Posted by: Alise | May 19, 2010

Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner

Hear No Evil: Marching in the Lord's Army, Fleeing the Devil, and Finding a Righteous Groove Hear No Evil: Marching in the Lord’s Army, Fleeing the Devil, and Finding a Righteous Groove by Matthew Paul Turner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a great read! Really, I haven’t read anything this quickly in a long time, but this one was fantastic.

I actually grew up in one of those homes that would have helped Matthew “rebel” by supplying him with music by Sandi Patti (his recollection of seeing her in concert actually made me choke up a little, remembering my own Sandi Patti concert experience!). My mom actually got into a bit of an argument with a minister we had met who had nothing but negative things to say about Christian rock. We invited people to go with us to the Creation festival and to various Christian concerts in the area. We loved music, and it was great to have something we could all listen to without blushing.

Anyway, back to the book. Matthew Paul Turner does indeed write a book about his journey into the world of music, both Christian and secular. But he also writes about his journey into a deeper, less safe faith. I think that, more than even his entertaining anecdotes about riding the fame coattails of Two4One or daring to talk to the man who had converted from being Episcopal to Christian. He allowed us as readers to take a look at his evolving faith. From one where he knew all of the answers to one where he could see that maybe the answers weren’t as cut and dried as he had assumed.

Tons of laugh out loud moments in this book, but also several really poignant stories. If you’ve been a Christian for a while and have lived through any of the contemporary versus traditional music debate, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Absolutely be sure to check it out!

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What to Expect When You're Expected: A Fetus's Guide to the First Three Trimesters What to Expect When You’re Expected: A Fetus’s Guide to the First Three Trimesters by David Javerbaum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really expected this book to knock my socks off. Fetus’s Guide to the First Three Trimesters? Written by one of the writers for The Daily Show? Co-author of America: The Book? This was going to be a total win.

Meh.

Don’t get me wrong, this book has some seriously funny stuff in it. David Javerbaum has some moments of sheer genius. I mean, he DOES write for The Daily Show, after all, and of course I love that.

But this book is really profane. I’m not one who minds profanity in what I read, but I prefer it to serve a purpose. When I’m reading a book that is modeled on pretty much THE pregnancy bible, I expect it to follow the same style. And while the lay-out is the same, the actual writing is just not. Not even close. And that definitely knocks it down a peg for me.

Most chapters are broken down into three sections: The Best Weeks Ever! (breakdown of what happens developmentally during each week), What You May Be Concerned She’s Not Concerned About (questions from the fetus about mom’s behavior, body changes, etc.), and A Fetal Examination (just a fun little peek into the lives of other unborns). The book is also liberally sprinkled with pictures, sidebars, and charts. To me, the charts were by far the most redeeming part of the book. That guy definitely knows how to spoof on a chart!

If you’ve got a pregnant friend who doesn’t mind pretty raunchy humor and can laugh about her pregnancy, this is probably a good bet. But for reading on your own for fun? I’d probably give it a pass.

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Posted by: Alise | April 29, 2010

Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff

Stuff Christians Like Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If there’s one satirical Christian book you read this year, absolutely without any question, make it this one.

I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Acuff’s blog Stuff Christians Like for a few years now. Being in the Church, he is able to address problems in the Church in a way that many outside of that construct are unable to quite hit correctly. He has an obvious love for the Church, but is able to pick on some of our idiosyncrasies in a much more genuine way than I’ve ever seen.

The book is no different. It includes a number of essays from his blog, but many new essays as well. I personally have read the “Witnessing” chapter half a dozen times and it still cracks me up every time. His “Guide to Food Prayers” is fantastic, and his essays about sex and singleness are so funny, I’m afraid I’m going to pee myself reading them. And the cartoons all through the book are absolutely brilliant. Mark Sheeres’s illustrations just capture the heart of the book perfectly.

Aside from that, he also has the Saturday Night Cryfest, which is a collection of some of his Serious Wednesday posts. They have an element of humor to them, but these dial back the sarcasm a bit. One in particular (Thinking Your Naked) has me in tears every time.

If you’ve been a member of the Christian faith for any amount of time, please, I urge you to pick up this book. It’s the perfect blend of insight and humor. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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Posted by: Alise | April 29, 2010

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

When You Are Engulfed in Flames When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I absolutely adore David Sedaris. He is one of my favorite authors and he absolutely knocks it out of the park with When You Are Engulfed in Flames.
This collection of essays is one of my favorite yet. The only thing missing for me on this read was that it was me reading instead of Sedaris, but I’ve heard enough of his audio books to be able to insert his voice into each essay. That said, I would pick this up in audio form in a heartbeat.
Most of the essays in this are about 8-10 pages and as always, he tells stories about his family. This book does have a few more essays about Hugh in it, as well as about his life abroad. My favorite essay was “Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool” probably because I like to think that I have good taste in art, but really, I don’t know much of anything about it. His descriptions of his parents’ art purchases had me laughing out loud and he tied it together in the slightly poignant way that he has.
The main essay, “The Smoking Section” was really wonderful. He tells of his time in Japan where he quit smoking. While that’s not a vice that I’ve had, I have friends who smoke and have quit and it struck me as pretty true to life.
Certainly a high recommendation on this book!
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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a difficult book to review! I feel bad for whatever I read next, because this is a powerful book that is going to take a while to get out of my brain.

When it comes to the actual plot, there’s not much to discuss. The story is basically about a family learning to cope with the loss of a husband/father/son after the attacks on 9/11. It focuses primarily on Oskar Schell, a bright boy and the son of Thomas Schell. He finds a key that is left behind after his father’s death, and he goes on a journey to find the lock that it fits. He encounters a number of people along the way and we learn so many stories as the book progresses. It’s a very simple story line, but the writing is so rich and fluid that boiling it down to that is completely unfair to the author.

Jonathan Safran Foer wrote some amazing characters. Each one has a very unique voice and despite the fact that he rarely characterizes who is speaking during a dialog, each person is voiced very clearly so it is relatively easy to determine who is speaking. I also love that he never really tells you who is speaking when the story shifts narrators, but again, he changes the style of writing so well that if you’re paying attention at all, it’s easy to follow.

I’ve never read anything by Foer before, but I will absolutely be picking up more of his novels.

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Posted by: Alise | April 1, 2010

Free Audio Book – April Only!

One of my favorite blogs recently released his first book. I’ve got it on my to-be-read shelf (though I’ve flipped through quite a bit of it already and laughed and laughed!). However this month, ChristianAudio.com is offering the audio download of his book for free.

Jon Acuff is a fantastic writer. He manages to be incredibly funny and incredibly insightful at the same time, and that is tough to do. I would still encourage folks to pick up a print copy of his book, as it’s hard to beat some of the illustrations that are in it, but the audio book is indeed free and it has an auto-tune chapter. As a friend responded when I told him that news, “That alone triples the value that I’m getting for my money that I could have spent.” Truer words and all that.

Check out the link here, download and enjoy immediately!

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Written by Josh Lieb, one of the writers for The Daily Show, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President is a pretty entertaining book.

The title of the book pretty much sums up the entire plot. Oliver Watson, the quintessential evil genius decides that he wants to run for class president to impress his father “Daddy.” There are a series of events that prove that school elections are difficult, even if (or especially if?) you’re an evil genius.

The biggest problem I had with this book was that I didn’t really care for any of the characters. I guess that’s kind of the point. If you’re reading the book from the perspective of a complete misanthrope, it would make sense that none of the characters are likable, so I suppose that Lieb was successful in that. But from a sheer enjoyment stand-point, it just made it hard to really lose myself in it.

Nonetheless, it’s an fun, quick read. It’s an easy read (I believe it’s technically a young adult read), it’s got some irreverent humor and it’s a pretty satisfying end.

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Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America (Plume Books) Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s difficult for me to know quite how to rate this book. On one hand, I applaud Rev. White for coming forward with his story. The abuses that he and other LGBT people have suffered at the hands of the religious right deserve to be noted. Certainly his struggles to “cure” his homosexuality should be shared so that people can have a greater understanding of the innate nature of sexuality. And his move from hating and fearing his sexual orientation to embracing it and finding someone with whom to share his life is a fascinating and beautiful story. I particularly found his thoughts about silence to be moving. I would consider myself a straight ally, but I think that sometimes I forget that part of supporting my LGBT friends is being vocal in my support.

However, there were a few issues that I had with this book. While I don’t want to include many spoilers, I feel that I can’t fully review this book without giving some away. Because of homophobia in the church, White chose to marry his friend Lyla, even though he was not attracted to her. I understand that he had desires that could not be met by his wife, and so he sought comfort elsewhere. What frustrated me more than these indiscretions was that he seemed to give these affairs God’s approval. When he says that God blessed lying to his wife, I think that undermines his larger, more important point of God blessing his relationship with his husband. It certainly left me with that impression.

Additionally, I’m wary every time someone starts making Nazi comparisons. I do understand that there have been (and sadly, continue to be) some very below-the-belt shots taken by the religious right and some of these have lead to the suicides of numerous LGBT people. And I understand that there are some comparisons that do hold water (the propaganda, the lies, the media blitz, etc.). However, even most of the worst offenders have said (if not always exhibited) the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line. This was simply not the case in Nazi Germany. It was always “hate the sin, kill the sinner.” Given that this has never been the predominate message of the religious right, I just sour at the comparison. Again, I do understand that these messages have a pretty direct line to violence against gay people, both from the outside and from within, but I don’t believe there is a direct CALL for violence, which to me would be the difference.

All that said, this is definitely an important book. Mel White tells a story that needs to be heard. As someone who had close contact with many in the Church who have shaped the dialog surrounding homosexuality, he has a unique voice. There ARE gay and lesbian people in your church congregation, for sure. We need to be aware of how our words and our silence can cause them to feel. Even though this is an older book, the message is still timely.

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Posted by: Alise | March 17, 2010

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Watchmen Watchmen by Alan Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t read comic books. So even though I enjoyed the movie, I’d put off reading The Watchmen for a long time. Even though my husband told me that I would probably like it, and even though several people whose book opinions I trust told me that I’d like it, I just couldn’t bring myself to pull it out and read it.

I can’t believe I deprived myself of this book for so long!

What an amazing story Gibbons & Moore created. Obviously the plot is driven primarily by dialogue, since the setting is shown to us in the illustrations, but Moore did an amazing job of combining the plot of this story with another comic book. Additionally, at the end of each chapter, he included a longer prose section. Sometimes it was from a character’s memoir, sometimes it was letters, and occasionally it was a magazine article. This added so much depth to the plot.

And while this is primarily a murder mystery, there is much more to it than that. The chapter that focuses primarily on Doctor Manhatten is really quite exquisite writing.

Honestly, if you enjoy well-written fiction, even if this isn’t your genre, I would highly recommend this book. Definitely check it out.

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Posted by: Alise | March 17, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I read the first 30 pages of this book, I was sure that it was going to be disappointing at some point. No book that starts as strong as this one did could possibly keep it up clear through the end.I have rarely been so pleased to be wrong.This book is absolutely beautiful. Stein has given us a wonderful story. Rich characters, stunning prose, purposeful story-telling. I fell in love with each of the characters and enjoyed myself thoroughly in reading about each of them.Told through the eyes of Enzo the dog, this book had great potential to simply be an emotional piece of fluff, but Stein manages to create a narrator who is a wonderful balance of animal and human. Being without speech, Enzo is forced to listen to those around him, and in so doing, he is able to give us a more complete picture of the others in the story. I loved how Enzo at times competes with his hopeful human side and his current dog side. It is truly beautiful. I’m sure I will never see my own dogs the same way.While I would absolutely recommend this for anyone who owns a dog, I would by no means say that it is only for those who have pets. This is a story that is far more than simply an “animal story.” It is a wonderfully woven tale of life, death, joy, anguish and beauty. I was sad for it to end, but completely satisfied. Exceptional book. Five enthusiastic stars!

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