Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Acquisition: Trip to Washington State

I recently visited Washington State, to see my Mama. It is from her that I inherited my love of books and reading. In fact, she read to me while pregnant (before it was popular). She always takes me to the best book stores when I visit. I pack light and save my money when I go. 

Here is my haul (Literally. I lugged this across an airport!)
Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald
Stories of God by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Journal of Brian Doyle: A Greenhorn on an Alaskan Whaling Ship. The Florence, 1874 by Jim Muphy (My Name is America Series)
A Journey to the New World: the Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower 1620 by Kathryn Lasky (Dear America Series)
The Kill Order by James Dashney (The Maze Runner Series, Book 4)
Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America by Linda K. Kerber
Cadre One by Robert O'Riordan
Cadre Lucifer by Robert O'Riordan
The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything by John D. MacDonald

Ballroom of the Skies by John D. MacDonald
The Purity Plot by E.E. “Doc” Smith (The Family D’Alebert Series, Book 6)
Planet of Treachery by E.E. “Doc” Smith (The Family D’Alebert Series, Book 7)
Gray Lensman by by E.E. “Doc” Smith
First Lensman by E.E. “Doc” Smith

Many of these are on my list. In fact, only the books by O'Riordan and the one about Women in the American Revolution wasn’t on the list. The rest are either precise books I wanted or authors I always consider. I exercised considerable self-control of which I am justifiably proud.

And there is always next time…..

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: Frogman: The Incredibly True Confessions of a Sixth Grade Superhero By Emily Cosentino

Synopsis: Alex Addison is about to enter sixth grade, when his life is changed by a single frog. Overnight, his feet and identity are forever transformed as Alex becomes Frogman-a jumping, fly-eating super-hero. Alex decides to keep his new found abilities secret from his family and everyone else. Middle school is hard enough as it is. Eventually, Alex confides in his best friend Artie Brandt. However, the one person in the whole world who absolutely cannot find out about Alex's secret is his other good friend Joel Hutchins. Joel is bent on launching his career as a famous biologist. As a true believer in Bigfoot, Joel is convinced that proving its existence will bring him fame and money. But in the end, any weird animal will do. When Joel discovers Frogman's funky new footprints, his enthusiasm to unearth this new creature’s identity puts the three boy's friendship to the test while stretching Alex to the limit. (from the online description)

Review: Starting from an interesting and amusing premise, Cosentino’s Frogman follows 6th grader Alex as he turns into a human frog! With the power to jump incredible heights, stick to walls, and stretch his tongue long lengths, Alex has the ability to do good – just as long as his habit of eating bugs and need for moisture don’t get him caught!
This is an excellent book for young boys, age 7-12. Alex and is friends struggle with school bullies, grades, girls, pressure from parents and teachers, and doing what’s right when it’s hard.  They react as young boys do, mostly, although Alex is a bit more self-aware than I remember being at that age. With a nice mix of sports, science, and gross humor (think eating bugs and spit pie), this will appeal to most young boys. There is nothing questionable about it, and would be perfectly safe for even the strictest parents.
Cosentino’s prose is good. Her secondary characters feel real, with actually personality, and not just props in a play. The plot is well-paced, with a good mix of action, adventure, tension, and mystery. Cosentino set’s up the series nicely and I’m intrigued to see where she takes the story. I highly recommend this for parents looking for good stories for young boys. There is a significant lack of stories like this and Cosentino’s work is a welcome book. 

Note: I was recommended to the author by a friend to read and write a review. I downloaded a copy for free off Amazon. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4951-4075-4
Year Published: 2016
Date Finished: 4-17-2016
Pages: eBook

Friday, April 15, 2016

Review: The Book of Hours by Marianne Boruch

Synopsis: Inspired by the tradition of homemade prayer books popular during the Middle Ages, Marianne Boruch's The Book of Hours foregrounds the rich details of nature, which are both beautiful and ruthless. While investigating personal memory and issues of war, history, saints, god and godlessness, Boruch questions the nature of poetry itself. Within the poems are numerous, and numinous, voices. (from the back of the book)

Review: I didn't enjoy this as I thought I would. For starters, I picked this up thinking it was more religious than it was. But any mention of God or religious ideology came only in the form of the word "god" (small g), who function more like a disembodied and unsure voice, used as a foil to move the poem along. Mostly, she wrote about birds and other subjects that I couldn't always identify. There was nothing religious at all.
Second, there was little to distinguish the poems from each other. Often the ending didn’t connect to the beginning. And because the subject of each poem is unclear, they muddle together, no clear distinction between one and the next. Just long rambling lines of words, often strung together with odd punctuation or pauses intended to add drama but seemed pretentious. If she was trying to convey a certain emotion or concept, it was lost in the verbose muddle of her work. The poems felt as if she made a bag of the most common and lofty words used in poetry and grabbed a handful for each stanza, without regard to if they connected at all. Others may find her work worth reading, but not me. It wasn’t my sort of poetry. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, 2013

ISBN: 978-55659-385-7
Year Published: 2011
Date Finished: 4-14-2016
Pages: 87

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: The Poems of St. John of the Cross trans by John Frederick Nims

Synopsis: This is an acedemic study of the best known poems of San Juan de la Cruz, or St. John of the Cross, a Carmelite Friar and Spanish Mystic who lived during the late 1500s. He is best known for his mystic work The Dark Knight of the Soul. He is considered by many to be the greatest Spanish poet in history.

Review: This book was more academic than I expected. The book opens with the Spanish and English versions of each poems. The poems include The Codex of Sanlucar de Barrameda and Additional Poems. The last third of the book includes the life history of San Juan, textual and historical analysis of the poems,and a expose on the Spanish text. This is an excellent place to start if you are interested an academic study of his poems. The language is clear, concise, and accessible. Worth reading, and an excellent addition to any poetry lover's library.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-226-40110-3
Year Published: 1959 (Third Edition, 1979, Reprint 1986)
Date Finished: 4-11-2016
Pages: 151

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review: The False Mirror by Alan Dean Foster (The Damned, Book 2)

Synopsis: For millennia, the alien union called the Weave had been at war with the Amplitur. But only in the handful of centuries since Earth had joined the Weave had the tide of the battle been slowly turning in the Weave's favour. Then an elite unit, raised from childhood in dedication to the Amplitur Purpose and designed to match perfectly the Humans they were to fight, came of age - and it looked as if at last the Amplitur might prevail against the Weave. But when one of the elite unit, a warrior called Ranji, was captured by the Weave, a horrible truth was revealed: Ranji was in fact Human, a subject of the Amplitur's vile genetic manipulations. The Weave promised to reverse the effects and help Ranji rescue other altered Humans from the clutches of the Amplitur. But neither Ranji nor his new allies could have know that the proposed cure would result in an abomination that could tear the Weave alliance apart - and brand Ranji and his kind as the most despicable creatures in the galaxy... (from the back of the book)

Review: While the second book in the The Damned series, this story takes places at least a few hundred years after the first one and includes none of the same characters. The story centers on Ranji, raised believing he was an Ashregan, a member of the enemy. But when captured, the truth is discovered- he's human, surgically altered to look like an Ashregan.
I enjoyed watching Ranji's journey - his initial resistance, his acceptance, and the things he struggled with - his place, future, the lies - and most importantly, those he left behind. A steady pace, a good mix of action and introspection, and complex world building make this a fun and engaging read. Solid science fiction with a good dose of military action and what-does-it-mean-to-be-human philosophizing. Worth reading!

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-345-37575-0
Year Published: 1992
Date Finished: 4-11-2016
Pages: 314

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review: Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power by Levi Lusko

Synopsis: What will you do when the unthinkable happens in your life?
Her parents called her Lenya Lion because of her ferocious personality and hair that had been wild and mane-like since birth. But they never expected that, five days before Christmas, their five-year-old daughter would suddenly go to heaven after an asthma attack. How do you walk out of an emergency room without your daughter?
In Through the Eyes of a Lion, Pastor Levi Lusko shares the eye-opening truth of the power of hope in a world that is often filled with pain, suffering, and loss. He says, "This book isn't a manual for grieving, but a manifesto for high-octane living, and through it I want you to see that God made you for a purpose. There is a wild and wonderful calling on your life, a microphone in your hands. Jesus wants you to look at the adventure of your life through His eyes, the eyes of a Lion."
Part memoir but all overtly instructive and deeply inspirational, Through the Eyes of a Lion gives readers the tools they need to face their fears and turn their journey into a roar story.
Chapter themes include:
  • Don't rely on the naked eye
  • Run towards the roar
  • There's no such thing as a wireless anchor
  • Let God use your pain
  • Cue the eagle
What we do in life really does echo in eternity. You are destined for impact, and there's not a moment to lose! (from the back of the book)

Review: This book cause more conflict then I've encountered in a while. Initially, I felt this was pop culture dribble mixed with borderline heretical statements. But my brother highly recommended it, and I wanted to read the works that spoke to him. After finishing the Lusko book, I have modified my original thoughts. His book has merit. My original assertion that he used more pop culture references than the name of Jesus was incorrect and judgmental. It’s about even, actually. He offers sound instructions about family, obedience to God, and eternity.
The part most worthy is the section where he speaks about pain. He borrows from C. S. Lewis and called pain a “megaphone”. He says that pain can often take us places to witness about God that we won’t get to otherwise. Pain allows us to connect to others in pain, to meet them there, to stand with them – as he has for others who have lost children. He warns us about using our pain as an excuse for selfishness (p112). I found this excellent advice.
In addition to Lewis, he also quotes A. W. Tozer and E. M. Bounds – both of whom are well-respected theologians.
But I am still troubled by his connection with Steve Furtick.  As this is the second book in the last few weeks where I have encountered him, I have done diligent study of his theology. And the more I read about Furtick, the more convinced I am of the heretical, arrogant, and erroneous qualities of his teachings.
I also realized that I react with automatic suspicion to the type of church Levi Lusko leads. It’s very….hipster. And I automatically associate anything hipster with fake, emotions over logic, and desperate pursuit of what’s “cool”. Hipster is more about image than substance and that is what I feel about Lusko and his church, Fresh Life. It’s hard to say these things about his words about his daughter’s death. He seems honest about his pain.
When you listen to his teachings, it’s very positive. Rarely does he mention dying to self, eradicating pride, or sin, as in, we are sinful people. It concerns me when a church looks so much like the things of the world, when it becomes cool to go to it. When our walk with Christ makes us more popular with the world, I worry.
And yet, in Acts 2:47, the early Christians enjoyed “favor with all the people.” I tend to be harsh and critical of anything hipster as well, beyond what is normal.  I can’t argue with the fruit. Hundreds of people (maybe even thousands) know Jesus because of Fresh Life Church. People are seeking God who never had otherwise. So if one stands up and says “this teaching is wrong” you must also explain why so much good is coming out of it. And I can’t. So it is very possible I am being critical and derisive of his ministry out of some sinful motive, jealous or self-righteousness or pride in my own knowledge.
Perhaps it is because of the Dallas Willard book I am reading at the moment – he was been speaking in the Divine Conspiracy about Consumer Christianity verses True Discipleship.  Consumer Christianity is concerned with appearance and numbers, while True Discipleship is concerned with the eternal life of the believer’s soul. Consumer Christians abound, but True Disciples are extremely rare. To be honest, I don’t know if I consider myself one. Lusko and Fresh Life Church feel very much like Consumer Christianity. They have all the appearance of good fruit and good works (and some of it is real and true) but most – I’m not sure if it’s really how the church should look. But again, who am I to judge another’s relationship with God?
Lusko’s writing is easy to read, accessible in language, and mixed with anecdotes about his life with his daughters. He’s funny and engaging.
But I’m not sure I would recommend his book. There is something off about his teachings that gives me pause, even if I can’t name it. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-7180-3214-2
Year Published: 2015
Date Finished: 4-7-2016
Pages: 192

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review: It Hurts So Bad, Lord: What to Do When the Pain is Almost More than You Can Bear by Andrew D. Lester

Synopsis: Everything is going well…you think. And suddenly it seems as if the sky really is going to fall. Everything seems to happen at once you feel that Job had nothing on you. And you pray, through the tears or clenched teeth or both, It Hurts So Bad, Lord! Dr. Andrew D. Lester doesn’t claim to have all the answers but he does give comfort, presence, and stability for the worst times of your life – when you feel as if the world is caving in on you. (from the back of the book)

Review: The majority of this book deals with death – before and after, for those facing the death of a loved one – or their own. However, the first two chapters are about depression. There is lots of talk in the Christian community about how to handle mental health. Given the common rhetoric that the church has often sidelined, condemned, or ignored those with mental illnesses, I was glad to see none of that in this work. Lester clearly and openly states that depression is an illness, that there are things the person can do to help, but that professional help is always a good idea, and that depression in no way reflects a lack of faith in God.
Lester makes many good points. My favorite was what he said about anger, “All this is to say that when you feel anger within you, it does not mean that you have sinned. It does mean that the possibility for sin is present. That can happen if the anger goes unrecognized or unresolved and becomes an infection in our relationships or becomes destructive and hurtful to other people.” (p25). He recommends that when you get angry, you step back and ask yourself why – bruised ego, true injustice, selfishness, or betrayal. This sounds like good advice, but it requires more honesty with self than most people are capable of.  Still, it is good advice, if one can manage it.
Having said all that, the book is dated. It makes reference to “truths” about society that are no longer true – namely that we encourage suppression of anger (we don’t) and that we encourage personality responsibility (we most certainly do not).
The other noteworthy aspect is his stance on divorce. He teaches that divorce is acceptable in many different situations. Some may not feel this way or believe this is Biblical. Read at our own risk. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-8054-5238-9
Year Published: 1976
Date Finished: 4-2-2016
Pages: 128

Friday, April 1, 2016

Review: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli

Synopsis: The bells clang above plague-ridden London as Robin lies helpless, cold, and hungry. The great house is empty, his father is fighting the Scots in the north, his mother is traveling with the Queen, and the servants have fled. He calls for help but only the stones hear his cries. Suddenly, someone else is in the house, coming towards Robin. It is Brother Luke, a wandering friar, who takes Robin to St. Mark’s Monastery, where he will be cared for until his father sends for him. At last a message comes – Robin is to meet his father at Castle Lindsay. The journey is dangerous, and the castle is located near the hostile Welsh border. Perched high in the hills, the castle appears invincible. But it is not. Under the cover of a thick fog the Welsh attack the castle. And Robin is the only one who can save it…. (from the back of the book)

Review: Sent in England during the Middle Ages, this book is rich with culture and history. Robin, the crippled son of a nobleman, faces a bleak history. His purpose in life is to be a page, and then knight, for his King - but how can a crippled boy be a page? Through the kindness of strangers-turned-family, Robin learns there are many ways to serve. As Brother Luke says, there is always a door in the wall. While a good story, I uncertain why it merits a Newbery Medal. The story, while meticulous in historic detail, is good but not great. Perhaps because it is subtle. Robin only slightly struggles, then quickly adapts to a life of trying and working with an ease that seems unrealistic. He rarely suffers set backs or hardships, which robs his "trying" of its triumph. Despite this, I would recommend this book to anyone with kids, particularly boys or those interested in historical stories.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: Newbery Medal, 1950, Lewis Carol Shelf Award, 1961

ISBN: 0-590-40968-9
Year Published: 1949
Date Finished: 3-30-2016
Pages: 121