28 December 2010
Schaeffer, Frank. Crazy for God: How I Grew up as one of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take all (or Almost All) of it Back. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007.
This book is an autobiographical story of the author's life and religious beliefs. I was mildly interested in his upbringing and definitely interested in his change of beliefs. His switch from fundamentalist Christianity to evangelicalism was intriguing to me. Unfortunately, this switch did not happen until after page 300. For a book that is slightly longer than 400 pages, this means quite a commitment before one gets to the "good stuff."
This book is interesting and entertaining, but not very informative, at least, not until after page 300. By all means, read this book and enjoy the author's journey as he chooses to "talk story" for page after page. If, however, you are looking for a treatise on the issues in fundamentalist Christianity, see Scandalous Freedom or Unchristian.
27 December 2010
Schaeffer, Frank. Patience with God. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2009.
This book details the beliefs of several influential athiests and contrasts these beliefs, and their accompanying actions, to similar beliefs and/or actions of evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, I didn't have much patience for this book. I definitely gave the book the "100 page test" that I taught my students to use; unfortunately, this book failed that test miserably. Perhaps I just don't have the brain for this type of reading, but I wouldn't bother with this book if I were you. There are other much more digestible and interesting books on the same topic.
26 December 2010
Gutteridge, Rene. Possession. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010.
Vance Graegan and his family are starting over. After twenty years on the police force, including the investigation of the infamous sniper case, Vance is moving his family to the West Coast. They are hoping to start a new life far away from the memories of the sniper case. But someone else wants to interfere with their plans. Before the Graegans have a chance to settle in, their possessions are held for ransom. While Vance suffers from an undiagnosed case of PTSD, nothing is what it seems. And if the Graegans can't get to the bottom of this situation in time, it may be too late for a new start.
I will admit it: this book was hard to get into. The first eighty pages had me wondering if I would continue. However, the story picked up considerably after that, and I found myself looking forward to the time I had to sit and read. The flashbacks Vance experiences are difficult to read through, as there is no transition from "real time" to "flashback," but having experienced flashbacks myself, I understand that this is how they really work, so I was willing to forgive the author for making the flashbacks so disorienting. Overall, this book is a decent read, definitely worth checking out of the library.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
22 December 2010
Brown, Steve. A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel. West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2004.
Have you ever read something and then wondered how the author jumped in your head and wrote exactly what you'd been thinking? Scandalous Freedom sounds very similar to some of the things I have posted here. Brown's point is simple: in Christ we are really, truly free, but Christians are scared of freedom and end up creating rules for themselves in order to feel like they can do something to help God with this whole salvation and sanctification process.
It doesn't work like that. God really does love us beyond what we can imagine, and He really has already paid our debt through Christ. So we really are free already, free to dance and laugh and smile and be a testimony to the world around us, not of the drudgery of Christian life, but of the amazing freeing power of the gospel.
Scandalous Freedom is fairly well-written and reads really easily (except the sentence containing the words "I woke up unconscious"  which I still can't quite figure out). This book definitely deserves a first (and second) read-through.
19 December 2010
Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.
Many of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son as narrated in Luke 15. This is a beautiful parable of extravagant redemption and a great reminder of the gospel. In true English-teacher fashion, Keller asks us to remember the audience of this message. Jesus was speaking not only to the tax-collectors and sinners, the "younger brothers" of His day, but also to the Pharisees, the "older brothers." This message would have been quite offensive to the law-abiding religious leaders.
Keller also points out the end of the story: the younger brother has been redeemed, restored, and forgiven, but the fate of the older brother is not detailed. We don't know if he chose to come in to the party and rejoice at the return of his brother or if he decided to continue to snub his father and earn his father's continued displeasure. Jesus' offer to the Pharisees couldn't be more obvious, and He extends that same offer to us today.
Similar to Christless Christianity, Prodigal God points out the need for the gospel in the life of all people, both those who can see their desperate need of a Savior and those who may think they have it all figured out already. May we who have been saved by grace alone remember that we are also sanctified by grace alone.
Horton, Michael. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
"The greatest threat to Christ-centered witness even in churches that formally affirm sound teaching is . . . the idea that the gospel is necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the rest of the Christian life is all the fine print: conditional forgiveness. . . . We got in by grace but now we need to stay in by following various steps, lists, and practices. There was this brief and shining moment of grace, but now the rest of the Christian life is about our experience, feelings, commitment, and obedience" (119-120).
Horton's work is an attack on the extremes of American Christianity that have drifted away from the gospel. He casts a critical light both on legalistic churches, where God is angry and people are scared into following lists of man-made rules, and easy-believism churches, where God is like a cosmic therapist or life coach who is just here to improve the quality of your earthly life. Horton's point is clear: we all need to go back to the basics and remember the gospel. We were saved through God's grace and we can live for Him only through His grace.
"Even as a Christian, my faith will actually be weakened when it is assumed that I already know the gospel and now I just need a steady diet of instructions. I will naturally revert to my moralistic impulse and conclude either that I am fully surrendered or that I cannot pull this off and might as well stop trying. When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression" (130).
This book is not quickly digestible, and the author does spend major portions of several chapters focusing on the works of various other authors; however, I would still put this book in the "worthy of checking out of the library" category. My students would remind me that hard things are good for us, and making a person's brain hurt will likely not kill him. This book does serve as a good reminder of the importance of the gospel in the life of a Christian.
18 December 2010
Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and as I did my googling to find more information, I was shocked to discover that such a book existed. "Really?" my brain said, "somone has written about this?" In all of my reading and searching, I have never, ever found a book written by a Christian who struggles with homosexuality. Never.
This book reads a lot more like a memoir than a textbook, and I believe Hill did this on purpose. He is not writing from the perspective of having all the answers, but rather describing his journey to find those answers. I appreciated this change in perspective, and I was intrigued by the concepts he wrestled with as he struggled to discover what healing from homosexuality would look like in his life.
It seems that most people have in their heads the idea that healing from homosexuality looks like, well, heterosexuality, that a person who struggles with homosexual desires needs to actively pursue a desire for an attraction to members of the opposite sex. I know people who have struggled with homosexuality and are now "healed" according to this definition. But there are also scores of Christians who are seeking to glorify the Lord in everything, including their sexuality, yet still struggle with homosexual desires. Is it right to say that they should pursue wholeness in the form of heterosexuality?
Hill explores the concept of a "celibate gay Christian," that is, a Christian who is tempted by homosexuality but chooses not to act on those desires. Is it possible that God would choose not to heal a person of this temptation, but rather to give them the grace to live with the temptation and to glorify Him through it? Hill believes so, and 2 Corinthians 12 seems to agree with him. Just as it is possible for a person to be tempted to steal, but choose not to steal, or to be tempted to lie, but choose not to lie, it should also be possible for a person to be tempted with homosexuality, yet choose not to act on it. After all, temptation in and of itself is not wrong. Jesus Himself was tempted, yet He never sinned.
13 December 2010
Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.
I can sum up this book in one word: wow. The basic idea behind this book is this: scores of young people (ages 18-30) are leaving the church or are turned off by Christianity, and the authors wanted to know why. This book is a culmination of years of study and thousands of surveys conducted both of people within and outside of the church. The news isn't pretty.
Many Busters (my generation - people in their late twenties and thirties) and Mosaics (people in their late teens and twenties) are completely turned off to the idea of Christianity because of things they see in Christians around them. The scariest part of this survey was the discovery that many people within the church, those who can claim status as committed Christians and who are truly "born again," agreed with their non-Christian counterparts. The problems in the church are so widespread and so rampant that even believers see these problems.
The bottom line: as Christians, our testimony has become an anti-testimony. Instead of inviting people to Christ, we are pushing them away. The authors explore six main issues that turn people away from Christianity and suggest alternative perceptions the church should pursue.
What needs to be said about this book will not fit in one post alone. I will be continuing my discussion of this book, including detailing the six issues and their solutions, in later posts. For now, though, if you are reading this, please step away from your computer, head to your local library or bookstore, and pick up this book. This problem simply cannot be ignored.
Marsden, George. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.
This book was recommended to me, and I was shocked to discover that it was available at my public library. I have been very interested in studying the roots of Fundamentalism and the split between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.
This book reads much like a history textbook. The information is fairly interesting, although I will have to admit that I began skimming about halfway through the book. I wished there had been more details about Fundamentalism specifically; I was hoping for more information about the movement in the last 100 years.
Having spent twelve years in the Fundamentalist world, specifically in the realm of education, I was already familiar with most of the information in this book, so it did not hold my interest as long as it might have otherwise. I'm sure it would be a great resource or starting point for a person who is unfamiliar with Fundamentalism, but a person who spent any amount of time with history textbooks from Christian schools need not bother.
11 December 2010
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009.
Having read The Tipping Point and Blink, I was excited when I found this book. Gladwell explores the concept of success in this book. What makes a person successful? Is it family background? Luck? Hard work? Inherited genius? Cultural issues?
Using data collected from diverse groups such as Canadian hockey players, New York lawyers, and Korean airline pilots, Gladwell explains how our background has much more to do with our success than we would otherwise believe.
This is an absolutely fascinating read. I highly recommend it.
PS - I have posted more than 200 times this year and have 10,000 hits on this blog. A big thank you to those of you who read and recommend.
06 December 2010
Chenoweth, Kristin and Joni Rodgers. A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love and Faith in Stages. New York: Touchstone, 2009.
I was handed this book under the assumption that I would be interested in reading about Kristin Chenoweth. I was quite interested, not only because of her hilarious song "Taylor, the Latte Boy" but also because of her appearance in the Broadway musical Wicked. I really, really enjoyed the performance of Wicked that I saw here in San Francisco, so I was intrigued by this book.
Parts of the book were very interesting. Chenoweth definitely has an entertaining writing style, and I enjoyed some of the anecdotes she shared throughout her story. Other parts of the book were slower and more difficult to get through, and I found myself skimming through pages at times.
Overall, I would say this book is mildly interesting. I enjoyed reading it mostly because I don't have another book on my stack just yet, but I will not be adding this book to my collection. Check it out from the library if you are really interested.
05 December 2010
Blyth, Catherine. The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure. New York: Gotham Books, 2009.
I did not pick up this book because I enjoy conversation. On the contrary, I picked up this book because I wanted to learn how to participate in conversation. I am a great conversation spectator; if you ever see me at a party or some other gathering, especially if it involves mostly people I do not know or am not super-comfortable around, you will probably find me sitting and listening to someone else's conversation. My brain just can't keep up with the verbal volley around me enough to throw in my own interesting quip or story.
This book, unfortunately, was not entitled "How to Make an Introverted Person into a Great Conversationalist." It was an interesting read, nonetheless. I learned a lot about different types of conversation and the importance of conversation in general. There's even a chapter about how to tell lies. (We'll save that discussion for another post.) Overall this book was interesting enough for me to read one chapter at each lunch break during a few weeks at work. It was not a book that I would stay up all night reading, but it was definitely worth checking out of the library, especially when my pile of unread books has grown dangerously low.
04 December 2010
It is that time of year, folks. Here is my list of the top ten books I read in 2010, in no particular order:
- Alcorn, Randy. If God is Good. see my comments here
- Marquardt, Elizabeth. Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.
- Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
- Pratchett, Terry. Wee Free Men
- Holmes, Sara. Operation Yes.
- Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me.
- Lehman, Carolyn. Strong at the Heart.
- Hall, Ron and Denver Moore. Same Kind of Different As Me.
- Anderson, Kristin. Life, In Spite of Me.
- Carlson, Melody. Finding Alice.
- 5 non-fiction books
- 5 fiction books
- 1 historical fiction
- 1 Christian living
- 2 biography/memiors
- 1 book about abuse
- 1 fantasy
- 3 kids novels
- 2 novels for adults
If I had to pick only one book for you to read off of this list, I would recommend If God is Good. It is a thick one, but well worth your time (and those of you who are reading this from Guam can find it in your library).
19 November 2010
18 November 2010
It's been a very long time since I found a book I genuinely wanted to keep reading to the point of ignoring my other responsibilities. It's been a very long time since I woke up thinking, "I had better get my stuff done quickly so I can get back to my book." The Wind Singer is a book like that.
The Wind Singer is the first book in the "Wind on Fire" trilogy, but it would stand alone just fine. When Kestrel tires of constant examinations and the focus on ranking of families, she rebels against the system. Consequently, she and her family are punished and demoted from their status as Orange to lowly Grey. Furthermore, her father is sent for reschooling. Kestrel, her twin brother, and a classmate have heard the legend of the wind singer's voice, and they choose to leave their highly ordered society and journey to find the voice for the wind singer, a voice that is supposed to solve all the problems and hopefully will allow them to save their family.
This book is similar to The Giver in that the society is highly controlled and a child chooses to break from that mold. This book is similar to the Lord of the Rings in that the children embark on a dangerous journey, battle the bad guys, and return victorious. This book is similar to the Chronicles of Narnia in that the three children learn some important lessons along the way.
This is a great fantasy tale, free of objectionable elements and enjoyable. I'll have to see if my local library carries the next two books in the series. If I had a classroom, I would definitely put this book on my shelf.
15 November 2010
If you are prone to obsessing over LEGO toys, do not read this book. If you struggle with the temptation to purchase more LEGO sets than any adult probably needs, do not read this book. I guarantee that reading this book will put shopping thoughts in your head, will lead you to the nearest LEGO store or website, and will result in LEGO sets piling up in your room.
Fortunately for me, when I started reading this book I had just discovered some of the LEGO sets I had packed when I moved, and those sets satiated my craving to build, at least for a while. I'm not sure that I'm completely cured, though. LEGO is addicting.
This book chronicles the journey of one man as he becomes an AFOL (adult fan of LEGO). He explores the history of LEGO and the world of AFOLs while he begins to build his LEGO creations. If you or someone you know is interested in LEGO bricks, this is a great book to read. It is interesting, it contains little-known facts about LEGO bricks, and it reignites the building addiction in those of us who played with LEGO as a child.
A fun read and a true story, this book is worth your time. But you might want to grab a bag of LEGO bricks to tide you over as you read.
06 November 2010
Miss Penelope Lumley is sent from her school to the home of three children who desperately need a governess. When she arrives, she discovers that the three children are the very definition of wild: they have been raised by wolves. Now she has to attempt to civilize and educate them, and to do so before the Christmas party, which is rapidly approaching. But how can she attempt to teach table manners to children who can't sit still if they can see a squirrel out the window?
I really enjoyed this story. The narrator's side comments are hilarious, the many "wise sayings" repeated by Penelope, and the antics of the children were entertaining and kept me turning pages long after I should have stopped reading to do something else. My only complaint is that I don't have the next book, so I cannot finish the adventures of these incorrigible children. If I still had a classroom, this book would definitely be on my shelf, and might be one that I would read aloud to my class.
Lindsey and Alex are fraternal twins. Ever since they were children, Lindsey has always been the hardworking, smart twin, while Alex was the pretty twin who got all the attention. Lindsey has worked hard her entire life trying to impress those around her with her abilities in an attempt to get the spotlight Alex constantly steals from her.
Lindsey's life falls apart around her and forces her to re-examine herself and her career choices, etc., while moving back in with her parents and helping her sister prepare for her wedding. Tragedy strikes, an family secret is revealed, and everyone lives differently ever after.
This isn't my typical genre of literature to read, but I was intrigued by the concept of a family secret being revealed. Were the twins adopted? Maybe from different families? Was someone switched at birth? Were they really quintuplets, and they have never met their other three siblings? I imagined all sorts of exciting possibilities for this "family secret" as I began this book.
Even though I chose to leave my job, unlike Lindsey, who was fired, I could relate to her struggle. Does she love her career because she enjoys what she does, or simply because she's never done anything else before? What should she do with herself now?
I did not, however, much enjoy the rest of this story. The tragedy was unbelieveably predictible and the "family secret" was not nearly as exciting as expected. I was seriously disappointed. I cannot agree with the reviewer quoted on the front of the book who called it "fresh and funny and satisfying." It was not, unfortunately, any of those things.
Check it out from the library if you enjoy this type of novel, my friends, but don't say I didn't warn you.
05 November 2010
04 November 2010
Each chapter contains several examples of people who are changing their worlds. There is also a discussion guide at the end, best used if this book becomes a small group study or a book club book. Overall, this book was a good read, inspiring me without making me feel guilty that I can't solve all the world's problems. I may not be able to do that, but I can donate a coat to foster kids or volunteer with my church to serve food at a shelter.
Lucado's point - that we all can and all should make a difference by helping those around us - was well thought-out and explained without becoming overly preachy or self-righteous. This is a good book to purchase and pass around, or to add to the church library.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
01 November 2010
Kingsbury, Karen. Unlocked. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
I am not usually a big fan of mainstream Christian fiction. Generally, the characters are not realistic, the plots are practically identical to other books, and someone always gets saved by the end of the story. Generally speaking, I can read the back cover of such a novel and tell you the entire plot line, including the "riveting" ending.
Unlocked shares many of these characteristics in that it is a predictible story with a Christian theme, but there are few things that made this book stand out and that kept me reading to the last chapter.
First, I appreciated the bullying theme that is brought up throughout this book. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I have become a fan of the television show If You Really Knew Me. The characters in this novel could easily appear on that show. Each character falls into a stereotypical high school clique (jock, popular girl, emo boy, etc.), but these groups are realistic representations of high school life, and a few of the characters choose to act differently from their stereotype. I appreciated the author's courage in broaching the topic of teen suicide, as this is a very real result of bullying, a result that has become quite common in recent years.
Second, I enjoyed seeing parts of the story through the eyes of Holden, a character with autism spectrum disorder. The reader gets to see how others respond to Holden's disability, as well as how Holden views the world. Again, autism is a delicate subject, and I think the author treated it well in this novel, even if I could guess at the ending before I got there.
Finally, this novel is part of the "Forever in Fiction" series, which helps to raise money for those in need by giving people the opportunity to donate in exchange for space in the book to memorialize a loved one or a group. The list of donors in the front of this book is amazing, and I had already read the story of Kate, the young lady who benefitted from the funds raised by this project. Kate is a young lady who is battling cancer; you can read her story here; she also appears as one of the characters in this novel.
I will not be rushing to the library tomorrow to check out the rest of Kingsbury's novels; however, this book, similar to a movie on the Hallmark channel, was a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon. I enjoyed the story even if I guessed the ending after the first few pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel for the purposes of review.
28 October 2010
Gibson, Tanya Egan. How to Buy a Love of Reading. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
I was first intrigued by the title of this book. The thought of buying a person a love of reading; well, as an English teacher I often wished I could buy my some of my students a love of reading or writing or grammar or whatnot. The idea of commissioning an author to write a story specifically for one person, including exactly what that person wants included, is interesting. Like I said, I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, my hope in a good story was soon deflated. Similar to the characters in an Austen or Fitzgerald novel, the characters in this novel have far too much money, no jobs, and an overinflated sense of entitlement. I understand that Gibson, like Austen or Fitzgerald, has used these characters intentionally in an attempt to poke fun at the upper class, but unlike an Austen novel, where the dialogue at least can be interesting, this book failed to capture my attention.
The idea of a commission to write a novel still intrigues me, but the drug-smoking characters who seem intent on self-destruction wore on my nerves after maybe one chapter. I had great expectations for this novel, but they, unfortunately, were dashed by the time I reached the hundredth page.
This one isn't worth it, folks. Maybe I'll have better luck next time.
26 October 2010
Iggulden, Conn. Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
If you are looking for an entertaining children's story that kids and adults can enjoy together, look no further. From the creator of The Dangerous Book for Boys comes a story about Tollins, small winged creatures that are bigger than fairies but considerably smaller than humans.
This book is hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of Tollins and fireworks, Tollins and amputation as a panacea, and Tollins exploring science. I only wish the book were longer. If I still had a classroom, my students would be writing their own Tollins chapters for a class project.
Check this one out if you have a chance. You'll thank me later.
08 October 2010
Merryn, Erin. Stolen Innocence. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2004.
Merryn, Erin. Living for Today. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2009.
This was probably the most difficult pair of books for me to read, but I'm glad that I did. I have found more similarities between Erin's story and my own than anyone would likely care to admit. In her memoirs, Erin chronicles both the abuse she endured and also her journey as she sought healing and recovery from the abuse. Erin and I were both abused by a family member. Erin and I both displayed obvious signs of abuse, but no one in our families, even those who also had histories of abuse, took notice. Erin and I both chose to remain silent for many years.
However, Erin and her sister made the brave choice and together told their parents about the abuse. Thus began a long battle through family problems, legal red tape, and a long, painful journey of healing. Erin has since become an advocate for victims of abuse and has been honored in the passing of Erin's Law, legislation in the state of Illinois that mandates education for children on the topic of sexual abuse. I rejoice in Erin's courage to speak out, not just against her abusers, but also on behalf of those who have yet to find their voice.
All that being said, for most of you who read this blog I will have to say this: don't read these books. They are simply too graphic, as one would assume all accounts of sexual abuse are. I don't know that Erin could have told her story in such a powerful way if she had fudged the facts at all or skimmed over her difficulties. As an abuse survivor myself, I found it difficult to read certain passages in her books and had to skim pages and paragraphs, lest I trigger a flashback to my own abusive childhood. Both books were difficult to read, but I believe what she said was good and necessary.
I especially appreciated Erin's emphasis on her faith and on forgiving her abusers. She did not gloss over the difficulty or the pain in doing so, she did not pretend that her story had a "happily ever after" ending, but the process of healing was a definite focus, especially in her second book.
I can only hope that some day I will have the courage of Erin and be able to tell my story. If you are reading this post and you have been or are being sexually abused, molested, or raped, please contact the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network's confidential online hotline - the link is on the right column of this page. You are not alone.
07 October 2010
Goode, Reema. Which None Can Shut: Remarkable True Stories of God's Miraculous Work in the Muslim World. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2010.
With all the news of wars in the Middle East and our post 9-11 national obsession with Islam, I was very excited to find that a book had actually been published about reaching Muslims with the gospel. It's always a wonderful thing when people accept Christ; it's even more amazing, from a human perspective, when a person from a different belief system "converts" and chooses Christ over their religion. Even more wonderful than that is a person doing so from a system that is difficult to leave and that presents some very real-life consequences for the choice of following Christ.
Having said all that, I actually wasn't that impressed with this book. As I started reading, I felt like I was sitting at church listening to a missionary's furlough report. These reports are generally sprinkled with personal stories of real people in the field, presumably to make the congregation feel like they know the people they are supporting. I understand that, and I really enjoy listening to missionaries' stories at church. Their stories add some flavor to their reports of the work on the field and help the congregation to better understand what it is the missionaries are experiencing.
But 164 pages of this is a bit much. I was waiting for the illustrations and stories to lead to principles for meeting Muslims or ways to best reach Muslims or organizations within the United States where interested people can get involved, but this book was one long series of missionary stories from the field. Not a bad thing to read at all, and probably very enjoyable if taken one chapter at a time, but not what I expected at all. I would recommend that churches purchase a copy of this book to keep in the church library, but I see no reason for people to add it to their own personal library.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
05 October 2010
Scazzero, Geri. I Quit! Stop Pretending Everything is Fine and Change Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
The author of this book posits that many people are afraid to evaluate what's wrong in their lives because they fear change. The status quo may not be ideal, but it is, at least, comfortable, and so people choose to live in their discomfort rather than improving their situation and taking care of themselves.
However, there does come a tipping point when a person decides that enough is enough, and changes can then occur. Scazzero herself reached this point in her life when things weren't working, and she chose to make some positive changes that improved her relationship with God and her ability to minister to those around her.
Those of you who have read Cloud and Townsend's Boundaries will recognize many of the ideas in this book. Scazzero divides her book into several different "I Quit" statements where she encourages her readers to quit on thing in order to receive something else, like quitting faulty thinking in order to live in reality.
I appreciated Scazzero's practical approach to this topic, and I believe that her book is one that should be read by everyone in full-time ministry or anyone who has a lingering dissatisfaction with the status quo. It could be that it is time for your status quo to change.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat Pray Love. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
I admit it. Like the rest of humanity, I became interested in this book once I found out it was going to become a movie. I haven't actually seen the movie and am not sure whether I ever intend to do so, but I did enjoy the book.
This book chronicles Elizabeth's journey as she takes a Sabbath year to rediscover herself. Having finished a rather nasty divorce and unsure what she wants or needs in life, she chooses to spend four months each in three different countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia. She wants to experience how people in these cultures handle pleasure, devotion, and balance, respectively.
I will admit that I enjoyed Gilbert's story. She has a very easy voice to follow and her writing style is both entertaining and thought-provoking, a combination that I admire greatly. I did not approach this book with the same level of eagerness I show to novels or more suspenseful books; this book easily became the one I brought with me to work in hopes of reading a few pages during my lunch break. Nevertheless, it was easy enough to follow the story that way.
To my former students who are reading this post: approach this book with caution. Gilbert never claims to be a believer, and she has some interesting opinions about the big questions in life. I support her right to have her own opinions and even to publish them, but please do not believe everything that you see in print must be true. Read the book, enjoy the lessons she learned, but remember to approach everything through a filter of Scripture.
Croggon, Alison. The Riddle. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2004.
This sequel to The Naming is also absolutely excellent. I don't generally enjoy super-thick novels with multiple sequels, mainly because the stories often sound so very similar to each other that it's like reading the same book with a slightly different setting. This series, however, is much more Tolkein-esque and plotted and planned to be true sequel. I enjoyed this book all the way to the end and am excited to start the next book and continue following Maerad's journey to find the split song. If you haven't read The Naming yet, start with that one, but then read this book as well.
29 September 2010
Jessop, Carolyn. Triumph: Life After the Cult. New York: Random House, 2010.
Carolyn Jessop grew up in the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints) cult, a subset of the Mormon faith that still practices polygamy. When her oldest daughter was fourteen and about to be forced into a marriage with a much older man, Carolyn chose to flee the cult. Not only did she escape the cult, but she also rescued her children and gained sole custody of them. The story of her flight from the FLDS is chronicled in her book Escape.
Triumph tells the next chapter of the story. Acting on a phone tip, the police in Texas raided a large FLDS compound and removed over four hundred children on the grounds that these children had been abused. Jessop was involved in helping the relief workers to understand the FLDS mindset as well as petitioning that these children not be returned to life in the cult.
I did enjoy this book, but not as much, I think, as I would have enjoyed Escape. Tales of court battles and television interviews are not so interesting to me as what actually happened with the children when they were yanked from the only life they had ever known. I was also interested in learning more about Jessop's own children and how they handled the transition to what most of us would call a "normal" life.
In any case, this book was interesting. It is definitely worth checking out of the library.
Croggon, Alison. The Naming. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2005.
Maerad has only known the life of a slave. When she was very young, her father was murdered, her brother was kidnapped, and she and her mother were sold as slaves. Later, when her mother dies, Maerad feels completely alone.
Cadvan is a Bard whose chance meeting with Maerad will change her life forever. She is destined for far greater things than her life of servitude. But is she brave enough to face the dangers that her future holds?
I really, really liked this story. The descriptions and details are wonderful, I enjoyed the plot and the characters, and I was easily lost inside this story as I read "just one more chapter" to find out what happened next. I especially enjoyed the fact that this Tolkien-esque tale was only the first in a series of four books, so I am now able to read the second book and continue with Maerad's adventures. This one is definitely worth it, folks.
Deikman, Arthur. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society. Beacon Press, 1994.
It is entirely possible for perfectly intelligent, well-meaning people to be sucked into cults unawares, and it is very, very difficult for those same people to escape and nearly impossible to escape unharmed. This book explores the patterns of cult behavior we can see in American society and how and why well-intentioned people can be deluded by what the cult promises. I found this book to be rather dry and clinical, but an interesting read nonetheless.
09 September 2010
Hines, T. L. The Falling Away. Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2010.
Dylan Runs Ahead is on the run. With a drug deal gone bad, two dead men left in the snow, and his partner injured, Dylan isn't sure where to run or whom to trust anymore.
Quinn is one of the people chasing Dylan. She chases Dylan because she is part of The Falling Away, a group that rescues people from cults. Quinn is attempting to rescue Dylan without his knowing because he is one of the Chosen.
Wow. This was an interesting and confusing book. By the time I finished the last page, I can honestly say that I understood most of what happened. I still didn't get it all. The book was interesting, and rather suspenseful, but the plot made me rather confused. I kept waiting for that confusion to clear so I could begin rooting for the good guys, but I was still fuzzy on the details by the time I turned that last page.
If you like odd, suspenseful books, then this book is right up your alley. If you become frustrated when authors are intentionally vague on some details, don't bother with this book. You'll thank me later.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
Carlson, Melody. Finding Alice. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2003.
This book gives readers an opportunity to jump into the head of a schizophrenic. Alice at first seems to be like any average college student, until she begins hearing voices and seeing a hallucination named Amelia who convinces her that everyone is out to get her, that her food has been poisoned, that there are no safe people in the world. Eventually, Alice does find help and hope, which brings this story to a very satisfying ending.
I enjoyed looking at the world through Alice's eyes, as disturbing as that view could occasionally be. I also appreciated the treatment of Alice's restored relationship with her mother toward the end of the story. Alice finds healing because there are people around her who show her love and grace, something she was not getting before. This book is a great testament to the power of one life touching another life - not necessarily by preaching or handing out tracts or direct witnessing- but by living and showing love every single day, both on good days and bad days.
I am impressed with the author's ability to jump inside the head of a schizophrenic, and to write a book that is Christian in worldview without being another cheezy fiction book where everyone gets saved by the end. This one, my friends, is definitely worth reading.
06 September 2010
Farrel, Pam and Dawn Wilson. LoL with God: Devotional Messages of Hope & Humor for Women. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2010.
This is a devotional book for women centered around "text messages from God" created from Bible verses. Each devotional contains a Bible "TXT," a short devotional thought, suggested prayer/application, and a place for women to write their own text messages back to God. Occasional devotionals contain short humorous stories as well.
Hmmm. This particular book definitely gave me pause. I do think that God has a sense of humor, I do think He likes it when we laugh and enjoy ourselves, and I am sure He is glad that some people might find this form of devotional reading more approachable or doable than a traditional devotional.
However, I am concerned about the light-hearted, casual approach this book offers. Turning Bible verses into TXTspeak was completely unnecessary, and becomes redundant since the authors also listed the original Bible verse at the bottom of each page where a Bible TXT appears. Texting back to God seems a bit odd, too. I am all for writing out prayers, especially if that helps a person to think or to focus, but to write out a text-message - which is intentionally short and impersonal - to God? I think that's a bit over the top.
Overall, I think the authors of this book were well-intentioned, but perhaps the book would work better if marketed as a gift book instead of a devotional. I could easily imagine reading a page or two of a book like this if it were left in a guest bedroom or an end table at a house, but I will not be using this book for a devotional study. The texting approach simply pulls away from the seriousness and sullies what would otherwise have been good, timely devotional thoughts for women. Sorry, folks, but this one is not worth your time. Glance through it at the store if you'd like, but leave it on the shelf.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
Alexander, Alma. Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
This book is advertized as "exquisite, "suspensful," and "engrossing." Eh, maybe. The story was interesting, yes. Obviously teens everywhere can identify with the main character, Thea, whose family has great expectations for her, expectations which are soon smashed when they realize she has no magical talent whatsoever.
Her talent, however, is hidden. And she has to travel back in time to meet an old Anasazi man and discover how and why her magical abilities have been hidden. She learns that she has chosen to hide her abilities so that she might someday save her world when it most needs saving.
This was a fairly typical teen story. Not horrible, to be sure, and entertaining enough, but nothing remarkable about it, either. This is the first book in a series, but I will not be checking out the others any time soon.
01 September 2010
Connolly, John. The Book of Lost Things. New York: Washington Square Press, 2006.
David is a small boy who lives in England with his father and his mother. His mother dies, David's father remarries, and his stepmother gives birth to a son. The family of four moves into a home that had been in the stepmother's family for generations. Throughout this time, David begins having "fits" that leave his father concerned and the doctors puzzled. With WWI raging on England's doorstep, David's family should be safer in the country. But the books in David's room are whispering to him and he hears his mother's voice calling from a hidden corner of the garden ...
Wow. I have been pondering for days how to describe this book, and the best I can come up with is, "Narnia without the allegory." As far as I know, Connolly is not a Christian, so this book, while being a very C.S. Lewis-esque fantasy journey, is not allegorical. That fact, however, does not make this story a bad one.
I thoroughly enjoyed David's obsession with reading, especially fairy tales, and I liked the way the author wove David's fairy tale passion into the otherworld he enters. The tales that his companions tell along the way are similar enough to our common fairy tales to be familiar, but they definitely share a sardonic twist. I enjoyed following the plot and trying to discover whom David should trust and whom he should not trust. The story ended well, which is was satisfying. Overall, the story itself was a good one, well told, that kept me on the edge of my seat at the right times and begged me to come back and read "just one more chapter" until the end.
However, I will give two warnings: first, this story is considerably darker in tone than the Narnian stories. As such, although the protagonist is a child, I do not recommend this story to anyone still in single-digit years. :) This is a good pre-teen or teen to discuss with mom and dad book, or a good adult read on their own book. It is not a children's story.
Second, I would like to remind my lovely former students of a warning I gave them so many eons ago when they were in my class. Do any of you remember which objectionable element is most dangerous? Yes - religious or philosophical ideas. I have warned you time and time again to be careful about whom the author wants you to like, to cheer for, to feel compassion for. This book contains an excellent example of this issue:
During his journey, David is visited several times by a person he calls the Crooked Man. CM comes to David's house and is seen in the baby's room, and he pops up periodically throughout David's journey to save the day. Time and time again he asks David to tell him the name of his baby brother, and he promises David all sorts of things in return for this information. Clearly, he is not to be trusted.
Another thing he likes to do is to make David doubt his traveling companions. At one point, CM hints that David's companion, a knight, is gay and wants David for more than just a traveling buddy. David is revolted at the way CM explains this to him, and therein, my former students, lies the problem. Who in the story thinks homosexuality is wrong? The crooked man. But who is the bad guy? Again, the crooked man. So an author has taken a very well-written story, given you some likeable characters and some hateable bad guys, and then had the bad guy spout off the very belief he wishes to mock. Authors do not do this accidentally. Please, please, if you remember nothing else that I have taught you, bear in mind that you must keep your brain firmly screwed into your head when you read.
Lesson over. It must be 2:10 [this is a shout-out to last year's honors juniors]. Bottom line: interesting story, very well written, some great passages, but not without its dangers. Always swim with a buddy.
25 August 2010
Fog, like ivy, curls and grasps and reaches,
Curling tendrils around corners,
Stealing warmth and light by degrees.
Fog slithers stealthily as a garden snake
and oozes like snow drunk on spring sunshine.
Fog transforms familiar haunts to
And leaves no paw prints.
Picoult, Jodi. Vanishing Acts. New York: Washington Square Press, 2005.
What would you do if you came home one day to find that your father had been arrested for kidnapping you twenty-eight years ago, and your mother, far from dead as you had been told, is alive and waiting to meet you? Delia Hopkins works with the police on search-and-rescue missions, but now she has to do some rescuing of her own, and she has to decide whom to trust and what to believe after so many years of lies.
I enjoyed the plot twists in this story, and Picoult's habit of telling a story from several points of view was not nearly as disorienting as it was when I read My Sister's Keeper. The subplots and layers of information enticed me to keep reading, and I found myself done with this book far sooner than I had expected. This book would be an excellent beach read or rainy day read.
23 August 2010
Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
Occasionally a child is born who develops two different colored eyes. These children, the Graced, are immediately given to the king as his property, as each Graced child will exhibit a different talent or special gift. Those whose gifts are useful to the king will serve him for the rest of their lives. Those whose talents the king finds useless will be sent back to their homes. In either case, their eyes and their gifts set the Graced apart from the rest of the world.
Enter Katsa, a young lady graced with amazing survival skills. She has been serving the Middlun king as his henchman since she was a child. But Katsa begins to realize that her Grace will allow her to do good as well, to fight the injustice in the world. Little does Katsa know that an ordinary quest to save an old man will turn her world upside down, forcing her to choose between what is right and what is easy as she helps those closest to her.
This was an excellently written fantasy story. I enjoyed the fantastic elements of the story, and I appreciated the concept of people "graced" with abilities above and beyond that of the average human being. The plot twists genuinely surprised me at times. I could barely put the book down, and I finished the last page definitely hungry for more.
HOWEVER ... I have to add one caveat. The LA Times likens this book to the Twilight series, and they had good reason to do so. The romantic subplot of the story is a necessary evil I may not prefer, but am willing to endure for the sake of the main storyline. However, every author or producer knows that it is possible to "shut the door," so to speak, on a particular scene and leave out any graphic details. Readers are not stupid people, and they can generally figure out what has happened once the curtain falls or the lights dim.
Sadly, on at least one occaion Cashore fails to do this. Just because teenagers are interested in, are thinking about, or are actively involved in sexual activity does not mean that the adults around them should expose them to such thoughts. This would have been an excellent book, a book to put on my classroom shelf, without that one scene. If only there were someone out there who would write clean, good fiction for teens, something not preachy, but with a good worldview.
20 August 2010
Jeremiah, Dr. David. Captured By Grace. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006
Using examples from the life and writings of the Apostle Paul and hymnwriter John Newton, Dr. Jeremiah explains the need for grace in the lives of believers. The book is separated into three sections - past, present, and future needs for grace - and each chapter is subtitled by a line from Newton's hymn "Amazing Grace." The reader learns more about the lives of Paul and John Newton through the historical tidbits scattered throughout each chapter, and each chapter also includes a thorough discussion of passages from the book of Romans. The chapters all end with a section for personal application.
It took me a while to get into this book. The first section contained a lot of information that I had heard or learned already, and it wasn't presented in a way that made me want to keep reading. The personal applications seemed very cheesy and Hallmark-y and not very productive. I appreciated the second section more, but only for the one - only one - thought I stumbled upon: "We fall for one of the devil's greates lies when we assume that our human limitations make any difference to the workings of God through us." This is a great thought, and I am still working on digesting it.
Overall, however, I was not that impressed with this book. I prefer Blackaby's book Putting a Face on Grace to this particular book. The applications were not that applicable, and the historical information could be more easily digested in other formats. If I were house sitting and had to choose between this book and a Janette Oke novel, I'd be torn. And that, my friends, is saying something.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
12 August 2010
Dixon, Dianne. The Language of Secrets. New York: Double Day, 2010.
Newly married, Justin is bringing his wife and son back to visit his parents, whom he has not seen in many years. He follows a trail from the house where he grew up, to a nursing home, to his sister's home, where she slams the door in his face, and finally to a graveyard, where he sees three headstones: one for his father, one for his mother, and one for himsellf. Thus begins a journey were Justin searches for answers to the impossible: how could he be dead already?
This was an interesting story, with enough plot twists to keep me reading. I can relate to the protagonist's idea of seeing his personal history "like looking at a piece of black paper with holes punched in it." He only has a few scattered memories of toddlerhood and then his life as a college student. Everything else between is blank, until he begins to have flashbacks, flashbacks that don't add up, don't make sense, until he puts all the pieces together.
I enjoyed reading Justin's journey to discovery as his chapters, with a modern setting, alternated with chapters of his history. I also appreciated how Justin was able to disprove the theme of the story: "Home was the place in which you were rooted by your beginnings, in which you were locked by your earliest consciousness. It marked and branded you. And if it was a broken, desolate place . . . it would leave you hungry and dangerous, and punished, for the rest of your life" (218). Justin chose to break this cycle. He chose not to be hungry, dangerous, punished, or trapped for the rest of his life.
10 August 2010
Larkin, Allie. Stay. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.
I am a cat person, not a dog person, so I am not sure what initially attracted me to this book. Perhaps all this time staying in the house of two dog lovers has convinced me that dogs are worth the barking, the walks, the pooper scoopers, and the drool. Maybe.
In any case, this is a cute story. The main character, Van, falls apart after her best friend married Van had loved since the day she met him. In the middle of the night, after watching a marathon of Rin Tin Tin, she orders a dog online. She expect a cute, tiny puppy. What she got was a very large puppy who only responded to commands in Slovak.
The rest of the story is fairly predictable. She takes the overlarge puppy to the vet, discovers that the vet is a handsome single man, you get the picture. But it's a cute story, and it actually held my interest past the time I spent at the laundromat. Apart from the profanity spoken by angry or drunk characters, the story itself was enjoyable. This book would be a good airplane or beach read.
09 August 2010
Bannister, Jo. Liars All. New York: Minotaur, 2009.
A tragic car accident. A missing necklace. A local mobster. An infant with an incurable disease. This book has enough twists and sub-plots to keep anyone's brain whirring. This mystery was more interesting than Laughed 'Till He Died. I enjoyed the British setting and the twists in the plot, especially toward the end. Many authors, myself included, have a wretched end game. It is very difficult to write the last chapter of a book - the problems are all solved, the characters are well-known, all the loose ends are tied up. But this book had a satisfying ending, and not one that dragged out long after the denouement, either. I will probably see if the public library has any more books by this author.
Hart, Carolyn. Laughed 'Til He Died. New York: William Morrow, 2010.
Two people have died. All the evidence points to the one person who could not possibly, would not possibly, have done it. So who's to blame?
This is a great beach read. A harmless mystery, not very suspensful, fairly free of anything objectionable. I like mysteries, but I usually appreciate a little more suspense than I found in this book. I probably won't read any of the others in the series, but it was a harmless enough book.
04 August 2010
Schilling, Shonda. The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.
I was drawn to this book because of the immense popularity of diagnoses in the autism spectrum recently. Similar to the ADHD craze of a decade ago, it seems many children are now being diagnosed with Asperger's or some flavor of autism. This is not to say that any of these diagnoses is ingenuine; I simply find it interesting that a disease no one knew about before is now so incredibly common.
Sections of this book were very interesting to me. I enjoyed reading about Grant and his behavior before and after the diagnosis. I enjoyed learning how the family chose to accommodate for Grant and how Grant related to his classmates and teammates. Other parts of the story were not as interesting to me, but would definitely be interesting to anyone who likes baseball, particularly if that person is a fan of the Boston Red Sox.
This book was a good read and a quick read. If I once again find myself in a classroom situation, I am certain I will need to use my limited knowledge of Asperger's to better understand the children I teach.
Brown, Daniel. The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride. New York: Harper, 2009.
Before I am attacked for reading a book about the infamous Donner party, let me start by saying this: this book is not gruesome, and it doesn't actually focus that much on the unfortunate choices the Donner party had to make when they were trapped. The focus is more on the trip itself, the culture of that time, the mistakes leading up to being trapped in the snow, the weather conditions that year, etc. etc. It is actually a very interesting read. I enjoyed the bits of letters and other original documents that were quoted throughout this book. It isn't a happy book, per se, but it is interesting.
02 August 2010
Plum-Ucci, Carol. Streams of Babel. New York: Harcourt, 2008.
In this novel, terrorists are planning an attack on the United States, but they must start small and test their methods. They inject a bioagent into the water supply to a small neighborhood. However, they didn't count on most people drinking bottled water, and they didn't count on two teen hackers catching on to their scheme.
This book is told from several different points of view and was an entertaining and interesting read. There are a few incidents of bad language, but it is not rife with obscenities like a James Patterson book. I especially enjoyed the chapters told from the point of Shazhad, a Pakistani teen who is sent to the United States to aid in catching the criminals. Overall, this is a good read, but don't drink tap water while you're reading.
28 July 2010
Napoli, Donna. Hush: An Irish Princess Tale. New York: Atheneum, 2007.
Melkorka, an Irish princess, is kidnapped by slavers. She has to survive a harrowing journey through the open seas, knowing the end result will be slavery. Should she attempt to escape or should she accept her enslavement?
I thoroughly enjoyed the first sixteen chapters of this story. My enjoyment was shaken when Melkorka was purchased by a man who needed a concubine to keep him company in the months until his return to his wife. My appreciation of this story was shattered when Melkorka discovers she is carrying her owner's child and chooses to stay with him, in the hope that the birth of her son will mellow her master and grant her the freedom she craves. That's how the book ends.
I was disappointed. At least I did enjoy the first sixteen chapters, and I know this isn't the last book in my stack. Sorry, folks, but you shouldn't bother with this one.
Pearson, Mary. The Miles Between. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009.
Destiny wants a perfectly fair day, a day when the good guys win and all is well in the world. And she gets it - Destiny and her three friends escape their boarding school and begin a journey across the state. Throughout their journey, Destiny learns secrets about each of her friends, but will she be willing to share her secret with them?
Those of you familiar with the story I Am the Cheese will recognize the surprise ending technique in this story. No, Destiny is not locked in a mental hospital, but what she does reveal will surprise you.
This book is a good read. It was enjoyable, it was entertaining, and I am almost convinced I need to purchase a lambadoodle. Almost.