to Dilbert readers.  Here are some nuggets I liked:

"One should have a system, not a goal."  Adams says goals are for losers.  If someone has a goal, time spent trying to achieve that goal is "a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary."  Once you achieve a goal, "you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction."  One the other hand, people using a system "succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do."  This, to me, is revelatory.

Adams's diet plan holds a lot of appeal for me, too: "I eat as much as I want, of anything I want, whenever I want."  That's a plan I can follow!  The key for him, though, is the catch.  "Once you want to eat the right kinds of food for enjoyment, and you don't crave the wrong kinds of food, everything else comes somewhat easily."  So begins a lengthy discussion about training yourself to crave the right things.  As Adams puts it, "I set out to hack my brain like a computer and rewire the cravings circuitry."  This fits the systems over goals mindset, and makes a lot of sense, but getting there is not easy.

Similarly, Adams's exercise advice is simple: "Be active every day."  Make things you enjoy become a habit.  Don't try to force yourself to do something you don't like or aren't suited for.  That involves willpower and "any system that depends on willpower will fail."  (Same goes for diet.)

Adams has plenty of other thoughts, which may or may not be called advice.  He just talks about what has--and what hasn't--worked for him in business and life.  One of his apparently controversial practices is his spoken affirmations, "the practice of repeating to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want."  He said some people have criticized his affirmations as sounding like magic or something.  It does sound a little goofy, but I could see it working.

Adams approaches this book with a lot of humility, in that he recognizes that what works for him may not work for you and me.  Yet his record speaks for itself; clearly he has met success in his life and work, in large part due to the factors, behaviors, and decisions he describes here.  He leaves the reader with a parting note that perhaps something he said with stick with us and help us make a difference in our own life and work.  Sounds reasonable to me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What If It's True?, by Charles Martin

Charles Martin, a novelist who has written over a dozen novels, turns his pen (or laptop) to nonfiction in What If It's True? A Storyteller's Journey with Jesus.  The greatest strength of the book is Martin's application of his story-telling skills to the stories of scripture.  Of course, there's no replacement for the original, but even the most ardent lover of the Bible has to admit that sometimes the scriptural accounts lack drama, setting, and the fullness of a good story.  That's where Martin, while honoring the original, fills in the gaps.  Imagine that you love a beautiful black and white line drawing, and then you see it in a richly colored and exquisitely detailed stained-glass window.  Or a story you've read for years faithfully portrayed on the big screen.  That's the effect of the narrative portions of Martin's book.

On a more modest, but still effective, level, Martin challenges the reader with the titular question.  About Jesus, many people "either consciously or unconsciously . . . have reduced Him to a mysterious, walk-about prophet with cool sandals and a posse. . . . This limitation is really dangerous."  But what if what the Bible says about Jesus is true?  What if he really forgives sin?  "What if the blood of Jesus does more than guarantee our salvation?"  What if Jesus is alive today? 

If all of this is true, it should radically change our approach to life.  Unfortunately, many (most?) Christians don't live like they really believe.  Martin brings the stories of scripture to life, and challenges Christians to live like they believe them.  Martin does tend to ramble a bit, but if you follow the threads of his narrative, you can't help but come away convicted.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Screens and Teens, by Kathy Koch

Kathy Koch's book Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World sounds like a book about dealing with kids and technology.  It is that, but the more important part of the title is the subtitle, "connecting with our kids."  Koch, founder of Celebrate Kids, addresses electronic devices, social media, and related topics, but the overarching message is timeless: spend time with your kids.

Dr. Koch certainly has plenty to say about kids and electronic devices.  Plenty of problems can arise when kids use electronics addictively, abusively, or inappropriately.  Kids need to understand the limits of knowledge gathered through social media or internet sites.  They need to find their value in Jesus, not in the approval of online strangers or peer groups. 

Ultimately, whatever electronics kids have in their lives, parents can and should pay close attention to their use and model responsible usage.  More importantly, as Koch writes, parents must work to keep doors of communication open with their children.  Kids have access to so much information and so many connections that parents must pay attention and provide guidance and direction for their kids.  Dr. Koch's book will give you ideas to help you do so.

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Not On My Watch, by Elizabeth Johnston

Elizabeth Johnston, a.k.a. "The Activist Mommy," isn't going to sit idly by while her country goes down the path of leftist indoctrination, homosexual activism, transgender normalization, and expansion of abortion.  This conservative, home-schooling mother of ten has made a name for herself on social media by rallying support for the Kentucky court clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, for burning Teen Vogue after they published obscene material, and for her criticism of Target's bathroom policy.

In her new book Not On My Watch: How to Win the Fight for Family, Faith, and Freedom, she tells stories of her activism and challenges all of us not to ignore the erosion of our values.  She doesn't have a lot of patience for passive, inactive Christians.  "The Left has been advancing and claiming more territory while we have attended church and been content to wait for Jesus to come back."  And she's not content with political activism alone, either.  She points out that many of the Supreme Court decisions conservatives rail against, like Roe v. Wade, were decided by Republican-appointed justices.

One big obstacle that conservatives need to overcome in order to become more effective in their activism is a passive, milquetoast version of Jesus' example that abhors confrontation.  When it comes to protecting children, whether unborn or subject to indoctrination and corruption by the culture, aggression and anger are acceptable responses.  "Love protects the innocent, even if we look angry in the process."

If you are a political conservative, a Christian conservative, or a parent concerned about the growth of liberal culture in the U.S., you'l be challenged by Johnston's perspective.  She won't be silent.  Will I?  Will you?

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

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ripley's Believe It or Not, by Tony Isabella, Ben Meares, et al.

If your childhood family vacations were like mine, they occasionally included a stop at a Ripley's Believe Or Not museum.  They have dozens of attractions all over the world.  This Ripley's Believe It or Not! graphic novel brings Ripley's back to its roots.  The Ripley's phenomenon began as a newspaper feature drawn by Robert Ripley.  His stories of the weird and hard-to-explain expanded into the museums and other media. 

This graphic novel is a compilation of the first two issues of recent Ripley's comic books.  They are composed of weird stories and other topics that are familiar to Ripley's world.  Stories include the real-life story behind Beauty and the Beast, a description of the Winchester Mansion (and its haunting), and other historical, medical, and scientific oddities.  It's all a reminder that Ripley didn't just make up a bunch of junk; he took obscure stories from history or oddities in nature and presented them in a dramatic fashion.  These enjoyable comics preserve that tradition. 

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Unlocked, by John Scalzi

In Lock In, John Scalzi sets a murder mystery in a near-future world where many people suffer from Haden's, a disease that paralyzes the victim, giving them "lock in," a state of full mental awareness but with no ability to move.  Through the course of the story, the reader can infer much about the disease and its implications, but for a fuller picture, Scalzi has written a prequel of sorts, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome.

In terms of story telling, Unlocked doesn't deliver in the same way that Lock-In does; the subtitle tells you that much.  Nevertheless, Scalzi convincingly relates the history of the disease through the voices of doctors, journalists, and others affected by the disease.  Had I not read Lock In, I am certain I would not have enjoyed Unlocked as much, but Unlocked is essential for fans of Lock In.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Resistance Is Futile, by Ann Coulter

President Trump doesn't have many cheerleaders as vocal as Ann Coulter.  (However, she can be pretty critical when she sees him wavering from his goals. . . .)  In Resistance Is Futile: How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind, she describes the many ways the media and Trump's opponents (but I repeat myself) have lied and perpetuated misconceptions about Trump, working hard to distort his record, reputation, and image.

One by one, Coulter exposes the lies that are told about Trump.  For example, everyone knows that Trump is an admitted rapist.  It's on tape!  That Access Hollywood tape nearly brought down his candidacy.  On the tape, Trump speaks crudely about women, to be sure, but he does not go into any specifics about any assault; it's all hypothetical, a braggadocious celebrity talking about what he could get away with.  It's more a commentary on the culture of fame than anything.  But with the partial quotes, inaccurate paraphrases, and predetermined agenda, the story became bigger and more salacious than it should have.

The examples go on and on.  The anti-Trump press has an agenda and will distort any story to fit that agenda.  The lengths to which they have gone to pin some vague "Russian collusion" on the Trump campaign, while absolutely ignoring the Hilary campaigns Russian entanglements, unethical and illegal acts, and back-door cooperation with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies boggles the mind.  Will our inept representatives in Washington ever get the story straight and bring some of these offenders to justice?  Probably not.  But Coulter won't shut up until they do.  Good for her.  Bring it.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Friend of Sinners, by Rich Wilkerson, Jr.

In Friend of Sinners: Why Jesus Cares More about Relationship Than Perfection, pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr., makes a point that all Christians need to be reminded of: Jesus was, in fact, a friend of sinners!  In one sense, it's an obvious point, if you think about Jesus' ministry as recorded in the New Testament.  But in another sense, the way most of us Christians live our lives and the way we minister to others doesn't reflect friendship with sinners.

Our approach to the Christian life tends to be opposite of what it should be.  "We tend to think [God] puts top priority on performance, purity, and perfection, and we assume relationship is the eventual reward for those things. . . . Actually, it works the other way around.  The closer we get to Jesus, the more like him we become.  Relationship comes first; changes come later." 

For Christians, we sometimes apply this thinking to unbelievers.  Unconsciously or not, we tend to say to unbelievers, "Get yourself cleaned up and come to Jesus."  Jesus would say the opposite.  "He was the friend of sinners, so he served sinners; now he asks us to do the same."

Wilkerson became a bit of a media darling when he officiated Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's wedding.  That led to his starring in a reality show on the Oxygen network.  I don't know enough about Wilkerson and his ministry to draw many conclusions.  But the message of Friend of Sinners is on target and needs to be heard by many in the church.

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

Brainwashed, by Ben Shapiro

As a conservative college student at UCLA, Ben Shapiro kept a record of the insanity of college while writing a column in the campus paper.  Based on his college experiences and research, Shapiro published his first book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, at the age of 20.  To give you an idea of the content of the book, the publisher gave this disclaimer at the beginning: "To paint the full picture [of the decline of higher education] has required author Ben Shapiro to quote some fairly crude material and deal with offensive subject matter. . . . We do not publish this material to appeal to prurient interests but to more fully advise and inform students, parents, and those concerned about the university system and what they can expect from it."  In other words, prepare yourself to be shocked and dismayed at college life and curriculum content.

To that end, Shapiro does not disappoint.  Starting with the rejection of moral absolutes, the foundation of moral reasoning at many universities, Shapiro covers a variety of topics that demonstrated the left-wing perspective of many professors.  Anti-faith? Check.  Global warming?  Check.  Sexual permissiveness, even perversion?  Check.  Anti-capitalism?  Check.  Anti-American?  Check.  As survey after survey will demonstrate, fewer and fewer conservative voices are behind the podia in university lecture halls, and conservative ideas are often not tolerated.

Shapiro may over-generalize at times.  Many sentences begin with something like, "Professors believe. . . ." when obviously not every professor would believe exactly that.  But Shapiro provides enough anecdotal and statistical evidence to show the trend and inclination among universities.  For those of us who have been out of college for a while, what Shapiro reports is pretty disturbing.  I am thankful that there are private, Christian universities that provide an alternative to the secular schools, but even professors at Christian schools feel the pressure from the profession when they are excluded from publications and academic conferences due to their views.  It's a sorry state of affairs.  Shapiro published Brainwashed in 2004, but the message is no less relevant today. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Lock In, by John Scalzi

In the near future, a mysterious virus called Haden's syndrome has swept the world, leaving many people with "lock in."  They are fully aware, but fully paralyzed.  Some use Integrators, people who allow someone with Haden's to remotely control their body to experience life in the world.  Other Haden's sufferers use Threeps, android-like bodies which they remotely control.  In Lock-In: A Novel of the Near Future, John Scalzi sets a murder mystery in this world of Haden's.

Chris Shane is a rookie FBI agent.  He was a famous Haden's patient, as he was just a child when he got it, and his father is a famous athlete, wealthy businessman, and aspiring politician.  He teams up with veteran agent Leslie Vann to investigate a murder that has ties to Haden's, politics, and the future of the disease.

Scalzi wastes no time letting the reader acclimate to this world of Threeps and Integrators.  But in the course of the story, it starts to make sense.  The complexity comes with keeping up with one Integrator who serves as a host for multiple Hadens, or with a Haden, like Shane, who uses multiple Threeps.  It makes travel a breeze; though based in D.C., he can be onsite, interviewing witnesses in Arizona, in seconds.  It must be unnerving for non-Hadens to try to figure out who they're dealing with day-to-day.

In one sense Lock In is a pretty basic murder mystery.  The fun of it is the mind-bending use of Integrators.  If someone who works as an Integrator commits a murder, how can investigators tell if the Integrator or the Haden using the Integrator is culpable?  Shane digs into this, but discovers a much deeper plot and complex motives to explore.  The resolution and the climax comes about pretty quickly and maybe a little too easily, but the ride is fun getting there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Cull, by Tanvir Bush

When a mostly blind part-time reporter begins to sniff out the mysterious disappearance of a homeless acquaintance, she never imagined the depth of the scheme she would aid in uncovering.  In fact, if she was able to communicate better with her guide dog, they would have "sniffed out" the plot much earlier.  In Cull, Tanvir Bush tells a story that, given current policies and trends, is not all that unbelievable.

In a society where the disabled are not valued, where they are seen as a burden on society, the logical conclusion is that they must be simply eliminated.  All the numbers make sense, economically.  We could start with the poor, the elderly, the homeless, people who won't be missed much.  We can develop efficient means of disposing of their bodies. We can make it all look like compassionate care.  This is the line of reasoning that doctors and government officials follow in Cull.

Bush tells the story primarily from the perspective of Alex, the blind reporter.  But the bits that reflect her guide dog Chris's point of view are the best.  His sense of smell and powers of observation cry out for more exploration.  Alex's social connections end up linking her up, without her knowledge, to an activist group whose plot to expose the euthanasia scheme she never imagined.  Her encounters with and reports of the horrid treatment of people with disabilities force the reader to think about the way we view disability as a society, and the value we place on people with disabilities.  Cull is a nice balance of a fun-to-read novel which has an important societal message. 

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Churched, by Matthew Paul Turner

If you grew up in church, especially in a church on the conservative/fundamentalist/Baptist end of the spectrum, you will laugh out loud in recognition at some of Matthew Paul Turner's stories in Churched: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess.  Turner grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church in the south, so his experience is a real-life caricature of most people's church experiences.  But like a good caricature, it sheds a humorous light on reality.

Some of his stories and recollections are really hilarious.  I can relate to his self-diagnosis of narcolepsy.  He saw a Phil Donohue show segment in which the disease was discussed, and determined that he has sermon-onset narcolepsy, a diagnosis that he never could convince his dad of.  (I can relate, Matthew.  I have sermon-and-work-meeting-induced narcolepsy, for sure.)  He recalls the tactics used to scare him into heaven, or, more accurately, away from hell, like the time the Sunday school teacher set Barbie on fire.  (By the way, he remembers WAY more about his pre-adolescent years than I can remember about my own.  I suspect there's a good bit of "creative remembering" going on here. . . .)

Amid the fun and laughs, Turner writes very little about his journey toward God. His humor is insider humor that doesn't reek of arrogance, judgmentalism, or mockery, as you might expect from this sort of book.  Turner has the ability to make fun of himself and of some of his religious background without being disrespectful.  But I was hoping for a bit more redemption and "what I learned amid all the silliness."  Sure, he says he prayed a sinner's prayer out of fear--many times--but he doesn't talk much about putting aside childish things.  Still, it's a fun book to read.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Thinking Differently, by David Flink

Some kids think and learn differently.  That is what David Fink experienced as a child.  With the assistance of his school, teachers, and parents, he managed to succeed in school, pick up a couple of Ivy League degrees, and start a national organization to support children with learning disabilities.  In Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities, he tells his story and provides information, resources, and information for parents and educators.

In Fink's case, he struggled but found a place in a school dedicated to helping students with learning differences.  He did well enough in high school to earn acceptance at Brown, then graduate school at Columbia.  But even in college he had to continue to work with his teachers of accommodations.  During his college years, he started a program called Eye to Eye through which people with learning disabilities can mentor younger students with disabilities.

Besides this model of mentorship, Flink also provides parents and educators with strategies and basic information about schools, IEPs, and navigating special education.  For parents especially, this insight is invaluable.  The best insight, though, is the theme that runs through the book.  As Flink writes: "make sure you avoid seeing learning and attention issues as failures, flaws, or weaknesses an strive to view them as simply differences.  Remember: Different doesn't mean less than.  It may even mean absolutely fantastic!"  Amen to that!

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Executing Grace, by Shane Claiborne

No one likes the death penalty.  Some see it as a necessary evil or a critical component of justice, but no one (perhaps apart from sociopaths) likes it.  In light of the continued use of the death penalty in the U.S., Shane Claiborne has written Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us.

Claiborne, a death penalty abolitionist, is strongest when he personalizes the death penalty, which is what he spends most of the book doing.  When we see people on death row as people, like Claiborne does, anyone's enthusiasm for killing them diminishes.  Claiborne also talks about the people who work in the prisons.  Many of them testify about how difficult it is to participate in the execution of someone whom they have come to know personally over their weeks and months living on death row.  Many former prison workers have become death row abolitionists.

The most powerful stories are the stories of forgiveness.  Claiborne tells story after story of friendships that spring up between the families of the condemned and victims' families and, in some cases between the families of murder victims and their convicted killers.  The example of Jesus and the New Testament demands no less from us.  We are to forgive and to pray for redemption.  Even a convicted murderer has the potential to become a follower of Jesus. 

Claiborne's target audience is Christians who defend the use of the death penalty.  As he points out, the death penalty is used most in the south, where Christian influence tends to be strongest.  And Christians have long defended the death penalty as a reflection of biblical justice.  He makes a strong argument, but he leans far to the emotional side, and spends much less time on questions like deterrence.  Even so, I'm not sure any practical arguments can counter questions like racism in the application of the death penalty, the rate of mistakes (where an innocent person is convicted), and the scriptural calls for forgiveness and reconciliation.  If you are in favor of the death penalty, Executing Grace will force you to reconsider.

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Love Where You Live, by Shauna Pilgreen

When Shauna Pilgreen and her pastor husband were praying about where to plant a church, they ended up in a not-so-obvious place, a place that was foreign to both of them in many ways: San Francisco.  In Love Where You Live: How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home, she writes about many of their experiences, life as urban church planters, and attitudes and actions we can all live out wherever we live.

I love Pilgreen's commitment to getting to know her neighbors, investing in and participating in community events and institutions, and contributing to the overall health of the neighborhood.  Whereas for many who look to move out of an area when school quality, public services, or living conditions decline, Pilgreen writes "Now's not the time to bail on your city but to be the people, the families who make it better, more stable, and more grounded in the truth of Jesus Christ."

She tells story after story of people whose lives have been changed by their joining in with their church's fellowship and an encounter with Jesus.  A good bit of her narrative dwells on the nature of living in San Francisco specifically, and more generally on living in a densely populated urban center.  Her tone seems to assume that most of her readers are from little six stoplight towns, like the one in which she grew up, or a midwestern suburb.  She reminded me of some of my friends who moved to inner-city neighborhoods and, with thinly disguised glee, talk about the "exotic" things they experience.  Pilgreeen does this as she talks about the characters and behaviors she sees on the streets.

Beyond the reports of inner-city tourism, Pilgreen lays out lifestyle and relationship choices that support the call to "live sent."  This theme is the strength of the book.  We are missionaries where we are, we have natural connections in which we can spread our influence, and should cultivate other connections through which we invite people into relationship with Jesus.  We can live as connector, storyteller, grace giver, intercessor, and caretaker.  Whether you are rooted in a place for decades, or if God has called you to a new and difference place, Pilgreen's book and her example will inspire you to live sent.

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

Saturate, Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt was working at one of the most influential churches in America, Willow Creek Church in Illinois, when he felt God calling him to something different.  So he moved across the country to Washington to plant a church.  In Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life, Vanderstelt describes his shift from the "church on Sunday" mentality to a lifestyle of full-life discipleship.

For Vanderstelt, life is a mission.  Jesus "lives for us and, by his Spirit, he lives in us and works through us."  Our lives should be saturated with Jesus so that we can saturate our communities with Jesus's love.  Throughout the book, Vanderstelt tells stories of people whose lives reflect this perspective, believers who "engage in the everyday stuff of life with the goal of seeing Jesus saturation for everyone in every place."

To Vanderstelt, "all of life is mission and everyone is a missionary.  Life is the mission trip."  I love his vision.  I love this model for the church.  In rare moments in my Christian life, I have been in communities like this.  This attitude and these communities are all too rare.  Vanderstelt gives fabulous examples and provides a model for living on mission, but, as inspiring as he is, he doesn't sufficiently address some of the mundane "everyday stuff of life." 

Sometimes with long commutes, long work days, and several evenings a week with family commitments, even the most missional believer is worn out at the end of the day with little reserve for missional living.  Maybe this is the topic of the next book, making life changes that free up your mind, spirit, and calendar for missional living.  Or maybe my focus is off.  I was just left with a sense of "Wow, I wish my life were like that, but it just isn't and I don't see it happening for me."  With this in mind, please don't hear me saying I disagree with Vanderstelt or don't value his teaching.  I'm just saying some people like me might need more than this book, we need a life coach to help us figure out how to carve out time and rearrange priorities. 

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