Book Review: Princess Reads Judy Moody

Sometimes I read books with Princess and then don’t know how to review them afterwards.  This is a bit of an experiment because Princess wants to review books like her godmother Kelly.

Princess says,
All the time, she said “I ate a shark”!  But that funny!  All the chapter are funny!  The story it about Judy.  I see Judy being grumpy.  Sometime girl can feel grumpy!  Right?  I knew to get it from my library.  From school.  And I think it just a happy story!  But it is a kind of funny story.  I know that it also some not funny.  Some might be SILLY!  When they thinking about what it is, it different.  But I fine!  I think it still right.  I think I am fine with that book.

—  This is Lindsey again.  Princess saw this book at the library and had to read it, right away!  She started reading it as we were walking to the car, and her nose stayed buried through the car ride, picking up her sister from day care, back home, unloading the car, and until the book was finished.  (Complete with three times of me going out to the car and telling her to PLEASE come in before she froze to death, because she was sitting in the car in the wind with the door open, oblivious to her surroundings.)  She kept reading for 2 hours straight, which is quite a feat for a 9 year old kiddo.  I haven’t read the book myself, so I can’t really speak to what is in it, but Princess said that she understood the book because sometimes SHE is cranky so it was nice to read about a girl who could be silly when she was cranky.  Alrighty then!

This book kept Princess happy and reading, she seemed able to understand the story, and she was excited to talk about it after she was done.  I give it 5 out of 5 buried noses.

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Book Review: Zealot, by Reza Aslan

(I received a promotional copy from Netgalley)
link to the book on Amazon

Have you ever really wondered what Jesus was like?

Growing up, I can remember seeing one too many pictures of Jesus as a blondish haired Caucasian man snuggling with a lamb, and thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  I read through the gospels very slowly, really trying to understand Jesus’s tone.  Not his words, so much, as his tone.  What did he sound like?  What did he look like?  What did he act like?  Who was he, not in the sense of was he the son of God or not, but who was he as a person?  I can remember the first time I told my dad, rather proudly, that a lot of the time I thought Jesus was being ironic.

“What?” Dad replies.

“I think he was teasing the disciples.  Being ironic.”  I felt proud of myself.

Dad laughed and said, “so you think the Messiah had time to joke around?”

Seriously.  How could you walk around for three years being the freaking Messiah and NOT take time to joke around?

All of that to say, I appreciate Reza Aslan’s deliberative attempt to paint a picture of Jesus not just as the Messiah, not just as a person in a historical context (but brace yourself for five exhaustive chapters of that) but as a man, who had a family and friends and kids that he ran around snot-nosed on the street with, and had a tone of voice and a sense of self that went beyond “I’M GOD, YO.”

This book is as intimate a portrayal of a somewhat secretive man that died thousands of years ago as could be done, I would imagine.  The author pored over texts and other historical documents.  He puts Jesus in a setting that is well-fleshed out, and answers a lot of really nagging questions about the use of language and theater that Jesus must have had reasons for.  Why did Jesus call himself the Son of Man?  What in the world was up with riding the donkey, waving the palm fronds, or turning over the tables of the money lenders?  What would life have been like for a carpenter living in Galilee?  Where would Jesus have worked?  Whose circles would he have run in?

While some aspects of Aslan’s work will probably raise eyebrows (for instance, how in the picture was Joseph as Jesus’ father?  Was the virgin birth a literal story or a fictitious cover for the fact that Jesus was really just Mary’s son?) there is a lot of real gold to be found in the midst of the rubble of broken assumptions.  My favorite theme was how much the tensions between the Priesthood, the Romans, and the Messiah really all boiled down to money.  Did Jesus threaten the temple’s ability to fleece the illiterate farm workers?  Was that why they hated him so much?

I thoroughly enjoyed this read.  It’s in depth enough to be really illuminating but short enough to not eat months of your life (you are on notice, NT Wright).  While Aslan does challenge a lot of assumptions his tone never becomes patronizing or flip.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves curious about the nature of Christ as a person.

I give this book 5 Jesus-Cuddling-Lamb bookmarks.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: A Name Like Thunder

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being given the book A Name Like Thunder, written by my friend Lee Goff.  It’s the first book of the Thunder Trilogy, a series about God’s relationship with his modern followers.  I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect.  Because Lee is someone I’ve known for some time and have a lot of respect for, I was terrified that I wasn’t going to like the book and unsure of what I’d do should that happen.  People who know me know that I have very demanding tastes when it comes to fiction and can be a real snob about reading.  I don’t have much time on my hands to devote to reading, so if I’m going to read something I want to feel like it really adds something to my life.   I have friends that read over a hundred books a year and I used to be able to read like that.  These days, aside from schoolwork, I only have time to read about as many books as I can count on my fingers and I want each and every one of them to be memorable.

That’s why I was mortified when just thumbing through the book I saw grammar and punctuation errors.  Those things are my kryptonite.  I reminded myself that I really owed it to my friend to try to look past it and enjoy the read anyway, and I am oh so glad that I did.

As snobby as I am about fiction in general, I am even worse when it comes to things written by Christians.  I don’t want to be preached at by anyone but my preacher, I don’t want to have someone else’s doctrine “snuck in” under the radar, and I really hate it when I can feel writers pulling punches and dipping what could be powerful moments into dopishly saccharine dialogue.  There have been some books (especially the romances) where I found myself screaming “PEOPLE DON’T TALK LIKE THAT!  YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED!  WHAT IF AN ANTHROPOLOGIST FOUND THIS BOOK AND THOUGHT THIS IS WHO WE REALLY WERE?”  So when my dear Christian friend writes a novel, my first impulse is to never read it so I can keep on respecting him.

A Name Like Thunder is a different kind of Christian novel.  The fact that it is written from a Christian perspective is undeniable from the first sentence- the story is introduced by an angel and each chapter is headed off by one of the angel’s dialogues.  Yet the author focuses on telling a story instead of preaching to the reader.  The story he tells is about a normal couple who have their faith tested by a string of circumstances.  They make the kinds of decisions normal people make, doubt their faith, and doubt each other just like any other couple.  I found myself very quickly getting attached to Len and Liz, the main couple.  The fact that the story bounces around over the course of several years helped with that, as well as the fact that hanging in the background was the knowledge that a very physical and imminent danger was coming nearer.  The truth is, the author is a masterful storyteller.  He writes compelling and believable dialogue with characters that act as if they were culled from real life.  The messages in the story- that couples were made to compliment each other, that life is precious, that God is waiting in the wings with your salvation if only you would ask for it, that your calling is not dictated by your righteousness in the moment but your ability to respond to God’s call- are all very apparent, but you aren’t beat up by them.  The God that the author writes about is a God that is sadly overlooked in much of Christian dialogue.  It’s a God that longs for the holiness of his servants and loves every life unconditionally and passionately, and longs to use even the most broken for His glory.

A lot of the writing reminded me of shades of Stephen King, if Stephen King were writing for a Christian audience.  The characters love a good barbecue and they love to make love.  Friendship is fierce and binding, and evil is most definitely evil.  Even though not too much happens right off the bat you find yourself getting drawn in deeply, and once the story winds up for the end the book is almost impossible to put down.  (As evidenced by my kids trashing the campsite while I obliviously held my breath and tried to read as fast as possible.)

I would even suggest this book for a non-Christian to read, as it might illuminate some things about faith and belief in God that you might not get anywhere else.  Perhaps the most beautiful thing about A Name Like Thunder is the way it quietly defends the idea of a Christian who isn’t close-minded, bigoted, or insular.  I would strongly suggest reading Lee’s books, or at the very least say hi to him on Facebook.

A Name Like Thunder gets 4.5 thunderous hurrahs!

***This review is not paid for, sponsored, or coerced in any way.

Book Review: White Buffalo Gold

White Buffalo Gold is a book I had the pleasure of reading as part of the process for my good friend, Adam Fleming, to pursue publishing.  (Check out his Kickstarter project!)  White Buffalo Gold follows the lives of three girls as they come of age in a rural town.  Amy, Emily, and Melissa share a long history together.  Through the novel you see that history laid out through several decades.  You see how complex friendship can be, and the many faces people may wear as friends, but Adam dares to go deeper.  You see those three girl’s lives intertwined with other souls in the town and you see the interweaving of those souls as well.  Some people seem like the stereotypical “decent folks”. Other people betray the complexity of life through their actions, both good and bad.  Adam writes about how easy mistakes can be and how the repercussions can last throughout a lifetime.  Yet what resonates is not that there are “good” and “bad” people, but that we are more than the sum of what we do.

What I love the most about this novel is it’s honesty.  It never feels contrived, even when the spirit of a white buffalo starts haunting someone.  The characters all play out as very genuine, and the greater themes of small town identity, regret, aging, death, and starting over all get a fair shake.  You’ve got small town Nebraska, a gold rush mystery, and Native American spirituality all weaving into a coming of age story about the choices that make us leave and the choices that keep us close.  When I finished reading the novel I felt as if I’d just had tea with old friends and neighbors I hadn’t seen in a while, and I was so glad to have caught up on their lives.

If you like contemporary fiction that harks back to some of the great American narrative traditions, then this book is one you’ll enjoy reading.  It’s got small towns, rural America, big potential and simple dreams: all the Americana with none of the pretense or cloying sweetness that can make the genre turn sour.  I’m so proud and privileged to be a part of seeing it put into print.

***This review is not paid or coerced in any manner.  I volunteered it because I believe in Adam’s project.