Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fall to Grace, by Jay Bakker with Martin Edlund

Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & SocietyThe son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jay knows all about the harshness that Christians can exhibit toward fellow believers.  Whether is is different denominations fighting each other, or a church ousting a member they believe to be too sinful, Christian organizations have forgotten the main theme of Jesus' teaching: love.  But through the freedom offered by grace, we can love each other, and accept that Jesus loves all people, without any stipulations.

I rarely read the introductions to books, typically I want to get to the "meat and potatoes" of the text.  However, something drew me to read the introduction to Jay Bakker's book, and I thought instantly I was about to fall in love.  I read an excerpt of the introduction to my husband, and remarked how I liked the book already, and hoped it would not disappoint me in the long run.  I am pleased to say, this book does not disappoint at all.

For a long time, I have felt that Christianity has actually become Churchianity, nothing more than groups fighting among themselves about who better knows that Jesus would say about all kinds of topics, both theological and social.  But I think this book really gets back to the heart of Christianity, and what Jesus' mission was all about.  It also reminds us that we need to put scripture into proper historical context instead of just using it to further our own selfish agendas.

I love this book because Jay is so frank and honest.  He admits he had a bad drinking problem, he swears periodically in the text, he talks about going to a drag show, only to have the drag queens talk about Jesus on stage.  This is the kind of Christianity I long for.  I know for some it may seem scandalous (as it did when Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors) but to me, it is refreshing.  I love that I do not have to compromise any beliefs or sacrifice professions of love for any people (like the GLBT community) to fit in to this type of Christianity.  And I feel like this book will appeal well to non-believers, who may be put off with how so much of the church treats marginalized social groups.

Grace is such a beautiful topic, one we hear far too little of in our American pulpits.  I was incredibly blessed by this book, and I will recommend it to any and every Christian or non Christian who wants to learn more about how to better love ourselves and each other.

The publisher provides a sample of the text online, which you can access here.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Uncle Sam's Plantation, by Star Parker

Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It, Revised and Updated EditionWhat seems like a compassionate government run welfare system is actually helping keep the poor in poverty.  And poverty means enslavement to the government system that purports to be the solution.  The liberal politicians seem to be helping, when in reality they are hurting, those who live in poverty, particularly among the African American population.  We hear all this from a woman who lived in this systematic slavery for years.

This is my first encounter with Star Parker, and my first attempt at reading a partisan, economic, political book.  I put it off forever, thinking I would hate in, when in fact I really enjoyed reading it.  At first.  My enthusiasm waned a little, not because of Parker's views or my lukewarm agreement with some of them.  Nay, I did not mind at all her ultra conservative views of social issues, despite the fact I disagreed with a few of them.  What made the book just a tiny bit tedious is that it was a bit repetitive.

My husband reads political and economic books a lot, and says that this is common.  Often, the author will have a legitimately good or groundbreaking topic and point of view, but it may not be enough to fill an entire book, so the same points will be stated, and restated, and reworded and restated, multiple times throughout the book.  And that was exactly what I found in this case.  So, I could have done with about 50 less pages of text, which would have staved off some of the repetition.

That being said, I thought that a lot of the points made were quite solid, although unpopular.  Parker is particularly hard on African Americans, and laments the fact that as a black woman, she gets called a "sell out' or "Uncle Tom" for expecting more from her race.  She says that success among blacks should be the norm, instead of the exception to the rule as it is now.  I quite enjoyed the book, and will most likely read more from Parker in the future.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of Booksneeze.

I review for BookSneeze

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins

CrankKristina is a model student and daughter.  The summer before her junior year,she goes to visit her father, and life as she knows it is forever changed.  She meets the monster, crank, crystal meth.  Suddenly her old friendships die, and new, dangerous relationships develop.   She becomes a new person, whom she names Bree, and Kristina as everyone knew her is forever gone.

This book had me mesmerized from page one.  I started this series from the last book, Fallout, and after having read it, I knew I needed to start from the beginning.  I am actually somewhat glad I read them in this order, because after hearing other people's view of Kristina, seeing things from her perspective seems so different.  I could not help but sympathize with her a little, all the while knowing what her choices would end up doing to people further on in her life.

Kristina's character is so intertwined with the persona of Bree, it is hard to fully grasp what Kristina was like before the drugs.  But her swift descent into addiction is really well documented.  The book is written as narrative poetry, with many poems being more than meets the eye.  I really love this style, and in this case it portrays a powerful story very quickly. I started the book last night at 10 pm and by midnight I was 350 pages.  Had it not been for the holiday related exhaustion, I would have finished it.

Addiction is a dark,scary place, even worse when inhabited by children.  I love that the book tackles this topic, particularly from Kristina's point of view.  I can not wait to read the next book in the series, and then re-read Fallout.

This book was one of my Christmas gifts from my fabulous Hubby.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How to Meet a Guy at the Supermarket, by Jessica L. Degarmo

How To Meet A Guy At The SupermarketQuinn has gone through a real dry spell with her love life.  She decides she wants to find a nice guy and settle down, but clearly her current methods are not working, so she formulates a plan; she will meet a man at the supermarket.  For months she makes a weekly trip to shop for a man, and along the way meets some great people.  But will she ever find Mr. Right?

I started reading this book before bed last night.  I did not go to sleep until I had finished the book, it was that wonderful.  As a woman who got married in her thirties, I totally related to this book, there were many many times I felt just like Quinn.  I was really able to relate to her as a character, and as a result I was very invested in the story.

I loved hearing about Quinn's wacky experiences, and the ridiculous men she met.  It reminded me of so many bad dates I went on before I met Hubby.  I laughed out loud at some of the scenes in the book, and felt bad for Quinn more than once.

I typically am not much of a chick lit reader, because the stories seem so vapid, but this story was so realistic, and really had heart.  I loved it, and I can not wait to read more of Degarmo's writing.  This is a great book for romance lovers, and any woman who has suffered through singlehood will appreciate the story.

A  review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Terrorlord: Jason Dark Volume 9, by Guido Henkel

Terrorlord (Jason Dark - Ghost Hunter)Jason Dark and friends are at it again, and this time, those friends are vital to Dark's survival.  As a child, Dark was almost killed when the Terrorlord tried to use him as a force to open the seven gates of hell.  Dark thought his father successfully killed the Terrorlord, but it appears now he is back, and Dark is once again targeted.  What will happen if Dark can't save the day?  Who will win him back from the Terrorlord?

When I was given the opportunity to read and review another Jason Dark book, I let out a squeal.  It is at the point where I know before reading another Dark novella that I am going to love it.  Terrorlord has proved this theory to be completely true.  Once again, Henkel feeds us morsels of Dark's history, making us feel even more connected to the character, and leaving us wanting to know more.

I love the fact that Dark really relies on his friends in this volume, as it gets us to know them even better, and allows us a further glimpse into the motivations of the characters.  While all the Dark books thrill me, this once actually scared me a bit.  I was worried for Dark, which means I care about his character, the mark of brilliant writing.  This tome is quite a bit darker, much like Volume 8, and I have to say, I am enjoying the darker side of Dark's life.

In summary, Henkel never ever disappoints when it comes to the Jason Dark fan.  And as I said before, I am a fan for life.

A review copy of this book was provided by the author.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

National Hate Crime, by JD Bowen

National Hate CrimeJon Archer is back at it.  He is flying to Florida when his plane crashes in the Everglades.  As he struggles to lead a group of survivors to safety, it becomes clear he is not alone in the woods.  His partner's helicopter gets shot down by a group of Neo Nazis, and suddenly a much bigger picture starts to emerge.  Archer is not the only one in danger, and no one knows if the threats can be stopped.

A huge round of applause to JD Bowen, not only for another incredible book, but for tackling what could be considered sensitive subject matter.  The idea of using racism and Neo Nazis as part of a novel plot may make some feel squeamish, but one only need to look at the current newspaper to realize this is a huge problem, and things like the threats in the book are all too real.

Once again, the character of Jon Archer is showcased in the novel, and we continue to learn a little more about him.  I was happy to see the romantic aspect still going strong, and am interested to see where that leads in the next book.  There did seem to be a bit more carnage in this book, and it is described pretty casually, particularly during the plane crash, but I think because we are somewhat seeing this from Archer's perspective, the casual nature is appropriate.  This is not a man to get woozy over a little blood, given the fact he has been shot something like 5 times.  Female readers may find it a bit bloody, but I personally thought it was a vital aspect of the story, and for that reason loved the grit.  Male readers will be drawn in by the realism of the action, and females will be drawn in by the hint of romance.

All in all, another fantastic book by Bowen, and I for one can not wait to read about Archer's next adventure.

A review copy of the book was provided courtesy of the author.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook Presents: A Magical Christmas Menu, by Dinah Bucholz

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook Presents: A Magical Christmas Menu SampleThe Christmas feasts are some of the most impressive at Hogwarts, as any real Harry Potter fan will tell you.  Now, you can recreate some of the magic in your own kitchen.  This book contains a sampling of recipes of actual dishes mentioned in various Potter books from different Hogwarts Christmas feasts.

I thought this book was really cute.  As an American, I am not always sure what foods mentioned in British books will be like, so this cookbook gave me and idea, and let me tell you, the recipes sound delicious.  I love the fact that the recipes are given context; we are told where the appear in the Potter stories, which is awesome.

This book will appeal to Potter fans and cooks alike.  Most of the recipes were new to me, and I am excited to try them.  All sound fairly straight forward, so once I make it through this Christmas, I will begin weaving my culinary spells.

An excellent Christmas gift for a Potter fan, a cook, and a Kindle owner.  If you are all 3, like me, then it is a home run!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stupid Christmas, by Leland Gregory

Stupid ChristmasAre you a bit of a Scrooge this holiday season?  This book will help you fight the festive funk.  Chock full of holiday trivia, stories, and one liners, this book will help you get through Christmas.  Hear about kids calling 911 to try to find Santa, or the mom who pressed charges against her son over his Christmas gift.  This book will make your family holiday get together feel normal.

Once again, Leland Gregory has written a book that had me giggling nonstop.  I love this book full of blustery blunders, mishaps, stupid criminals, and Christmas trivia.  I thought the book was really well organized, even though there were some duplicate stories from the Stupid History book.  This book would make a great Christmas gift for anyone really, but especially for those among us who utter Bah Humbug.

Probably the best parts of the book deal with how Christmas is handled in other countries and cultures.  And of those stories, the one I liked best was about Caga Tio, which I was actually familiar with.  If you are not familiar with it, rather than taking the easy way out and Googling it, why not read about it in this book.

Granted, some of the stories are not in the best of taste, so if you are easily offended, you may want to keep moving.  But if you enjoy colorful humor, I think this book is a good fit for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Radical, by David Platt

RADICALJesus is calling us all to be radical.  We need to throw off the comforts of the American dream, and make huge changes in our lives so that we can go an make disciples throughout the world.  Do you love Jesus enough to be radical?  Are you willing to try the Radical Experiment?

This may be one of the most difficult reviews I have had to write.  How can someone disagree with a New York Times bestselling author?  Particularly if my disagreement will be called nothing more than selfish refusal to give up my earthly comforts?  Well, I am going to try my best to be honest about this book.

Let me start by saying that I do think the book was well written, and engaging.  David Platt is obviously a charismatic and educated man.  And none of the ideas presented in the book are inherently bad or unbiblical ideas.  I just really dislike the fact that the book is set up in such a way that, if you disagree with any of Platt's principles or recommendations, it means you lack faith and trust in God.

I do not think that everyone is called to be radical.  I think God gives us all different gifts and callings, and I do believe that the Bible supports that.  I think that in some ways, this book is incredibly hypocritical.  David Platt pastors a megachurch.  I am sure he will receive lots of additional fame and notoriety for writing this book, yet these are all things the book preaches against.  I am sure the argument will be made that the book was the best way to spread the message, but it was not a totally selfless act.    It seemed to me that the book, and the author, are fraught with contradictions.

I find it sad that people are condemned for not following this particular method.  Many people do have success and still glorify God, and many really are called to serve here in America, but according to Platt, these people are just making excuses for wanting to maintain a cushy lifestyle.  To me, the book seemed awfully judgmental

As I said, I did think the book well written, and it did contain a lot of useful information, which made me think long and hard.  But I for one, will not be doing the radical experiment.  And I do not think that makes me any less faithful or God centered than David Platt.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hostile Takeover, by J D Bowen

Hostile Takeover: A Jon Archer NovelLydia just got out of prison, and she has vowed to get revenge against the man who helped lock her up- Jon Archer.  Jon is the owner and head of a security firm, and life is going pretty well, until one of his corporate clients suffers a crushing blow.  The odd thing is, the attack on the client is somehow linked to Archer.  Will he determine the link in time?  And what does all of this have to do with Lydia anyway?

I read this book in less than a day, because it was just too hard to put down.  The storyline in this book sounded like something straight from the headlines, it was that plausible and realistic.  Maybe that is because I watch way too much Snapped on the Oxygen Network, but nevertheless, the book was riveting, because the plot was fantastic.

The characters in the book are incredibly well developed, and at times I even felt a little sad for Lydia.  But only a little.  Archer is clearly a hero, but I also like that we see a softer side to him as well, both in his adoration for his dog Jimmy, and his relationship with his love interest, Jane.

There is a subplot in the book that really captivated me, involving some stolen gold.  It was completely unrelated to the main plot in terms of the crime and criminals, but it helped establish Archer as a no nonsense always gets the bad guy kind of character, and I loved it.  It made me want to learn more about Archer, which is good, because there are other Archer stories to be read.  And you can bet I will be reading them.

I think all fans of crime drama and thriller books will love Jon Archer.  As a character, he appeals to both men and women, which will serve the series well.  I highly suggest you check it out.

A review copy of the book was provided courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shadow Run, by A.C. Ellis

SHADOW RUN: Book I of The Ancients' WarSusan would give anything to get back into deep space.  It has been ten years since the tragic events on Aldebaran, but she had not piloted a ship since.  Now, she had been commissioned for a top secret mission, but the closer she gets to engaging in the mission, the more confusing and mysterious life seems to become.  How badly does Susan want to go back into space, and what is she willing to do to get there.

I have to admit, I am not much of a fan of science fiction, so, this is not a book I would normally read.  However, I decided to give it a go, and stretch my literary muscles a bit.  I had no idea the workout I was in for.  The storyline of this book, which is the first of a series. was actually quite good, and involved a lot of time travel.  Some of the logic, philosophy, and physics behind the time travel premise put forth in the book did make my mind spin, but the same happened to the main character, so I do not feel so bad.  There were times I did not completely understand what was going on, but I think a second reading would clear up any confusion.

I liked the development of Susan's character; as a reader I was invested in her well being, and anxious to see what would happen in the story.  For a book outside my genre preferences, I think that is a huge accomplishment.  And although the book takes place in the future, it is not a terribly cheesy rendition of the future, which is so common in sci fi.  I think the setting was actually really relatable, and pretty believable for sci fi.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book, and am glad I stepped out of my reading comfort zone.  While I do not think I will be converted to a sci fi junkie, it is nice to find authors in the genre that I like, and will most likely read more of in the future.  As for die hard sci fi fans, you will probably love this book, so be sure to check it out!
I received a copy of this book from the author as a prize from a contest.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Flashes Through Time edited by Diane Nelson

Flashes Through TimeThis is a book of short stories by authors including John Booth, MJ Caraway, Paul Dayton, Maria K, Bill Kipton, and Diane Nelson.  Some chapters are very short, one page stories or poems, while other chapters a stories several pages long.  Subject matter is varried, but you will see several stories involving magic or supernatural elements.

Overall, I found this to be a pretty enjoyable book.  I liked that there were poems interspersed between stories, as it helped break up the flow a little.  There were a couple of instances where there was more than one story involving a character or storyline.  Paul Dayton's stories about being part of a Portuguese family made me laugh, and I think anyone familiar with how highly ethnic families operate will enjoy those stories tremendously.

I also enjoyed John Booth's stories, which often involved magic and wizardry.  Not quite Harry Potter, but the stories were enjoyable, and I could easily see this premise becoming a full length novel.  Potter fans, and fans of other supernatural literature will enjoy the stories.

Overall, I found this to be a nice little book, really entertaining, and great for snuggling under the covers with on a cold snow day.  Trust me on that one.

A review copy of this book was provided by the editor.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares

My Name Is Memory [HC,2010]Daniel is different from most people, not in the fact that he has died and been born several times over the last thousand years, but in the fact that he remembers each life he has lived.  And in each life, he seeks out Sophia, the love of his life, every life.  In this lifetime, Sophia's soul resides in Lucy.  But will Daniel ever make her understand exactly how long he has loved her?

This whole book is based on the premise that reincarnation actually exists, so if the idea of that makes you uncomfortable, you might as well not even think about reading this book.  However, if you are either open to that idea, either as reality or a mere plotline, then you may want to give this book a try.  This is, at its heart, a love story, and one that is really beautifully and skillfully crafted.  Daniel and Sophia are the archetypal star crossed lovers, and a happy ending is never guaranteed for them.

I really enjoyed the book, but it was not one I could sit and read for long stretches of time.  I think the story was just a little too intense for that.  The ending left a lot of loose endings, and I am not sure if this will end up being a series.  I would like to know what happens with Daniel but only time will tell.  In the mean time, I really enjoyed the beauty of this book.

A touring review copy of this book was provided by Crazy Book Tours.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe, by Irene Brand and Anita Higman

Love Finds You Under the MistletoeTwo stories about love coming to fruition at Christmas.  One story, a Christmas past, where Julia Mayfield returns from war to find her sister has passed away, and her dying wish was for her son to meet his paternal grandparents.  Julia takes the child to Mistletoe, Kentucky, where a man named David changes her life forever.  The other story, a Christmas present, where a girl named Holly works at a Christmas shop.  She was abandoned as a baby on the steps of that shop in Noel, Missouri, and the owner adopted her.  Now a man wants to write a book about her story.  Will she be wooed by his words, or will she see what has been in front of her all her life?

I have said it a few times now, I am not much of a romance reader.  But if I keep reading romance books like this, I may have to retract that statement.  This is my first encounter with the Christian romance series "Love Finds You" and I already want to read more!  Brand and Higman did a fantastic job of creating stories with lovable characters, solid story lines, and real romance.  My biggest complaint about romance novels is that often they are just cleverly disguised literary porn.  That is so not the case here, these stories are romantic, but chaste and appropriate for even teen readers.

One of the things I liked the best was there was a very tiny string of a storyline tying the two stories together.  I loved that, it brought connectedness, continuity, to the two stories.  I think these are two really lovely, and well written stories.  While this is clearly a Christian book, it is not too overtly Christian, so it will appeal to a wide audience.  I found the book to be just a couple of nice old fashioned love stories, with characters having traditional values.  No one was shoving faith down anyone's throat.

Because these stories dealt with Christmas, I thought this was a great book to read while preparing my home for the holidays.  The book would make a great Christmas gift for any romance lover!

A review copy of this book was provided by the Christian Review of Books.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Room: A NovelTo 5 year old Jack, all he knows is Room.  It is where he was born, and where he has been every day since.  But what he knows as Room, his whole world, is actually an 11 foot by 11 foot storage shed in the backyard of a man who captured Ma, Jack's mother, 7 years ago.  Knowing they might always be captive, Ma teaches Jack that Room is the only thing that is real, and what they see on TV is pretend.  Shortly after his 5th birthday, Ma decides to start telling Jack the truth, and try to find a way to escape.  Will the ever get out of Room?  And what awaits them Outside?

This book is stunning.  Told from the point of view of young Jack, the first bit is somewhat confusing, until the reader catches on to what Jack's reality is, and the sometimes confusing words and phrases he uses to describe the only world he knows.  But immediately, you love Jack, your heart aches for Jack and Ma, and pray desperately that they escape.

I think the thing I found most heartbreaking, while reading this, was knowing that situations like this actually occur.  As I talked about in my review of Up From the Blue, we rarely hear these stories, and even more rarely do we hear them as told by the children.  While this is a work of fiction, only a few internet searches, or viewings of the news can tell you these things happen.

The story is one of amazing imagination.  Donoghue did a fantastic job in creating the world of Room, and explaining it in a way that is not only convincing as a child's point of view, but one that places the reader right there in Room with Jack and Ma.  I would love to see where Jack is in ten years.

A touring review copy of this book was made available courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Last Block in Harlem, by Christopher Herz

The Last Block in HarlemWhile he may not have been born and raised in Harlem, to him, it was home.  And he did not want it to change.  Or, if it was going to change, it needed to go back to the way it used to be.  This neighborhood belonged to the people, they just needed a reminder to take ownership.  Perhaps that was his purpose in life, to revitalize Harlem, at least his block of Harlem, and give it back to the people.  But at what cost?

I challenge any reader to try to get through this book without feeling like he or she also lives in Harlem.  Really, this book pulls you in that well.  And though we are never told our narrator's name, we know him quite well by the time we leave this story.  This book will inspire you, and break your heart.  It will challenge you to re-evaluate the way you live your life, and how you want to impact the people and places around you.

I like that the book did not resort to being overly gritty or dramatic in its portrayal of this historic neighborhood.  I felt the story was accurate, real.  As if these were the voices of the real Harlem residents being channeled through Herz's writing.  I think this book is an amazing work.

I love the fact that when he first wrote the book, Herz sold copies just by walking around the city and talking to people on the street.  Each time he sold a copy, he talked to the buyer and got his or her story.  He publishes these stories on his blog

I think this book is an incredible find, a real piece of New York life.  But do not just take my word for it, read it for yourself.  See if it haunts you the way it did me.

A touring copy of this book was made available by Crazy Book Tours.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian GrayDorian Gray is a young man of pure beauty.  He befriends an artist named Basil, and at first Basil uses Dorian as a model for paintings, putting him into classical scenes.  Eventually, however, he decides to paint a portrait of Dorian as he truly is.  Around the same time, Dorian befriends one of Basil's acquaintances, Henry, and Henry makes Dorian more cynical and jaded.  When Dorian finally sees the portrait Basil has painted, he weeps and wishes that he would remain young, and the portrait would age in his place.  When his wish comes true, Dorian will go to murderous lengths to keep the secret.

Sometimes, a girl just needs a little bit of the classics in her life.  Thank goodness Amazon offers a wide variety of public domain books available for free Kindle download.  This was my first foray into Wilde, and I wonder how different of an experience reading his work in his own time would have been.  To me, the homoerotic undertones leap from the page, but I wonder how much of that was intentional on his part, and how much of that is me being influenced by what we know of Wilde himself.  Regardless, there is something sensually sinister about the interactions of the men in this book.  And while most of them do have relations with women, very few seem to value or enjoy female interactions at all.

I very much enjoyed this dark, cautionary tale of a wanna be Narcissus.  It did take me a while to get into the pacing of the more classical language and writing style, having been reading a lot more modern books lately, but once I was about a third of the way through the book I literally devoured it.  I know Wilde did not write as prolifically as some classical writers, but I believe I will be seeking out some of his other works.

I could not help but feel some pity for Dorian Gray.  He became exactly what everyone groomed him to be, then everyone scorned him for being what they had wanted him to be in the first place.  Someone needs to get this book to Lindsay Lohan as soon as possible, she may find it familiar. Which make me wonder, with all the modernizations and mash ups of classic literature out there, why hasn't anyone done anything with this story?  It seems to me that it could be redone with a modern twist, or vampires or something really well if the right person did it.  Of course, if the wrong person did it, it would be wretched, so maybe it is best left alone.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Wild's Call, by Jeri Smith-Ready

The Wild's CallElysia and Darien live in a world where modern society has completely collapsed, and they share a secret.  Each is called by an animal spirit to help guide mankind into a new way of living.  Will they join in this new society, or try to survive on their own?

This novella is a prequel to a trilogy of the same subject matter, so it is intended to be merely an introduction to the characters and situation, and that is exactly how I saw it.  It was but a taste of what was to come, to allow readers to determine if this series would be for them.  While we do not learn enough about Elysia and Darien to make a deep connection to them, we do make some connection, enough to push us on to read the trilogy.

I personally am not a huge fan of post apocalyptic literature, so for me, that was where more of the problem with the book lies.  Similarly, the whole animal spirit aspect does not particularly interest me.  I think people who are very interested in Native American religion and philosophy will be quite interested in this book, but for me, a person begin guided by a squirrel is more than a little corny.

That being said, I do think the novella was well written, and worth reading.  For those who read the novella and like it, I think the trilogy will be a good match.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes

A Girl Named MisterMary Rudine has acquired the nickname Mister because of her initials.  Raised by her mama in New York, Mister has been taught to love and obey God, and to keep herself pure.  But then she meets Trey, and one mistaken act changes her life forever.  Faced with pregnancy at the age of 15, Mister finds comfort in a book about Mary, mother of Jesus, and we get to follow both girls on their journey to motherhood.

I will start by saying I absolutely loved this book.  A word of warning, yes, it is written in verse form, and no, contrary to other reviews out there, it is not all angsty teenage poetic drivel.  Yes, it sounds like a teenage girl, because it is written partially in her narrative voice. That is intentional, to make it relatable for teen readers, particularly urban teens, like Mister.  And while Mister's journey is shown as parallel to Mary's, I see no evidence where the book tries to say Mister is like Mary, or any other blasphemy.  Mary represents motherhood to all Christian women, it makes sense that even a teen mother would find comfort in Mary, and be able to relate to her.

In reality, teens face issues of sex, and teen pregnancy.  Even Christian teens.  I think this book is an excellent example of how teens can make mistakes, and sin, and still find comfort in God's loving grace.  The book does not preach abstinence, it simply shows the reality of the potential consequences of sex, and the impact on a young life.

As for the literary style, poetic novels are not for everyone, true, but fans of authors like Ellen Hopkins will enjoy this book.  And think about it, much of Scripture is written in poem form.  Many literary classics use poetic forms.  So the fact that this is poetry is not enough to write it off.  Through the verses, we really learn who Mister is, what she struggles with, and how she finds comfort from the mother of our Lord.

Personally, I think this is an excellent young adult book, and while it does deal with sex, it does so in a realistic manner, not quite as severe as a cautionary tale, but there are real lessons to be learned through this book.  Lessons teens could use.  Especially Christian teens.  I think with proper parental guidance and discussion, this would be appropriate for teens 13 and up.  It would make for an excellent small group/teen book club selection.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stupid History, by Leland Gregory

Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Throughout the AgesHave you ever gotten the impression that a lot of what you know about history is wrong?  Well, you would be right.  For example, Napoleon, not really that short.  Paul Revere, not the actual midnight rider.  And some things you do not know about history are just too ridiculous to be made up, like the fact that the first person ever punished in the stocks was the man who made them.  His crime?  Charging too much for his work.  What else about history is just plain stupid?

Filled with fun stories and nuggets of trivia, this book is just the kind that I love, one that does not take itself too seriously.  We always hear that what we learn in school is false, and this book cites many examples.  I love the fact that not only do we learn the truth, but for many of the stories, we learn why the falsehood was ever circulated.

The book has a lighthearted feel, though it does tend to be a little heavy handed with the puns and word play.  That, however, can be overlooked because of the solid content on nicely varied subject matter.  I read a couple of excerpts to my Hubby, and he loved it.  I think any good natured student of history will appreciate this book, along with many a retired history teacher.  There is nothing stupid about loving this book.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coffee Shop Conversations, by Dale Fincher and Jonalyn Fincher

Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small TalkSometimes, Christians are not sure how to talk about their faith in a way that is real and relatable.  They worry about not having all the answers, saying the wrong thing, or being confronted with tough or controversial issues of faith.  This book serves as a guide to help Christians have "coffee shop conversations" about religion, real talk about God in a way that has meaning, relevance, and admits mistakes.

I think this is probably the best book I have ever read about how to witness your Christian faith.  Dale and Jonalyn talk about how to be open and honest, how to have manners when talking about belief systems (which is applicable to more than just religion), how to admit mistakes and avoid them, and how to be honest and open about what God really means to you.

So often, Christians talk a good game, using spiritual vocabulary, and it ends up coming across as very off putting to non-believers.  This book shows you how to be more in touch with yourself, and how to share yourself with others, while being open to others sharing themselves with you.  It all boils down to love.

There were parts of the book I did not like as well as others, and Part I was my hands down favorite part of the book, but overall, I thought this was a great, no nonsense tool for Christians to use for personal growth and improving relationships with others, regardless of whether conversion occurs.  I look forward to reading more books by both Dale and Jonalyn.  You need to read this, real talk.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Found, and Found II, by Davy Rothbart

Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World

Found II: More of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World  Ever find a random grocery list and wonder about the person who wrote it?  Read a neglected apology letter and wonder what sins for which it was begging forgiveness?  See a long lost photo and make up a story about the people in it?  If you answered yes to any of those, or wished you could have, then these are the books for you.  These books take lost scraps of paper containing lists, pictures, poems, letters, term papers, notes, and more, and try to determine where they came from, and why.

It all started with someone putting a note on the wrong car.  The author found a note on his car one night, obviously intended for someone else with a similar car, and immediately wondered about the person who left it.  This sparked an interest that led to looking at other "found" items, which led to a magazine of "found" items, which in turn led to books.  Of course, the whole thing is terribly voyeuristic.  And really really fascinating.

These are the kind of books you can look at on a Monday, and ponder one way, then look at again on Thursday, and ponder in a whole new light.  It is not quite art, but brilliant none the less.  I love these books, because they remind us all of ourselves, things we have written or drawn, or seen.  Silly things we have done in life.  Sad stories we have heard.  This is humanity in raw form.  It is sort of hipster anthropology.

This is a great couple of books for your coffee table, useful as conversation pieces, or the 'just for fun' shelf of your bookcase.  Perfect for when you have had too much Austen, not enough wine, and a non-existent romantic life.  The books will make you laugh, make you frown, make you feel shocked and disturbed, and make you come back for more.  Trust me, these books are best bought as a set.  Because once you have one, you will want the other.