Arts and Entertainment, Books

How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. WaterBrook & Multnomah provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, for which I’ve given an honest review.

How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

I’d never heard of The Babylon Bee until a little earlier this year, and I had no particular inclination to read How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living. As much as I like to laugh, I’m not one who goes out of my way looking for satire.

But when the publisher unexpectedly sent me a copy, I figured, hey, why not take a look?

And, then, the book got me within the first few pages, letting me know how Christian culture can lead me to be “transformed day by day into the radiant image of the modern American Jesus.”

Hello. Sounds like a goal. Especially if He’s the Son of a Father “who sits on a cloud somewhere…and is suspicious of non-Americans and people with brown skin.”

Uh huh.

Now, do I totally agree with the attitude of the Bee at every point in this comprehensive guide? Nah. I think some of the Bee’s blanket jokes might overlook how issues like manipulation and abuse are very real problems in too many churches (what’s making folks feel horrible at church isn’t always holy conviction), and for a lot of people, matters of social justice aren’t merely “politics,” or concepts to debate. They’re real matters of life and death.

Still, I doubt the point of a book like this is to make you agree with all of it. Satire is supposed to make you think. Sometimes humor that’s unafraid to tackle what others are reluctant to speak up about can help you take a serious second look at something in life or society (or Christian culture) that’s backward or off. Not to simply laugh about it, or not to only be offended, but to really stop and think about it.

If you don’t seriously think, you can’t seriously grow.

Make no mistake, though. I did heartily crack up while reading this thing. And the conclusion is, well, beautiful, I must say.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Books

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

This history is humbling—showing how hard it is to do the right thing and exposing the many barriers to unseating the status quo. It reveals that the perpetration of injustice is not always about hatred but often about indifference, fear, and personal comfort.

My goodness. A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis. I’ll admit it’s hard for me to review a book like this because I wish I could write down each strong, thought-provoking, or challenging point the author makes.

This narrative speaks on the tendency for many Americans to relegate the civil rights movement to something that’s (safely) behind us. It speaks on the tendency for people to applaud figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks while separating them from the totality of their messages, from their anger, from the fact that they were controversial and that the civil rights movement was disruptive and unpopular to most Americans at the time. If we now reduce Rosa Parks to a sweet, quiet lady who sat meekly on a bus one day, and we strip her of her years of politics and activism and most of what she actually said, we can comfortably celebrate her without being challenged by her anymore.

This book puts clear language to ideas I’ve been chewing on, including how racism isn’t merely about people’s feelings, that as long as enough individuals don’t feel or express personal malice toward people of color, then social injustice in America is no longer a real or serious problem.

My one issue with the reading was that it often seemed redundant, repeating the same information or quotes in places or using different words to make the same points over again. I also wasn’t able to comb through all of it (time constraints with a borrowed copy), but this is the kind of book I’d have no problem revisiting.

America has much more work to do for civil rights, and it’ll take having an accurate view of our history.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Books

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against it, racial segregation in public schools was still prevalent in Little Rock, Arkansas for years afterward. In 1957, nine African American students were chosen to integrate the city’s all-white Central High School. Those students became known as the Little Rock Nine. One of their number, author Melba Pattillo Beals, recounts this matter and more in her memoir, I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire.

As the title indicates, this isn’t just an account contained within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, but it spans much more of the author’s lifetime and experiences. Even so, issues of prejudice and equal (or unequal) rights, including gender inequality, appear frequently throughout this story of adversity, faith, and perseverance.

This isn’t a book about detached, historical “figures” but about people. It’s not a testimony of immediate victories for social justice, or complete accord within the black community. Beals wasn’t even always sure she was doing the right thing by being a part of integration.

The author makes interesting points, including how racism isn’t merely about donning conspicuous white hoods or blatantly calling black people “niggers.” Subtle racism is just as vicious, and also treacherous, particularly when it’s institutionalized or otherwise trickier to call out and combat. Still, one of my biggest takeaways from the book is that when it comes to injustice and other challenges, you have to know when it’s time to hold your peace and simply keep on living, and when it’s time to speak up and fight.

Again, this book is about much more than racism and civil rights, but I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in social justice, Christian memoirs, or both.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Favorite Reads 2017

I received complimentary copies of most of the books I mention here in exchange for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.

I wait for these awards all year! As my blog is all about hope and inspiration, these are the books that most fit that bill for me in 2017 and that I highly recommend to fellow readers. You’ll find them listed in a pretty eclectic order.
*And to the authors of the winning books, if you’d like a little gift for making the list, see the bottom of this post.*

Meals from Mars: A Parable of Prejudice and Providence by Ben Sciacca

Christian Fiction/Contemporary Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Two men, two different walks of life, and a dangerous gas station incident that links their paths. Before reading it, I wondered if this “parable” might be the kind to preach a social message hard without being a good novel. But I needn’t have worried. There’s some beautiful imagery, humor, and, yes, the ideas in this novel are blatant and barefaced, but not at the expense of story or believable characters. The book raises questions without trying to tell the reader exactly what to think, and it doesn’t sugarcoat or tie up its message in a nice, neat bow on its way to bringing hope. I think many Christian readers, especially in the United States, would do well to read this timely novel.

Home by Ginny L. Yttrup

Christian Fiction/Women’s Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Forty-nine-year-old Melanie checks out of reality through her writing; only this time, she can’t. Nothing against readers who enjoy decidedly melancholy fiction, but I have a hard time with women’s fiction novels that feel like page after page of dry gloom, killing me softly as I read. This novel, however, dug through dark, tough issues in a way that softly gave me life. Yes, I, a writer, tend to be partial to books and movies that get real about writers. But this novel gets real, period, in a style that isn’t sparkling but is still engaging. It’s a beautifully written story that gave me a “God is here” experience that I don’t get with all books. And, yes, I loved it.

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco

Christian Fiction/Biblical Fiction

★★★★★ from me

A courageous dog, Barley, bears witness as the greatest story ever told unfolds. No, this isn’t a book about a dog who follows Jesus around everywhere, but He ultimately does fit in this account that centers on brave and lovable Barley’s journey. Seriously, even though animal tales aren’t my usual thing, Barley’s poignant story put tears in my eyes at least three different times. While there’s a simple, storybook feel to the characters, there’s genius in the novel’s layering and delivery. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to be a better person, and that says a lot.

Illusionary by Desiree Williams

Fantasy/Young Adult Fiction

★★★★★ from me

For Kamryn, this rescue mission in the Land of Ur is more than it appears to be…  Awe. Some. Ness. I wasn’t ready. I mean, the book starts out cute and funny, and then the parallel world escapades begin. I was stopped in my tracks in places, sometimes with a single, spoken word. “Heal.” “Hope.” And before and after a crucial twist, this story presents an assortment of wonderfully woven themes: growing up and innocence, grief and illness and regret, finding out who you really are and what you’re capable of. True bravery! It’s a fantasy tale like The Chronicles of Narnia in that it’ll speak to you on multiple levels if you have the ears to hear it—but whether you go to those other levels or not, it’s still a darn good adventure.

Without Warning by Joel C. Rosenberg

Christian Fiction/Thriller

★★★★★ from me

J.B. Collins fears the president, Harrison Taylor, won’t take decisive action against a major threat before it’s too late. Even as riveted as I was to the J.B. novel that precedes this one, I don’t think a thriller has ever left me at such a level of shaken speechlessness when I finished it. I was punched in the soul by this book, and though I’m not much of a political or doomsday kind of person, the story had me inhaling the pages in fewer sittings than I’d normally take for a novel of this length. I’d highly recommend it to any other ChristFic fans who can stand a solid punch–’cause there’s nothing like being punched in the soul by love.

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma

Nonfiction/Christian

★★★★★ from me

In my book reviews, I normally don’t make a big point of the author’s race or gender. Nevertheless, I’ll note that this book, which is directed toward a Christian audience, was written by a white man. And, yes, a lot of people—especially white people—should read it. The fight for racial equality in the United States isn’t something any one race should be fighting for alone. This book has so many compelling points, including the need not to merely do acts of justice, but to become just. The author also includes action points, so readers won’t be left with a problem without any idea what to do next. If you think racial issues are “just politics” or not something that Christians should be too concerned about, I’d encourage you all the more to read this.

Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester

Christian Fiction/Young Adult Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Finding her place as a biracial teen is becoming so difficult… What a story this is about family and friendship, injustice and unrest, legacy and identity. I’ll admit that Nina’s attitude sometimes got a few head shakes from me, but she also has great moments of protectiveness and dry humor. I appreciate different points raised in the story, including how so many of us (no matter our “color”) are really more mixed than we know, and about how slavery is not merely something that happened back in the past, in one country. Whether you’re an inspirational fiction fan or not, a young adult fiction fan or not, I’d recommend this as a worthwhile and moving read.

Can I Be Frank? by Rob Wyatt

Fiction/Humor

★★★★★ from me

Father Francis, a young, Catholic priest, wants to be helpful, but he trips and splashes himself into the soup. Not literally, but, you know. This novel has a healthy helping of moments that are downright hilarious. But it also packs a substantive story that addresses church business and politics, the immigration dilemma in the United States, and a young man who just wants to be “plain old Frank” while “Father Francis” expectations are weighing on his shoulders. Fans of humorous fiction that looks at serious issues should get a kick out of this novel.

Loving Luther by Allison Pittman

Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Katharina von Bora, a nun, desires something more than a cloistered life as she begins reading the words of an excommunicated priest: one Martin Luther. Now, although this book contains a love story, it’s not a romance novel. Neither is this book “about” the Protestant Reformation, so much. Rather, this is the compelling story of a woman who loves God, longs for liberty, and eventually faces life outside the convent walls. It would’ve been easy to spring for too much drama and overdone characters during such a tumultuous period in history, but here, the writing style is nuanced, with emotion that isn’t flashy but runs deep. I’d highly recommend this novel to fans of historical ChristFic—especially those who are already familiar with Katharina and Luther and who’d be interested in a different approach to their love story.

The Ramona Quimby Series by Beverly Cleary

  

Fiction/Children’s Books

★★★★★ overall from me

Let’s hear it for the adventures and challenges of an everyday, unforgettable girl: Ramona Geraldine Quimby! This was my all-time favorite series as a child, which I had the abundant pleasure to reread this year as an adult. (With the exception of the “new” last book in the series, Ramona’s World, which hadn’t been written yet when I was little. I’m now glad to have read it for the first time!) I–and countless other readers out there, for plenty of years–just “get” Ramona so well, with her plights and joys, her many laugh-out-loud moments and her heart-tugging moments. There’s a fine art to writing excellent stories for children, tales with humor and substance that are accessible at any age. Cleary’s clear understanding of human nature, from children to grownups, is what has made her books so classic.

The Herringford and Watts Mystery Novels by Rachel McMillan

  

Christian Fiction/Historical Mystery

★★★★★ overall from me

*2017 Favorite Cover Picks*

A lady detective duo investigates murders in Toronto, Canada and the United States in the early twentieth century. I’ve also read the three Herringford and Watts novellas, which include a couple of non-murder mysteries. (FYI: I’m on the lookout these days for mystery writers who can indeed write about more than murder! 🙂 ) Having read all of these books, I can say that the mysteries alone aren’t the elements that have most drawn or impacted me. There’s so much more in these novels about history, about immigration, about the need for social reform, about love, about friendship, about the tension between the duty to one’s family and the call of one’s professional passion. The layers, the splashes of humor, the four central characters I couldn’t get enough of, and the threads of poignancy and heartrending moments woven into the stories have made me quite a fan of this author.

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And that wraps up another (calendar) year of great reading for this book lover!

Entries for 2017’s Favorite Reads giveaway are now closed, but comments on the post are remaining open.

  

Also feel free to check out some of the other reading I’ve enjoyed this year, a coming of age romance series, When It’s Time. (That’s right. After my author self writes ’em, my bookworm self reads ’em.) The series begins with Love Unfeigned.

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Congratulations, authors, and thank you for writing your books! If I’ve selected yours as a Favorite Read this year, you’re welcome to a complimentary medal to display on your website, blog, social media–wherever you wish. Click the image below and contact me to receive a full size PNG medal. (The lined watermark will be removed, of course, and the medal will include the year on it, 2017.) Thanks again!

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