Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found AgainTables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again by Preston Yancey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tables in the Wilderness

It's hard to review memoirs, because it more than ever feels like you're reviewing a person instead of a book. It's both wonderful and hard to review this book, because the author and I have been on such a similar journey. Raised Baptist, drawn to Anglican. Failed church. Good with words, so that the Long Night is one of silence, so that we can learn to hear God's language of breath and bone and stars and blood, of math and music, myth and metaphor, of gestures made and unmade, the language of an ever-expanding table with a place for everyone, of a love as bright as suns, as humble as dirt and sweat. And Preston is one of the few others I've seen/heard talk about the comfort of praying the prayers, the traditional prayers, the liturgical prayers, as you realize that you are praying by rote, just like the people you despised in your youth--and yet--those prayers, those pilgrims of the past, those saints; they have stood where you are standing, and their faith and prayers are holding you up as you walk across the vale of tears--you, too, are walking on the water, and Jesus takes your hand and smiles. God never left.

So instead of thinking of the book as a memoir or coming of age story, I treat it as Preston's testimony. He says at one point in the book, "I just want to hear someone preach a Jesus who is fiercely good and fiercely beautiful." Preston, you are fiercely on the way. But you knew that. The book is inspiring. Its painful honesty soars to truthtelling. It's written mostly in the present tense, which I do not like, because the transitions from past to present take one out of the story. But it's a good book, because there was lots of (internal) discussion with the author, lots of "right on!" and some "you're still so young." And some "oh heck" (that would denote the arrow of insight). There are some wonderful discussion questions in the back, and a "further reading" list. I think it would be a great book for older youth groups to read and discuss and pray on as the world changes, as churches build bridges, as God continues to work in the world to bring everyone, all of creation, to the table of grace and fellowship.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Thank you Zondervan, netgalley, and God, for the opportunity to read and review this book in EARC format. It's worth re-viewing, keep it in your library.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and LoveRare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rare Bird

It's hard to review this book, because there is love and loss at the heart of it--and there's no one way to love, and there's no one way to grieve; there are not even pass/fail grades for life, or death. But I would like to add this book to every reading list, along with Man's Search For Meaning and All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten--the head and heart, as it were, and Rare Bird would be the soul and the body--for we will all grieve.

Anna gives us her path from mother of two to mother of one; she let her kids go out to play in the rain, and one of them never came home. She gives us the grief, the guilt, the questions, the rage, the comfort, the weird almost-miracles; she gives us the elegy and the eulogy, the presence and O God! the absence. She lets you fall in love with her boy, Jack--omg, thank you for putting the picture at the end, such a beautiful 12 year old boy.

This is the best kind of religious book; there is no preaching, just the journey of a believer in one of the most difficult journeys, that of a parent losing a child. This is the best kind of religious book, because there are no answers, only questions, only a journey toward healing from almost unimaginable pain. This is the best kind of book, because even though it's honest and raw, it's crafted to highlight reality instead of magnify it, to give everything of truth and not aggrandizement, to let you laugh as well as cry, to tell the beautiful truth instead of a beautiful lie. A real kid died. It's just one of those things, you read about them all the time; life goes on, but there's holes in it, and who cares if it's beautiful, it would be better if it never happened. But it happens every day, and here's how one person goes on.

We all need Anna's example, no matter what we believe; we will all have to walk forward without someone we love...

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An Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The AtmosphereAn Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The Atmosphere by Gabrielle Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Ocean of Air opens with Joe Kittinger, an Air Force test pilot, in 1960, about to jump from a gondola hanging 20 miles in the air above New Mexico, at the edge of space, wondering if he's about to die. As he falls through the layers of atmosphere (landing safely), he is tracing the journey we'll follow to discover the wonders of wind and breath and the thinnest radiation shield ever--the layers of gases that surround our planet and make our lives possible.

How much does air weigh? Galileo almost got in trouble again for wondering. He discovered that it must have weight, but "how much" it weighs--that was for others to find out. (If you are in Carnegie Hall, the air around you weighs 70 thousand pounds.) Like a good science teacher, Ms. Walker asks questions and draws us in to the discovery of the answers through epic storytelling. Galileo, Columbus, Marconi and Van Allen (of the belts) get their stories told, but so do Will Ferrel, Oliver Heaviside, Wiley Post, and others, in all their quirky glory.

Who knew that Columbus, alchemy, Pascal, wars, the space race, the sinking of the Titanic, and climate change could be bundled so compellingly together? Or how truly lucky we are to have an ozone layer? Even reluctant nonfiction readers are seduced by Walker's stories--and it reads fast, since the last full quarter of the book is notes and index. Fascinating. For the curious: Felix Baumgartner's death-defying leap from space in 2012 was the first to break Kittinger's 1960 record, and Kittinger was one of his advisors.  

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Say "I do" to Honeymoon Hotel

Honeymoon HotelHoneymoon Hotel by Hester Browne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hester Browne has done it again--the perfect chick-lit, Valentine flick of a book to bring a smile to your face and a warm glow inside. Rosie works as event-planner (mostly weddings) at the hotel she's practically grown up in. Her own love life needs a bit of help, though. And she's starting to treat her entire life as a gigantic to-do list. Can the arrival of the boss's son revive her heart along with her competitiveness, or will her world be as wobbly as a croquembouche tower? With a nod to foodies as well as the hospitality industry, Browne puts her own spin on the "opposites attract" theme. There's also a reading group guide at the end. Miss Em recommends saying "I do," to this one. Especially for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Katie Fforde, Christina Jones, et al.
(I received an e-galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.)

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Snark & Dark

The White Magic Five and DimeThe White Magic Five and Dime by Steve Hockensmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The White Magic Five and Dime is a welcome addition to the genre of snark and dark, I mean contemporary urban fantasy, (or paranormal mystery). While completely original, Alanis McLachlan, daughter of con woman Athena Passalis, reminds me of Rob Thurman's Trixa, a character I haven't seen enough of--a particular mix of dark with heart--so Alanis is very welcome to fill the void.  Dark and funny, like an early Tarantino movie with less blood, The White Magic Five and Dime delivers in spades--or swords and cups, mostly, with some great advice on Tarot reading.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014


An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the JaguarAn Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Indomitable Beast

Alan Rabinowitz' new book showcases not only his lifetime of work, but the magnificent animal that inspired it. As a boy, Rabinowitz stuttered terribly in the presence of humans, but could speak his heart to animals. One day, struck by the mystery of wilderness and otherness in the eyes of a young jaguar, he vowed to speak for the voiceless animals when he grew older. He has spent his lifetime helping to study and conserve wild animals and their habitat and now concentrates on the big cats through the organization Panthera. The jaguar remains close to his heart not only as the embodied voice of the wild, but as a potential success in survival.

An Indomitable Beast tells the story of the jaguar as we know it, from its beginning as a species, its presence around the world, to its precarious success in the face of human expansion across the globe and into its territory. In telling Rabinowitz' story, too, from that life-changing moment, through years of schooling, the thrill of a young man's success, the humbling of life and work, the book gives us a glimpse at the growth of the conservation and ecology movements. In the cascade of habitat loss and extinction, it's hard to remember sometimes that we haven't been trying to undo the consequences of humanity for very long compared to how long we've been around.

The jaguar is the epitome of adaptation in the big cat world, changing its diet to match the available food sources, sticking to the shadows and byways, always choosing to avoid humans rather than confront them, a reluctant and wounded warrior. Perhaps it is the perfect animal to help us realize that when we destroy other top predators, our competition, our environment, we destroy ourselves. Although pictures were not included in the e-galley provided to this reviewer, one could imagine a picture book for adults made from the impassioned last section of the book, which is both a paean to the jaguar's beauty and tenacity, and a plea for its future, twined with our own. Recommended.

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