Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

When I was young, I loved a good monster story. I watched the movies, read the books and even stayed up late to sneak in creeptacular viewings of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video on Friday Night Videos (ah, growing up in rural America with no cable). Somewhere along the (long) road through college, however, I began to find monster stories less interesting and more disturbing. I can now no longer make it through movies like Se7en or Scream, that I repeatedly watched and enjoyed those first few years of college.

But throughout my love/hate relationship with monster stories, the one type of monster whose story has never really interested me the zombie. I don’t know what it is about zombies, but they’ve never really done it for me, so it might not come as too much of a shocker that a book with the phrase “Living Dead” in the title wouldn’t be at the top of my reading list. But surprisingly, it was. From the moment I first heard about Night of the Living Dead Christian, I found myself excited to get my hands on copy. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The Twitter² Summary:
In author Matt Mikalatos’ second (not-quite-true) story, he takes us on a journey of overcoming the monstrous inclinations within us all. The comedic tale of Mikalatos and his neighbors features zombies, vampires, mad scientists and a next-door werewolf named Luther.

The Low-down:
Mikalatos crafts a clever narrative wherein believers of all stripes are portrayed as monsters straight of the cheesy B-movies of the past. What’s great about Night of the Living Dead Christian is that Mikalatos doesn’t sit on the sidelines lobbing cynical bombs of monster labels at his pet peeves in the church world. Rather, he inserts (and accuses) himself as a character in the narrative.

Although Mikalatos narrates the story, his werewolf neighbor, Luther, is truly the main character as the central plot of the book follows his struggle to tame the beast. Mikalatos even occasionally turns over narration duties to allow Luther to wax theological on the nature of sin, rescue, and redemption.

A story at times both sad and funny enough to elicit audible laughter, Night of the Living Dead Christian forces the reader to examine his or her own monstrous inclinations.

The Author’s Own Words:

The Rating:
4 of 5 Stars (An interesting book that kept me turning the pages)

The Links:

The Contest:
I’m giving away a free copy of Night of the Living Dead Christian – comment by 11:59 PM Central Time, Friday December 23 for your chance to win! (Winner will be chosen from all entries by The Little One grabbing your name out of a hat or fishbowl or other suitable item.)

Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC's “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley

My very first job was washing the plate glass windows of my uncle's law firm on the small-town main street of my hometown. I loved coming in twice a month and just being around the smell of old books and leather that exuded from the conference room made me a happy camper.  I now understand that the practice of law is more than just a cool office, leather-bound books and unisex bathrooms. (At least that's what my friends in the field tell me - I've heard it both ways.)

In Supreme Courtship, author Christopher Buckley looks at the world of law from the other side of the bench as he melds the highest court in the land with, arguably, the lowest.

The Twitter² Summary: 
When his first two selections are rebuffed, President Donald Vanderdamp spites Judiciary Chairman Dexter Mitchell by nominating reality-TV judge “Pepper” Cartwright. When her popularity creates a quick confirmation, Mitchell resigns his Senate seat to star as president on a TV show that proves so popular that he runs for real.

The Low-Down: 
Buckley’s blend of the U. S. Supreme Court with a fictional TV courtroom show is usually smooth, but this makes the occasional hiccups all the more glaring. The most obvious of these is the recurring theme of the rodeo slang Pepper speaks and the stretch that at least one character understands it that shouldn’t. Another is Buckley’s use of footnotes that distract from his narrative with unnecessary jokes.

I do appreciate that in a novel about the forces and practice of politics, Buckley doesn't identify his characters by party. This allows the reader to apply their own filter to Buckley’s spot-on satire of Washington politics. It remains to be seen whether Supreme Courtship’s story will remain pertinent as a commentary of the ever-shifting world of politics or become a relic of the specific time of this political season.

The Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (Great for a one-time read, I’d check it out from your local library.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: The 21-Day Dad’s Challenge by Carey Casey (editor)

I’m still relatively new to the whole father game. The Little One just crossed the 18-month threshold and I’ve only just come to appreciate that I’m not yet the kind of father I want him to have. I realize that I need to intentionally strive to become the father I want to be.

These thoughts were swimming in the back of my mind as I sat down with The 21-Day Dad’s Challenge. What I wasn’t thinking about was who wrote it. Discovering that Carey Casey was both the editor and a contributing writer was a joy. (It was also a delight to see that his son Marcellus authored a chapter as well.)

I was excited about this discovery for a couple of reasons. First, I worked with Carey, his wife and their daughters over the course of two summers in the National Camp Office of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. As an avid book-lover, it’s hard not to be excited when you pick up a title by someone you know. The second reason is that during my time with FCA, I had the privilege of watching Carey interact with his children during happy and stressful times and his example has long been one I have looked forward to implementing as a father myself.

As far as the book itself, I really enjoyed reading it. Each chapter is a succinct bit of wisdom, transmitted father to father. Each author’s unique perspective and experience as a father underscores the wisdom of their words. Chapters end with a specific challenge to enact and space to detail a plan for how to achieve it.

In a nod to the “always connected” reality of today’s world, QR codes are scattered throughout the book that connect to online content designed to help encourage fathers on their journey. As a father who does not have a smart-phone (mine’s kind of bright, but wouldn’t be close to the top of the class), I appreciate that all of the extra content can be accessed through the web addresses right next to the QR codes.

The 21-Day Dad’s Challenge will push you to become the father you wish you were in a positive, uplifting way. I highly recommend it to all fathers with children of any age.

The Rating: 
 4 of 5 stars (An interesting book that kept me turning the pages.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: 
I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC's “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

A (Short) Night of Music with Dala

This weekend, we took the Little One to his first concert. He lasted a solid 25 minutes before meltdown. Not too bad for 18 months old.

I think he might've lasted a little longer if the gals in Dala weren't as good at connecting with their audience. His interest waned during the talking portions of the show, but boy did he love listening to the "pretty girls" sing.

Of the handful of songs we heard before our forced exit, my favorite was a bouncy tribute to the attraction of opposites called Lennon-McCartney.

We were planning on attending all along, but decided to grab a seat for the little one at the last minute to give him a chance to practice sitting still. It'll come in handy later when we go to the SAU Galvin Fine Arts presentation of Dakota Jones and the Search for Atlantis, a children's musical we'll be seeing in December.

I think we might need to practice a little bit more to make sure he'll make it through the whole show.

Anyone have any advice on getting a little one to sit still for a whole performance?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: America: The Last Best Hope, Volume III by William Bennett

Looking back on my years as an undergrad, I often regret not taking more history courses. Actually, not more history courses, any history courses. I took U.S. History I and U.S. History II for college credit my senior year of high school. This was great for me in high school as it allowed me to receive college credit for taking classes in my favorite subject, but the drawback was that I had finished all of my college history requirements before even setting foot on campus.

These days I indulge my love of history with titles like William Bennett’s America: The Last Best Hope, Volume III. I haven’t the pleasure of reading his first two volumes, but I devoured this one in two evenings.

Bennett doesn’t make secret his political leanings or specific thoughts on the makers of history (he footnotes them and his own connections throughout), but he presents a very balanced treatment of the events of American History from 1998 to 2008. Bennett has an easy writing style and doesn’t make an attempt to defend his opinion on the events of history, but simply presents them from his point of view. As someone who worked with many of the “movers and shakers” of this period, Bennett enjoys the unique position of being able to provide not just the facts but also how they drove the decisions of those involved.

Though it heavily focused on the political side of history, I found the occasional forays into the nonpolitical history to be the most enjoyable sections of the book. I’d have liked to see the book balance more between the world of politics and other items of historical note, instead of focusing so much on the politics of these decades.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in history, though those of us who indulge a deeper interest will certainly get more out of it.

The Rating: 
 4 of 5 stars (An interesting book that kept me turning the pages.)

Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC's “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: The Radleys by Matt Haig

Supernatural creatures trying to blend in with “normal humans” is a fairly popular plot device in fiction these days. What makes it fresh in Matt Haig's "The Radleys" is that half the family doesn't know they're keeping a low profile. Actually, they aren't even aware of their supernatural nature.

Though parents Peter and Helen know what they are, they've deliberately kept their children in the dark. Claire and Rowan have always been weak and prone to sickness, due to their inadvertent avoidance of the very thing they don't know they need. An attack on Claire by a drunk, overly amorous classmate sets in motion her and Rowan's discovery of both their true nature and their parents' deception. Haig interweaves this discovery with bits and pieces of back-story that sheds light on their parents' desire to abstain in the first place.

What are they abstaining from? Blood, of course. Similar to that other family of twinkly, Pacific Northwest abstainers, the Radleys act just like their "unblood" neighbors on sleepy Orchard Lane – except when they don't. And when they don't, their violence is spectacular and horrific.

The narrative picks up speed when Peter turns to his alluring, but wantonly cruel, brother Will for help. With Will's presence come new secrets and complications that force Peter and Helen to face the consequences of their long-standing deception.

The Radleys is a philosophical novel about honesty and the perils of identity crisis set against an acute moral conflict. Haig develops each character carefully and brings the narrative to a satisfying, but somewhat sudden, conclusion.

If you have more than a passing interest in the supernatural, but are overwhelmed by the avalanche of current supernatural fiction, pick up The Radleys. It's a well-written novel that won't make you feel empty after you're done reading.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster

The summer before my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to go out for a varsity sport. Though there were many reasons, they all boiled down to this: I wanted to connect more with my father. You see growing up I knew my dad was a real manly kind of man. He went loved hunting and fishing, fixed things around the house and worked on cars because he liked it. I wasn’t a huge fan of fishing (I found it kind of boring, but at least you could read). I didn’t care for hunting (same as fishing, but without the book) and I really, really wasn’t interested in rebuilding cars (Dad would have to wait for my youngest sister to find a kindred spirit there). It’s not that I ever thought my dad was disappointed in me. I knew he wasn’t. It was just that there weren’t a lot of interests we had in common and I wanted more of a connection with him.

So, I asked around among friends on the different teams trying to find a sport that I had a chance of lettering in with only one season. My friend Adam convinced me with this advice: “Running cross country is easy. Step one: start running … that’s it. There is no step two.” (Advice I would later hear eerily echoed by NPH’s Barney on How I Met Your Mother). I joined the team, I earned my varsity letter, got the jacket, connected a bit more with my dad and learned that I hate running. I’d rather walk.

For this reason, I was more than a little excited about Charles Foster’s entry in the Ancient Practices Series, The Sacred Journey.  I envisioned a solitary soul purposefully walking across deserts and scaling mountains.

It didn’t take long before I realized I had it all wrong.

Foster’s book is less about walking and more about moving. Moving from a place of normalcy in the name of God, in search of a place that feels sacred where we can experience God more intimately, precisely and poignantly. I very much enjoyed Foster’s interweaving of his own experiences with the history of the importance of sacred journeys within the Christian tradition.

I’m not as big a fan of one of his repeated claims throughout his book, that God has a preference for the pilgrim and disdain for those who settle. Though Foster points to Jesus’ status as a camping wanderer, I just don’t buy that God hates the city. God can work just as decidedly in transforming people in the city as He can on the road.

In spite of my main issue with it, I recommend you pick up The Sacred Journey. It will challenge you in a way that I imagine you haven't been challenged before.  It'll be good for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: 
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC's “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Why so Angry?

In May I walked across the stage, took the pictures and received the congratulations on graduating from Seminary. But I knew I wasn't finished. No diploma resided in the handsomely apportioned case handed me as I confidently strode across that stage. No, inside was a single sheet of paper that read, "Return this case. You will receive one with your diploma when you finish your graduation requirements." This sentiment was underscored when my theology professor whispered, "now remember, you're walking by faith." as I shook his hand before leaving the stage. 

What was left for me to do? Well, I still needed to pass my seminary orals. As part of that process, I've been working in fits and bursts on a 2 final papers for my Seminary degree. The first on Pre-Tribulation Rapture and the second on God's sovereignty (you know, the whole Calvinism/Arminism thing). 
Both of these topics have knowledgeable and thoughtful scholars who disagree on how to interpret scripture. The tenor of the disagreements are quite different from each other. In the timing of the rapture debate, people are civil and their critiques have an attitude of "Well, I probably can't get the other guy (or gal) to change his (or her) position, but I sure can have fun with it by poking a little fun at them." 

On the other hand the sovereignty debate is vicious. Both sides are playing for keeps. throwing down gauntlets as requests for proof and then refusing to accept what proof is offered. (And please note, I did say BOTH sides.) It's hard to even consider entering into a debate where arguers are routinely accused of ignorance and stupidity in interpretation and  misleading Christians in this "most important of all doctrinal issues." 

I find this particularly frustrating in that I hold to parts of both traditions, but adhere to neither in its entirety. So, my question is this: Why is this issue such a contentious one? Why would people say that Arminians and Calvinists shouldn't even work together (as one friend of mine was advised)? I haven't come across this advice over End Times theology or many other theological issues. Why is this the common response for this one?