Book Review: God Less America by Todd Starnes (Three stars)

Book Review: God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the attack on Traditional Values by Todd Starnes

Three stars out of Five

What you’d expect of a professional journalist. Well-researched and written, in fact I think I heard some of these essays on Starnes’ nationally broadcast commentary. His style is easy to read; it communicates both his sincerity and dismay. But this is an odd book, mixing down-home reminisces with political satire, commentary and a call-to-arms, plus several chapters of fictional speculation. Might make better sense split into two or three different books.

Starnes expertly shares his concern over the downward drift of American cultural and the curtailment of traditional values and institutions, however there was so much that it seemed like so much piling on. The tenth or twentieth iteration of a particular concern does not make it any more real to the reader. Three or four instances sufficed to establish this is a trend, not isolated instances.

I don’t disagree with his interpretation, but his tone is defensive and defeatist. America’s short stint as a “hyperpower” may be behind us, but that’s not necessarily bad. We are becoming a mixed, pluralistic society. We need to deal with it.

America is down, but not out. We may pull the world’s fat out of the fire yet again.

Book Review: J.R.R. Tolkien by Wyatt North (Two Stars)

Book Review: J.R.R. Tolkien: A life Inspired by Wyatt North

Two stars out of five.

Modern authors have the idea that biographies must be at least seven hundred pages long, even if they don’t have seven hundred pages of material. often resulting in a bloated mess of myth and rumor.

Therefore, a tight, well-written biography of barely one hundred pages is refreshing. This work is the perfect companion to Tolkien’s works, especially The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

That said, there must be more fruitful information which modern readers would enjoy knowing about the professor who birthed modern epic fantasy. This volume only refers to fellow Inklings C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson in a literary context, while Tolkien and Dyson played decisive roles in the re-conversion of Lewis to Christianity.

Can you imagine, reader, having read the two mentioned volumes when the Professor still lived, and feel as I did the hope of more? It was not to be, but I have re-read those volumes once a decade since. They are the gold standard for all light and epic fantasy since.

North seems to specialize in hagiographies of Roman Catholic persons, of which this is definitely one.

Culture Wars Divide Us

A recent Wall Street Journal article spotlighted the role of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in the governing style of the current administration. Simultaneously, popular conservative columnist Todd Starnes has released a book, God Less America, detailing how polarized America has become on the subject of religion, and Christianity in particular.

First, a history lesson: ever since mankind managed to assure themselves of enough to eat to survive, they began to plot ways to divest their neighbor of his food or means of producing same. In fact, fighting over food sources may have preceded civilization, as illustrated in the opening scene of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unfortunately, whether community organizers like Alinsky and Obama, or conservative pundit like Starnes, when people talk in terms of war, they quickly devolve into talking about enemies. And that is where America finds itself today. Perhaps the worst trend of the twentieth century was the demise of communities—in both the demographic and sociological senses. We don’t know the person who lives next door; we work with strangers; we socialize anonymously. We move among strangers. And we are afraid.

We see each other as competitors or threats, not neighbors.

I’m not smart enough to know how to reverse this trend, but even I can see that this isn’t going to end well.

Somehow we need to begin to see each other as people again, not demographics and certainly not enemies. We need to dial back the rhetoric on all sides of social and politic issues toward seeking agreement, rather than drawing lines.

How? Wish I knew. I’d write a book. (Oh, I did.)

Maybe we could start by being polite to one another. Seeking common ground rather than points of contention. Reaching out to those in need, even if different from ourselves. Loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Book Review: Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder (Three Stars)

Book Review: Sun of Suns (Virga #1) by Karl Schroeder

Three Stars out of Five

Great new setting for steam-punk science fiction: inside a planet-sized balloon of gases (Virga). “Gravity” is inertial, “suns” heat and light local areas of the temperate zone, and the politics and technology is mostly nineteenth century. The characters begin in mystery and opposition but must work together for a greater good. An outsider knows about the evolved technology (and biology) outside the bubble, but her motives and theirs may not coincide. Good plot flow and development.

Having said that the narrative seemed appropriate for young readers except the gratuitous sex. And it was gratuitous, not necessary to plot or character development. (In retrospect, it gave clues to the fate of certain characters.) While mostly only suggestive, its inclusion makes the book unsuitable for younger readers. Likewise the three uses of the F-bomb.

Still, The rating teetered between three and four stars until the end. And end the story did. It didn’t finish, it just stopped. Schroeder came close to a satisfying conclusion, but didn’t deliver. So, unless you’re in for five books, you may be dissatisfied with the series opener.

Timelapse Lunar Eclipse Over Downtown Kansas City by Tom Martinez

andreart2013:

Totally awesome. Simple and straightforward.

Originally posted on Misty Midwest Mossiness:

Published by Tom Martinez, Historian of the Astronomical Solemnity of Kansas City, on Apr 7, 2015

The total phase was not seen from KC since totality occurred after moonset. Crystal clear skies allowed for a nice view of the last sliver of moon, however. Music is “Alive” by Jahzzar, http://betterwithmusic.com.

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Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Five Stars out of Five.

What was it like over there?

“Now I know: all pain is the same. It’s the details that are different.”
“My missing him became a grave that could not be filled or leveled, just a faded blemish in a field and a damn poor substitute for grief, as graves so often are.”

As C. S. Lewis famously did not say, “we read to know we are not alone.’ We can’t—and don’t want to—experience all there is to experience, but we do want to know what some of those emotions are. They edify, even if they hurt. All pain is related, if not the same.

Kevin Powers’ first novel brings the vast scope of war into the breadth of a single person. He’s no hero, but he tries to do what’s right… and fails. No man should be made responsible for another’s life. We have enough trouble being responsible for ourselves.

Amazing freshman effort. Not perfect by any means, but Powers gets extra credit for this being his first novel.

“If there is anything true in this world it is that war is only like itself. People, however are all the same: grief and fear, shame and anger are as alike in each of us as our breath and blood, in spite of the differences of scope or scale or the useless divisions of their common and uncommon causes.”

CrossBooks Ceases Publishing; WestBow to Publish “Living in the Spirit”

cover2CrossBooks, my publisher, will cease publishing and distributing all its titles on April 30.

WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, will pick up distribution immediately. But “immediately” in the publishing world is not the same as immediately to us. The copyright for Living in the Spirit must re-registered, so the book will gain new ISBN and Library of Congress numbers. This all takes time.

If you have an immediate need for copies, contact me (a comment below will suffice) as I have a couple dozen available at home.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Book Report: Don’t Waste Your Sorrows by Paul E. Billheimer (Four Stars)

Book Report: Don’t Waste Your Sorrows: New Insight Into God’s Eternal Purpose for Each Christian in the Midst of Life’s Greatest Adversities by Paul E. Billheimer

Four Stars out of Five

An amazing book, first published in 1977, which addresses the most vexing issue of modern Christains, “Why do good people suffer?” Billheimer’s answer, simply, is that’s how people grow spiritually. Not seeking the easy path. Not awards or riches, but perseverance through sorrow and suffering grows character.

He offers support from the Bible and historic and contemporary (for his time) Christian sources. (Billy Graham is cited. His place in the American Christian community much the same forty years ago as today.) Most of Billheimer’s exposition is logical, straight-forward and easy to follow. Slightly repetitive, but that fits with the teaching character of the book.

Those of other faith or non-faith communities will find it opaque. More a teaching than a devotional reading, but worthwhile for Christians.

Book Review: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Magician’s Land (The Magicians #3) by Lev Grossman

Four Stars out of Five

One difficulty for authors of multi-part stories is to raise the stakes in each succeeding installment. Otherwise, the tale becomes a soap opera or so spread out that the reader no longer knows—nor cares about—much of the huge cast. Grossman delivers the goods. Each of his three Magicians books presents his protagonist with new challenges—challenges which supersede those of the previous book.

Grossman takes the reader deep into the souls of his main characters, though not quite as deep as The Magician King. If we can’t identify with all their wizardly issues, we can certainly bond with them at the human level. Many of the sly cultural references may be lost on younger readers, but these really aren’t appropriate reading for them anyway. Leavened with just enough humor.

Good job.