Monday, December 28, 2015

My Review of "Law of the Jungle"

Paul Barrett's Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle  over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who'd Stop at Nothing to Win explores the long-running class action lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador in a narrative that reads like a John Grisham novel.

Law of the Jungle is the real-life story of plaintiffs' lawyer Stephen Donziger and what the book's cover describes as his "obsessive crusade -- waged at any cost" against Chevron allegedly on behalf of the inhabitants of Ecuador's Amazon rain forest.  It's also the story of how Chevron turned the tables on Donziger's corrupt scheme, filing a civil racketeering lawsuit that accused the plaintiffs' lawyer of trying to extort money from the company through massive fraud.

An, of course, Chevron won that racketeering case, when U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Donziger had obtained a $19 billion judgment against the oil company in Ecuador by promising the ruling Ecuadorian judge a $500,000 bribe. 

This is the book for legal buffs and folks who enjoy a good rollicking time through legal maneuvering.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Review of "Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook"

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook is an amazing resource that has recipes for newcomers as well as seasoned chefs. While the emphasis is, indeed, on bread baking, The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook is a wonderful collection of recipes that accomplish exactly what the subtitle claims:  "Artisanal Baking from around the World".  The Hot Bread Kitchen, of course, employs and empowers women immigrants from around the world -- so one would expect that their cookbook would be such a wonderful resource.

It begins with a short, but surprisingly thorough, section on bread baking, which unlocks the mysteries of artisanal bakery breads. Then you're off on a trip around the world and its varied cultural breads through recipes such as m'smen, soft lavash, nan-e-barbari, tortillas, onion bialys, and stollen. When you're exhausted from that world-journey, classic bread recipes such as challah, rye, Parker House rolls, and monkey bread just waiting for a relaxing day at home with some bread to snack on.

But let me be honest here:  "Filled Doughs from Around the World" is the section that makes this book worth the purchase.

This is a cookbook that belongs on the shelf of every bread lover -- and would make the perfect Christmas gift.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

My Review of "Cheap Chic"

Cheap Chic is a classic 70s fashion bible.  Other fashion lovers online sing its praises on the amazing tips and tricks they learn from this book on creating your own style.  Most of the women in my life are deep believers in developing their own fashion, so Cheap Chic is a great gift idea.  There are some great tips and advice on creating personal style and not being a trend follower but setter.

Cheap Chic offers wonderful tips on where to shop, where to look and how to be frugal and pick timeless pieces.  It's a must for any lady that loves the world of fashion.

 I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Review of "The Witch of Lime Street"

David Jaher's The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World explores the little-discussed rivalry between master illusionist Harry Houdini and a much-publicized Boston spirit medium named Margery Crandon.

This book is a fascinating story that rapt me as a page-turning thriller.  I can't recommend it too highly!

Houdini was considered the greatest escape artist of the early 20th century, but by the 1920s, he turned his energies to unmasking spiritist frauds who claimed to have contact with the dead.  Set against a backdrop of Jazz Age excess and anxiety, Jaher, in his first book, tells the story of Houdini's epic confrontation with a spiritist whose popularity rivaled his own. 

World War I and the Spanish influenza laid waste to a generation of young men in Europe and left the world "teetering on the brink of a new dark age."  

Observers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who eventually became an ardent advocate of spiritualism (and friendly nemesis to Houdini), believed that the loss of so many loved ones would turn bereaved families seeking comfort "toward spirit communion."  While seances became all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic and Conan Doyle lectured on the "New Revelation," reputable scientists began to explore the paranormal to determine the true nature of psychic phenomena.  One particular group associated with Scientific American magazine put together a contest that would award $5,000 to anyone able to successfully prove his or her abilities.  Among the judges was Houdini, whose career as a magician made him a formidable spiritist debunker.

 All but one medium tested by this group -- the genteel Crandon -- were conclusively demonstrated to be frauds.  Through a combination of feminine seduction and illusionist skill that even Houdini admired, Crandon became the one psychic to almost win the respect of the scientific community and outshine Houdini as an entertainer.  Jaher's narrative style is as engaging as his character portraits are colorful.  Together, they bring a bygone age and its defining spiritual obsessions roaring to life.

Don't let 2015 pass without reading this book!

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Review of "Accidental Saints"

Nadia Bolz-Weber's Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People makes me want to be a Lutheran.

"This is why we have Christian community.  So that we can stand together under the cross and point to the gospel.  A gospel that Bonhoeffer said is 'frankly hard for the pious to understand'."

And by that, I mean a  grace-alone, non-pietistic, beer drinking, Luther-tongued, damn the religious authorities, desperate for Word and sacraments kind of Lutheran, as down and dirty in my faith as the streets of 16th century Wittenberg.

Accidental Saints knows a good deal about each of those, but what struck me about the book was Nadia's bold language about grace -- raw, honest grace, and grace in the rawest of places.  Which means in my heart and yours, as well as in the lives of those who, to some, may look like spiritual misfits and losers.  She also curses, which bothers not a few people.  But as a kid who grew up in the South, that doesn't bother me -- at all.

Her style may not be mine -- I hardly curse at all.  And I despise tattoos.  I'm not thrilled with progressivism, either.  But Nadia makes me think there's more to each of those than I might so quickly dismiss.

Which is another way of saying:  Nadia's central theme -- that we can find God in all the wrong people -- rings true here.  This is a book that did more than convince me, though.  It moved me.  In all the way that Gospel stories are supposed to move us.

All of that to say:  This is the 2015 book about Christian living you can't miss.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Things I've Said to My Children

Nathan Ripperger's Things I've Said to My Children is an adorable book and totally met my expectations.  I could relate to a lot of the pages after watching my nieces and nephews running around doing crazy things all day that cause me to say some outrageous things.  The best part of this book is that it's a great gift for parents everywhere as it will definitely cause a few smiles and stir up endless lost memories.

There's not too much I can say about it except I liked it and it's a keeper for me.  It's cute, it's simple.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Review of "Bull*Shit"

Mark Peters' Bull*Shit:  A Lexicon is full of all kinds of BS.  Literally.

In this literary load of doo-doo, Peters not only cataloges over two hundred words for balderdash, bloviation, and the purveyors of hot air, but he also gives us etymological background for each as well as historical examples of the words and phrases being used. 

And the examples, like the words themselves, come from all over.  BS is everywhere, and the names given to it come from everywhere, too.  In Bull*Shit: A Lexicon, you'll find names for hooey from the United States (Bull Durham), Great Britain (Bovril), and Australia (Flemington confetti); from land (stump water), sea (gurry), and air (bird turd); and from our long-gone past (jargon has been around since the 1300s) to centuries into our science-fiction future (felgercarb from Battlestar Galactica, crapspackle from Futurama).

Part trivia, part history, but fully humor, Bull*Shit is a book that gives you the perfect word for that less-than-perfect moment.  So this book is not to be missed.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

My Review of "Safe House"

Joshua Straub's Safe House:  How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids who Live, Love, and Lead Well shares perspectives on the ways to develop emotional safety at home.  He starts with the parent, encouraging you to examine your story, the people and events that influence your parenting and where you might already be on the spectrum of grace and truth/exploring and protecting.

The goal is not to create more stress for parents, but to encourage them to develop a beautiful life story with their children.

And in that, he succeeds.

Straub covers some specific parenting topics such as how to keep communication open with your kids even while disciplining them, how to nurture your child’s brain, how to build a support community so you aren't going it alone, and how to tend to your marriage and work together as a team.  He spent a large part of the book working through what he calls the "four walls of a safe house" -- grace, truth, explore, protect -- with charts and graphs and psychological analysis to determine why you are the way you are and whether you're out of balance.

That makes Safe House essential reading for parents of children of any age.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Review of "The Heaven Promise"

Scot McKnight's The Heaven Promise:  Engaging the Bible's Truth about Life to Come is one of those must-read books of 2015.  This is a marvelous account from one of the most significant voices in New Testament studies about the nature of the Christian hope and the language about "heaven" that is biblically grounded and spiritually formative.

McKnight has so much in The Heaven Promise that is significant to our own culture and for Christians thinking biblically about the message of that hope -- that promise -- in speaking of heaven.  The Heaven Promises brings together some of the most robust biblical scholarship with a pastoral-theological heart.  Which makes this book one that Christians will find not only to be a challenge, but also one that will become a significant resource for the Church in articulating that that promise.

I want to focus, though, on Chapter 16, "What about Near Death Experiences?".  After constructing a vivid and accessible portrait of what the New Testament has to say and what that's essential, McKnight turns his attention to several significant questions asked by the culture.  And with the popularity of books (and movies!) like 90 Minutes in Heaven or Heaven is Real, it's little wonder this question would be the first McKnight addresses.

McKnight rightly begins by pointing out that core issue here is how Christians "know" -- do we base our faith on experience or on Scripture?  There's no doubt these cultural narratives are compelling, but are they true?

And The Heaven Promise concludes that these stories are not only not true (they're self-contrdictory on the surface); they're also spiritually dangerous.  Any Christian talk about these "near death experiences" should begin by looking to Scripture (McKnight points directly to Revelation 20-22), instead of simply to the story told about the experience.

The Heaven Promise really is not a book you should miss this year.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Review of "The Chili Cookbook"

Robb Walsh's The Chili Cookbook is the cookbook this autumn for every chili lover.

This cookbook brings together amazing pictures -- it works just as well as a coffee table book for entertaining guests.  But more importantly The Chili Cookbook provides not only a variety of different chilies from various regions and cultures of the world, but also their applications in other dishes, and some things that go well with chili (cornbread for instance -- there's a recipe here that is absolutely mouth-watering).

The Chili Cookbook begins each chapter/section with interesting tidbits and history of chili.  Each recipe also includes some general information on the origin/idea behind the chili, and some also have alternate ideas giving more bang for your buck.

In short, this is a multi-use cookbook that also gives you a tour of the world, and history, through chili.

I definitely recommend it as an addition to every chef's library.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Review of "So, Anyway ..."

John Cleese's So Anyway ... is meant to be a memoir of Cleese's life.  But there's only one problem.  The 375 pages barely make it past Cleese's time as a student at Cambridge.  There's no Monty Python.  No Fish Called Wanda.  None of his later comic genius.  No, So Anyway ... is a brief look at Cleese's life, served up short.  While that might not be a problem for most entertainers' memoirs -- it's not unheard of to have several installments for a full story -- we have no hint of that here.  Instead, So Anyway ... claims to be something it isn't.  It claims to be the story of Cleese's life, when in reality it's the story of part of Cleese's life.

I was particularly saddened to find that Fawlty Towers -- perhaps the second-greatest Britcom ever produced -- fails to make an appearance.  Though we do find hints of that time in pictures. 

But nothing about his four wives.  Nothing about Fawlty Towers.  Nothing about Monty Python.

Only his mother, Muriel Cleese, makes an appearance -- and then she reads more like Kathy Bates' character from Misery than a genuine maternal figure in someone's life.

What's more, while Cleese is one of the 20th century's comedic geniuses, there's almost no humor here.  Cleese himself comes across as an ornery old man who never made it in showbusiness, rather than one of the great minds behind Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Life of Brian.

This book, sadly, left me wanting so much more.  I hardly doubt I'll bother keeping it to read again.  It was too great a disappointment the first time around.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Review of "Through a Man's Eyes"

Shaunti Feldhahn's Through a Man's Eyes:  Helping Women Understand the Visual Nature of Men builds on her earlier work in For Women Only:  What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men.  It highlights the ways in which women might understand the simple (but complicated) truth that men and women are different -- particularly, in this case, in how they understand and process visual stimuli.  Along with her coauthor, Craig Gross, they illuminate a significant difference between men and women:  The visual nature of many men.

While the idea of that visual nature in men is contestable in certain circles, Through a Man's Eyes is a book not designed to give women ammunition against the men in their lives.  Instead, it is designed so women can understand and help equip themselves (and their men) for the sometimes overwhelming battle of living in a visually saturated age.

The most glaring weakness of the book is its failure to focus on the scientific research that exists in support of their central thesis.  While the authors cite "studies", there's no engagement (or even significant reference) to what those studies actually say.  The book as a whole has only a scant 28 footnotes.  More attention should have been paid to those facts; they would go a long way in helping women "understand" what that visual nature of men is and why it is.

That's not to undermine the gentle way in which Through a Man's Eyes is written with genuine compassion and understanding.  Men won't find an excuse for their sinful behavior here.  Nor will women find themselves scapegoated.  Their approach and suggestions for women are not only reasonable, but actually responsible and real.

Because they keep women coming back to a central question:  "Am I focusing on what God would have me do?"

It's easy to take a quick way out by providing a list of rules -- simple "dos" and "donts".  Through a Man's Eyes refuses to take that way, and instead engages in genuine spiritual discernment.  And just the FAQ at the end of the book is worth the price of the book.

This is a great book that Christian women will find a resource again and again.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Review of "Out on the Wire"

Jessica Abel's Out on the Wire is an amazing graphic novel that explore the nature of radio -- particularly of the storytelling art of the "New Masters of Radio".  Focusing on such radio shows as "This American Life" (one of my personal favorites), "Radiolab", and "Snap Judgment", Abel goes behind the mike and offers reflections on how these "new masters" employ an old medium to accomplish new feats of storytelling.

Out on the Wire is a terrific read for guys like me -- amateur storytellers who would love to explore the craft through our own podcasts.

Abel, well-known for her comic textbooks and graphic novels, brings an edge to this old medium and how we understand it.  She brings together metaphorical storylines with real-life events, and offers us some lessons on important topics:  Character and Voice, Storyline and Editing among them. 

This is nothing short of a genuine homage to radio, and in another old medium like comic, there's an air of lovingkindness that brngs the best to both media.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Review of "The Theft of Memory"

Jonathan Kozol's The Theft of Memory:  Losing My Father One Day at a Time is a poignant story of loss, told from the perspective of a son.  It highlights the descent into murkiness that is Alzheimer's, described by a man who watches his father slowly slip away from him.  But it also describes those tiny moments of joy -- the smallest gifts that an Alzheimer's patient can give to a loved one -- that demonstrate they're not completely gone, all-at-once.

Kozol's father, Harry, a respected neurologist and psychiatrist, knew sooner than anyone else what was happening to his brain, and the implications.  And he told no one else, except his son.

As the old man grew increasingly unpredictable and disoriented, and it became clear his elderly wife was incapable of caring for him, the decision was made to place him in a facility.  He emerged often enough from his misty passivity to ask to go home that his son concluded -- years later, after the couple's retirement funds were depleted -- that he must acquiesce, and hired helpers so it could happen.

With his father's permission, Jonathan Kozol spent hours pouring over his father's old files -- taking notes about details from his father's famous patients.  Pieces of his father's history began to slide into place; some took on new meaning.

This literary approach, though interesting, isn't seamlessly constructed.  The first half of The Theft of Memory deals primarily with the pain, struggles and accommodations made in the months and years after Alzheimer's exacted its pernicious toll.  And in the latter half, we only have hints about the nature of Harry's life and work.  The lack of specifics leaves me with this sense that Harry is "Everyman".

But he isn't.  He was one man.  A unique man, whose unique relationship to his son isn't as clearly reflected in the warmth and connection that one expects out of memoirs of this sort.

There are moments, mind you, when the reader is left with poetic descriptions of what that relationship was -- moments like this:  "in his long and brave and dignified resistance to the darkness that progressively encircled him, there was, for me, no diminution -- not in the essence of the person he had been, not in the admiration that I felt for him.  This is why it was so hard to let him go".

But those are few and far between for a book like The Theft of Memory.

I enjoyed this little book.  But I hardly think I'll come to again.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Review of "Crash the Chatterbox"

Steven Furtick's Crash the Chatterbox:  Hearing God's Voice above All Others helps Christians navigate all the different voices that come at us on a daily basis to determine which ones are truth (God's voice), and which ones are based on lies and half truths that bring only discouragement and disappointment.  The "chatterbox" covers all those "lies we believe that keep us from accurately and actively hearing God's voice" (page 8).

Crash the Chatterbox covers four particular areas:  "God Says I Am", "God Says He Will", "God Says He Has", and "God Says I Can".  Every day, we Christians need to decide what dialogue we are going to listen to, ruminate on, and respond to in each of these areas.  The dialogue we choose to invest ourselves in will shape how we experience life and our relationship with God.  I was challenged immediately from the very beginning of the book -- when Furtick asked a few reflection questions concerning the voices we listen to and the impact it has not only on ourselves, but the very plans God has for us.

Furtick has given us a challenging and accessible reminder of Whose and who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.  Crash the Chatterbox is a reminder of just how many voices are willing to tell us both of those -- and of how the truth is only to be found in listening to God.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Review of "Encountering Truth"

Pope Francis' Encountering Truth:  Meeting God in the Everyday -- the Morning Homilies from St. Martha's Chapel is an amazing collection of the Holy Father's morning homilies.

Early every morning, Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in the small Saint Martha chapel at the Vatican.  The audience is made up of gardeners, nuns, cooks, office workers, and always changes.  What doesn't change is that the pope gives his homilies without notes just as he did when he was a parish priest.  This book features highlights from almost 200 daily homilies covering a year from March 2013 to May 2014.

I was especially drawn into Antonio Spadaro's introduction which has an in-depth look at how Pope Francis prepares, including what the pope thinks is important in contemplating and conveying the Word of God to the faithful.  Spadaro also gives a survey of the way Francis circles round various topics, engaging them from different angles as the liturgical readings progress day to day.  That was a new idea for me, that to get a full sense of his teachings one must patiently look at them from day to day.

These homilies make excellent devotional readings.  Each of those readings contain surprising inspirational points, and make me look afresh at the biblical text and at spiritual wisdom.  Each homily is brief -- usually only just a couple of pages -- but there's enough in this book to engage readers for a long time to come.

Encountering Truth is a book I definitely recommend.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Review of "Stand Strong"

Nick Vujicic's Stand Strong:  You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff That Keeps You Down) offers advice and wisdom about the bullying epidemic affecting 1 in 6 American children.  He's more familiar than most with the nightmares, stomach aches and sense of hopelessness bullies cause when a child is "different".  Since Nick is the post-child for difference, there's no better spokesperson to write a book like Stand Strong.

Born without arms and legs "for reasons never determined", Nick hop-walks with one small fin-like flipper. However, when he was a child confined to a wheelchair, he felt intimidated, insecure and depressed because he was a "bully magnet and a "bully's dream".

Born into a supporting, Christian family, Vijicic never fell for self-pity.  Instead, even at a young age, he learned responsibility.  In spite of disabilities his parents gave him assigned chores and encouraged him "to do it for himself" if possible. "They didn't cut me any slack because I lacked limbs", he writes.  Instead he was taught to clean his room, brush his teeth, dress himself and even vacuum his room.

However, once he left the shelter of his loving and supportive family for the "hallways and playgrounds of elementary school", he felt he had "a target on his chest that said, 'Bullies, aim here'".  Even though he tried to fit in the hurtful taunts, jokes and ridicule made him question God and why He created him with "so many imperfections".  By age ten, Nick saw no future for himself and attempted suicide in a bathtub full of water.  He flipped over, face down in the water, until visions of the pain he would cause his family rolled him over, spitting and sputtering.  "That's when he knew suicide wasn't an option", he writes.

Today, Nick is married to a beautiful woman and father to a strong and healthy son and he's no longer a "bully's dream".  Instead he's learned "to handle bullies by controlling how he responds to them", one he adopted as his "personal mission" in life.

So Nick kicked off his anti-bullying campaign in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2013, with a message of hope about attitude, "if you don't get a miracle, you can still be a miracle".  That sense of hope is contained in the pages of Stand Strong that teaches how to build a "bully defense system" from the inside out.

That's what makes Stand Strong essential reading.  If you feel like a bully's target, lonely, defenseless and without hope, learn from one who's been there.  Who developed "anti-bully antibodies" with an encouraging, doable, "bully defense system" he teaches to others and writes about in this book.  Because, "No bully can define who you are" if you do that for yourself.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

My Review of "Broken Gods"

Gregory Popcak's Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart attempts to recover a classic theological anthropology that's epitomized in the maxim from St Athanasius:  "The Son of God became human so that we might become God".  From St Athanasius and St Irenaeus, through to St Thomas Aquinas, and even Protestant leaders and writers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and C.S. Lewis, this theological anthropology affirms that we humans are meant to live now and eternally in communion with the Holy Trinity -- "to become gods".

Of course that theological anthropology -- and the theology of salvation which flows out of it -- seems foreign to our twenty-first century ears.  Talk about "deification" or "divinization" seems so out of place after the influence of contemporary "secular" anthropologies.

So Popcak's goal -- as a theologian and a trained psychologist -- is that deification can be seen through the lens of both psychological health and integrated faith, and that deification can name so much of what it means for Christians to think about "being human".

Popcak explores what deification is, how and why we fall short of it, and how the virtues associated with that deification can heal us.

And it's that emphasis on virtues that has me most excited about Broken Gods.  For each of the seven deadly sins, Popcak proposes a "divine longing" that the vice tries but can't satisfy; for instance, pride is a misguided attempt to satisfy the divine longing for abundance, and humility is the way to approach it.  The diving longing for justice is fulfilled through patience, not wrath.  The divine longing for trust is fulfilled through generosity, not greed.  And so forth.  Of course, this isn't a new approach.  Historically, this is the spiritual theology articulated by Aquinas.

So Popcak really seeks to bring Aquinas into conversation with our world.  That's why each chapter closes with an exercise -- offering questions that bring this theological anthropology into conversation with neuroscience.

Broken Gods is such a distinctive read with an impressive and important message.  I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to think and practice the depth of the Christian spiritual tradition.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Review of "The Little Paris Bookshop"

Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel tells us of Jean Perdu, who runs a bookshop out of a converted barge on the Seine River in Paris.  He calls it La Pharmacie Litéraire -- the literary apothecary -- because he has an unusual gift for being able to see into his customers' souls about what they most need.  According to Jean Perdu, there is a book for every ailment of the soul. "The bookseller could not imagine what might be more practical than a book" (page 1).

"Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books.  ... They look after people" (page 19).  However, for the past twenty-one years there's only one person that Jean Perdu has been unable to successfully prescribe a book for -- himself.  That's because twenty-one years ago, the woman that he loved abruptly left him; no goodbyes, no forewarning, just a letter that Jean Perdu has not been able to bring himself to open.  And it's the sudden arrival of a mysterious new neighbor in his apartment building may be just the thing Jean Perdu has been waiting for.  And so, one not so special day, Jean Perdu unmoors his literary apothecary and sets off for Provence in search of answers, closure and the ability to heal his own soul.

This is a beautifully told story that blends together books and travel, in a way that highlights how our own selves are made up of the things we read and the places we go.

Readers will find here some vivid depictions of the French countryside, a wonderfully eclectic parade of characters, and anything but a cheesy story.

While I was reading, I tried to keep track of the fabulous quotes, but it just became too much.  You simply have to read it for yourself.  This is a book for anyone who loves beautiful books and beautiful places.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Review of "Rooted in Design"

Tara Heibel & Tassy de Give's Rooted in Design:  Sprout Home's Guide to Creative Indoor Planting is a real treat to those who want to bring life to interior design.  They explain that the key to successful indoor gardens is marrying the right plants to the right location and conditions -- all in a container that complements the style of the home. 

A chandelier "collection of smaller plants ... hung together to make an overhead garden" or a self-watering container made of a two-liter soda bottle placed inside another container are two ideas that enable plant enthusiasts to create an indoor green environment with conscious flair.  Even the authors' nod to macrame elevates the "utilitarian, yet stylish craft" to new levels when it's paired with the glossy, frilly shoots of a Hindu rope plant. 

While the authors concentrate more on design than the practicalities of indoor gardening, they do address many common issues, such as watering and lighting.  The last few pages are a plant directory that answers questions of what plants work best in low light and with varying levels of water and soil.  That selection alone makes this book a must-have for those thinking about home decorating in early spring and summer.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Review of "Cookie Love"

There are so many cookbooks out there.  So why another cookbook?

Mindy Segal's Cookie Love is a book written by a professional for everyday cooks.  Segal is Chicago's most iconic pastry chef, and Cookie Love is her first book.  It's a perfectly lovely book -- with all sorts of mouth-watering pictures -- but it's also a useful book for every kitchen, in bringing what is perhaps the greatest dessert food to every table:  Cookies.

The book is divided into chapters based on different cookie types (bar cookies, shortbread, etc) -- kind of a choose your own cookie-plate adventure.  The range and variety of cookies is truly impressive, and it's what stood out when I first flipped through the book.  The recipes are universally appealing -- they are cookies after all.  These are the kind of recipes that get me hyped up to get in the kitchen and bake.  And while it would be so easy to pick a few recipes and run off cooking, I don't actually know where to begin ... or where to stop.

That's because the recipes are the greatest part of the book.  They give you insight into how to prepare from the first steps until the final product.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My Review of "Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Teen"

Disruptive misbehavior, constant power struggles, manipulative or aggressive behavior -- the challenges facing parents and teachers of strong-willed teens can seem overwhelming at times.  So Robert McKenzie has given us another treasure -- continuing in the tradition of his Setting Limits for Your Strong-Willed Child -- in the new Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Teen.  This book offers the best advice for adults who care for teens, maneuvering between the twin tragedies of permissiveness and punishment.  Moving beyond the traditional methods to practices that focus the caring energies in meaningful and productive ways.

Mackenzie gives readers plenty of actual scenarios, of typical infractions, and how to handle them.  Which makes Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Teen absolutely essential reading.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Review of "Bringing Heaven to Earth"

Having grown up in the church, I heard, sang and even prayed a lot about "going to heaven."  The idea was that I wasn't a citizen of the world, but was a pilgrim destined for more because of my faith in Jesus.  We talked about heaven, we prayed about heaven, and we sang about heaven.  So when I finally decided that I wasn't sure I wanted to remain a Christian because of all that "other-world" language, the idea of heaven and hell became the primary reason I would cite why I wasn't sure I wanted to remain a Christian.

After having read Josh Ross' and Jonathan Storment's Bringing Heaven to Earth:  You Don't Have to Wait for Eternity to Life the Good News, I know I'm not alone.

Bringing Heaven to Earth is a masterful book that explores what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the world God created, and how Jesus restores a vision of heaven and earth reunited.

Make no doubt about it, though, it's a challenging book, because it addresses so many myths we Christians typically believe, only because we've been taught them in our culture.  When we turn to Scripture, we find those myths obliterated by the truth of Jesus himself.

So this is a book I simply can't recommend too often. 

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.
Jonathan Storment

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Review of "Near Enemy"

Adam Sternbergh's Near Enemy: A Spademan Novel is an interesting book.  Set in a future New York City that has been ravaged by a terrorist attack, it's primary character is a former garbage-man turned hit-man, Spademan.  While Near Enemy is the second in a series (the first was Shovel Ready), this is the first Sternbergh novel I've read.

But it's a page-turner.

Most residents fled after the attacks and the ones who stayed escape through the limnosphere (called "the limn"), a virtual reality where people can live out their fantasies.  Everyone is safe in the limn, or so they thought.  Terrorists have discovered a way to kill people in the limn, a feat believed to be impossible.  Now it's up to Spademan to save the city and protect his make-shift family.

And what a character Spademan turns out to be.  He's talented with a box-cutter and his biting, sarcastic wit left me smiling page after page.  But he's not alone, either.  Nearly every character is so well written that Near Enemy is a real literary treat.  Particularly Persephone and Mark.

The plot, though, was the most intriguing.  Like most other dystopian stories, Near Enemy tells about a distant place in the future, but it could just as easily name our own world's fears of terrorism.  That also adds to this book's page-turner quality:  Because it trades on the anxieties we know all too well.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Review of "This Is My Body"

Ragan Sutterfield's This is My Body:  From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith is a memoir of his own experience in moving toward a Christian faith in which our bodies matter.  Having wrestled with being overweight since his childhood, Sutterfield eventually finds himself in adulthood, with a failing marriage and at his heaviest weight.  He is faced with the incongruity that he is an environmentalist and farmer, doing grueling work to care for the land and creation, and yet taking poor care of his own body.  After the collapse of his first marriage, Sutterfield surrenders himself to the disciplines needed to care better for his body, specifically controlling his diet and becoming serious about exercise.  From this conversion point onward, Sutterfield begins to learn and experience an incarnational faith in which our bodies cannot be taken for granted.

In what is the most moving passage of the book, Sutterfield recounts:
What if God himself became flesh and remains enfleshed?  What if God not only has a heart that longs for our love but also a heart that pounds with blood?  What if God has skin that drips with sweat?  What if the God who offered his body as a sign of love also wants us to experience our bodies as a gift of his love?  Christians must worship a God who is all of these things because we worship a God who was made manifest to us in the human, embodied life of Jesus.  The denial of the body, of the flesh, is not a denial of the dangerous locus of sin, as so many of us have been taught.  It is a denial of the Word made flesh.  Those of us who follow Jesus Christ -- God in human skin and muscle and mind -- cannot deny the goodness of the body.  To do so is to reject the reality in which Christ now lives as the risen and ascended Lord. 
This Is My Body is an amazing book about the implications of the Christian incarnational faith for our daily lives.  Though it alternates between Sutterfield's larger conversion story with ones that focus on the particular story of preparing for the Ironman race, the book as a whole is a theological reminder that there's joy in living thoughtfully and faithfully by caring for our bodies as disciples of Jesus.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Review of "Our One Great Act of Fidelity"

The heart of the Christian faith is that God has come to us, with us, as one of us.  The Good New is nothing but this:  God-with-us.  And Our One Great Act of Fidelity:  Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist is a reminder of that simple truth.  The Christian Gospel is the story of God taking flesh.  In Scripture, "the body of Christ" takes on three meanings:  The historical body of Jesus, the Church and the bread of the Eucharist.  "From these we create church", Rohlheiser reminds us.

"Christianity is without doubt the earthiest of all religions" (page 25).  The Eucharist is a family meal that brings together the faith in all its messiness.  "There is no adequate explanation of the Eucharist for the same reason that, in the end, there is no adequate explanation for love, for embrace, and for the reception of life and spirit through touch" (page 29).  The touch heals.  Touch communicates.  And in the Eucharist, Jesus touches us in a great act of fidelity.

Rohlheiser rightly highlights all the ways we're estranged in our culture.  And he produces a biblical argument that the Eucharist is the meal that brings wholeness and healing.  It is the medicine of our souls and bodies.

Because the Eucharist is the gift of God's faithfulness to all creation in Jesus Christ.

The book ends with three fresh translation of Augustine's sermons on the Eucharist.  Those translations alone are worth the book.

Our One Great Act of Fidelity is an amazing book.  Don't miss it.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Review of "Flipped"

Don't miss Doug Pagitt's Flipped:  The Provocative Truth that Changes Everything We Know about God.  This book has fresh Bible interpretations and anecdotal stories to keep you turning pages while Pagitt presents what's come to be known as "Progressive Christianity".  He even throws in a little Einstein as he explains what it means to be the light of the world.

Flipped is about turning everything we know about God over and seeing it fresh.  This book will challenge you, know matter who you are.  The book itself is really nothing more than a theological imagination of what it's like to "live, move, and exist" in God.  

Pagitt wants to free us from what he calls an "If/Then service", or a "Transaction System", in which we bargain with God.  If we do this, then God will do thatIf we believe this, God will provide that.  If we can discard the idea of conditional existence in God, then we become free to just be.  To live in the moment, to become part of the whole, to see every human being as existing "in God".  Removing this idolatrous image of God from Christian vocabulary is an important thing for the Bible, and it's a message that Pagitt recovers with lots of imagination here.

I really enjoyed this book.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Review of "A Fifty-Year Silence"

Miranda Mouillot's Fifty-Year Silence:  Love, War, and a Ruined House in France is the story of the displacement and exile that drives her investigation into her Jewish grandparents' experiences during World War II.  This is one of those novels that highlights the on-going tragedy that families experience after the Holocaust -- children and grandchildren who search for who they are in light of an unspeakable suffering in the last century.

At the heart of the book is the crumbling home her maternal grandparents purchased in the South of France in 1948.  A few years later the couple broke up, the reasons for which prove more nebulous than mysterious.  They did not speak for 50 years, and Mouillot sets out to investigate why and how the marriage dissolved.

After a life-time of searching for the core of the story through its oral transmission in the family Mouillot eventually moved into the house.  By the end the novel, she -- and we through her -- are left with no tidy conclusions but with some sense of continuity.  It's that story that recounts the continuity that kept me turning page after page.

This is a real literary treat, and I can't recommend it highly enough!

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Review of "The Gospel of Joy"

Pope Francis' Gospel of Joy was a book was I excited to read.  I've looked forward to this book for a long time.  Given the Pope's recent popularity, and his global vision of a classic Christianity, this book gives us a first-hand view into what and how the Pope thinks.

The Joy of the Gospel is the English translation of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.  Francis' main thrust throughout this exhortation is to call Christians to the "joy of the Gospel"; this he does superbly while drawing in a number of topics to his primary discussion.  For Francis, the true joy of the Gospel centers on the proclamation of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and coming return (p. 5).  Francis calls the faithful to a "renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ" which transcends personal concerns and leads to a life of transformation.  This transformative joy should invigorate faith, center our life of Christ and his Church, and lead us to gladly evangelize and engage our world.

It's the Pope's vision of evangelization that I find so compelling.  It has nothing to do with proselytizing.  Instead, he emphasizes relationship and the transformation of existing institutions and systems.  In order to address the challenges of the present age and transform cultures, Francis is not afraid to change the tactics of the Church.

His criticism of rampant consumerism, greed and waste are an important part of what that transformation must look like in our culture.  And one I find absolutely compelling.

This is a book that anyone who cares about Christianity needs to read.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

My Review of "Your Family in Pictures"

The author of Your Family in Pictures, Me Ra Koh, has made it her career empowering parents (though the book appears to be geared more toward moms) to learn photography.  There's no tradition more priceless in our families capturing the moments of our lives.  Using a phone is one thing, but holding an actual camera is encouraging not to mention fun.

From chapters on how to get started, to capturing photos during the Holidays, Your Life in Pictures is wonderful, user friendly, and authentic. Even if you're quite familiar with all things photography, this book gives recommendations for equipment and camera settings to capture the best picture possible.  I also love how the book is family friendly making this a great gift for any mom in your life. 

There's plenty of inspiration here for parents who are just getting started taking those pictures.  So grab your camera and grab this book and let the creative juices start flowing.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.