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Conan Doyle for the Defence
by Margalit Fox
As a lover of mysteries, I enjoyed reading Conan Doyle for the Defense. Be forewarned, however, that this book is not light reading. It is the recounting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s application of Holmesian deductive skills to the real case of Oscar Slater, wrongfully found guilty of the murder of an elderly lady.
In the process of relating the details of the case, the author Margalit Fox puts the events in context. She discusses the Victorian era and the development of crime fiction, including, of course, the Sherlock Holmes mystery series. She also addresses the life and character of Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Scottish politics, police, and the penal system. Fox presents an in-depth discussion of the different types of reasoning that might be used in trying to solve crimes.
If you are looking for a beach read, Conan Doyle for the Defence is not it. If you are interested in learning more about true crime detection, and how its principles apply to fiction, then this is the right book for you.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Profile Books/Serpent’s Tail for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: History, True Crime
Notes: Includes a complete list of references, footnotes, and bibliography to support the information contained in the book.
Publication: June 28, 2018—Profile Books/Serpent’s Tail
First joining the case in 1912, he turned his formidable powers to the effort to free him, dissecting the conduct of police and prosecution with Holmesian acumen. But despite his influence and energy, Conan Doyle discovered, he wrote, that “I was up against a ring of political lawyers who could not give away the police without also giving away themselves.”
Holmes quickly became a global sensation, not only for his investigative prowess, unimpeachable morals and ultrarational cast of mind, but also for his exquisite embodiment of an age of Victorian gentility, and Victorian certainties, that was already imperiled.
Detection, at bottom, is a diagnostic enterprise, and the late 19th century was where the shared diagnostic concerns of medicine, criminalistics and literary detection first truly converged in public life.
Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story
by Meredith Shafer
Despite its subtitle, Meredith Shafer’s Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story is not a mushy romance. It is the hard-hitting tale of a woman who has lived in the trenches and struggled to scramble out for her own survival and that of her children and her husband nicknamed Mr. Wonderful in the book. “Mad Cow” does not refer to the feared Mad Cow disease; it is the nickname Meredith has given to the struggle her husband faces every day. He is a veteran retired on a medical disability and Mad Cow is a triangle of asthma, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury and all of the associated problems that often accompany these disorders including issues with depression and sobriety.
Mad Cow is not a timeline biography, and it does not detail Mr. Wonderful’s war injuries or his specific medical issues. Instead, this memoir shares the struggles of this hot mess, circus-like, crazy family of six, led by a spunky mama and a wounded warrior as they navigate life, crises, and the VA medical system. We learn of financial struggles and family issues. We discover how survival fueled by faith, trust, and God’s love becomes more important than a perfect house, after school activities, and productivity.
Meredith brings her background as a musician, lawyer, mom, writer and speaker, a devotee of leopard, shoes, coffee and bling, and most especially a lover of Jesus to this book. She shares openly from her heart; there is no fakeness in this book. You will find humor scattered liberally throughout. There is one particularly funny chapter called “The Casita” which describes how the family of six lived temporarily in a 150 square foot house. Under the humor though is the pain of trying to save a husband who is past being able to save himself. Under the humor is a woman’s heart as she leans into her Father relying on Him to restore her family.
Category: Memoir, Christian Nonfiction
Notes: You can find my review of Meredith Shafer’s first book, My Pink Champagne Life here
You can’t really go back, though. You can only move forward, which we are trying to do with generosity of spirit and good humor and grace, a whole truckload of grace. Wow, that’s hard.
I’ve decided that potty training a fiery redheaded she-child is kind of like training a wild tiger to dance to show tunes. It’s a delicate yet frightening process that requires infinite patience, a death wish, and multiple costume changes.
I guess thirty days off and three counseling appointments post deployment aren’t nearly enough. The military way, though it’s not written in any of their field manuals, is to soldier on. Self-medicate with alcohol if necessary as that is the acceptable method of of soldiering on.
Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt
written by Linda Bailey
illustrations by Bill Slavin
Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt is a juvenile graphic novel that kept this adult interested from beginning to end. In this book, which is part of The Time Travel Guides, the bored Pinkerton twins chase after their little sister Libby who has entered the rather creepy Good Times Travel Agency. Opening the owner’s personal guide book catapults the three children into Ancient Egypt. They learn that their adventure will not end until they finish reading the book.
The layout of the book is very appealing. The fictional story is told in comic book style at the top of the page. At the bottom of the page is a drawing of an aged book (Julian T. Pettigrew’s Personal Guide to Ancient Egypt) containing nonfiction text that explains and elaborates upon what is happening in the story. For example, when an Egyptian woman invites them into her home, the nonfiction text describes the house, food, and clothing of Ancient Egypt.
I can’t stress enough the current importance of books like this to interest children in history for three reasons. First, most people are familiar with the saying attributed to George Santayana that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” There are many horrific events in history most can agree should never be repeated. Second, sadly to say, most children are not exposed to history in their younger years in school. The school day and curriculum in public elementary school is so regimented that the focus is reading, taught in a boring and uninspired way, math, and standardized testing. I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say that as a teacher I had to sneak in science and history and hope the principal didn’t catch me. Third, history is interesting and FUN. in an age when teachers do their best to incorporate games and movement activities called “brain breaks” (to replace the recess that was taken away), we need to restore the intrinsic fun that comes through learning interesting things. In that way we create life long learners.
In addition, a book of this type actively demonstrates reasons for reading—to learn more about something you are interested in and to be carried away by a story. I particularly appreciate that Bailey gave a belated shout out to her high school history teacher: “Great work, Mr. Visch—you made it fun!” She dedicated the book to her daughter who “once did a school project on the Sphinx and has been in love with all things Egyptian ever since.” Teachers and projects do make a difference.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Nonfiction
Notes: 1. new edition of an older book
2. Grade Level: 3-7
3. Age Range: 8-12 years
Publication: May 1, 2018—Kids Can Press
For drinks, try the national beverage—beer! It’s made from half-cooked bread and river water, and it’s thick, dark and sometimes a bit lumpy. You’re supposed to strain it well before serving, but not everyone does.
Down at the bottom are the farmers and laborers. Most people in ancient Egypt are at the bottom of the society—where there’s plenty of room!
Sightseeing in the middle of a getaway? This was a very bad idea. Emma and Josh tried to lure their little sister out of the pyramid.
The King Who Left His Kingdom
El Rey Que Dejó Su Reino
written by Deanna Altman
illustrated by Lisa Mueller
The publisher provides this summary of The King Who Left His Kingdom: “This book is provided in English and Spanish under one cover. A story of love given by Jesus as he leaves his kingdom of light to show the way to people who are in darkness. A magnificent, simple and clear way to show children the real sacrifice God made by sending his son. This evangelistic tool can be used to show the gospel to children in a very simple, yet beautiful way making a contrast between God’s kingdom of light, and the darkness in our world.”
With this intent of the book in mind, I must say that it fell short of the mark. I really wanted to like it, but young children are very literal and I don’t think they would understand the symbolism provided by this book. It is more of an allegory than children of the intended ages can handle. For example, Jesus speaks of His Father’s kingdom and the people want to go there. Jesus tells them “ ‘No, you cannot go there without someone making a way. The darkness blocks your way. There is only one way; I must make a bridge,’ the Son-king said. He walked to Jerusalem and paid a price. He made a path with blood; with wood and nails he paved the way to make a bridge for His friends.” The illustration shows people walking across a chasm on a bridge (perhaps sprinkled with blood?) in the shape of a cross. As an adult and a Christian, I understand what the author is saying. This is an old evangelical depiction of sin separating us from God and the cross bridging the gap, but I wouldn’t have understood this when I was a child. I’m not sure there is even enough there for an unchurched adult to understand the sacrifice Jesus made to save people from their sins.
I think it is commendable to have the book in both English and Spanish, but no credit is given to the translator. Even if the author is the translator, that should have been noted. I appreciate author Deanna Altman’s efforts to share God’s incredible gift, but it is not something I would share with children ages 5-8 or grades K-3 as recommended.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to First Edition Design Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Nonfiction, Christian
Notes: Publisher’s Recommended Age Range: 5-8
Publisher’s Recommended Grade Level: K-3
Publication: April 3, 2018—First Edition Design Publishing
I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard
What will it be like for a believer in Christ to die and go to heaven? Bart Millard’s answer is “I Can Only Imagine.” If you have not heard this beautiful worship song, I encourage you to go to YouTube and listen right now. Then read the memoir I Can Only Imagine written by Bart Millard, lead singer and organizer of MercyMe and writer of this song. God inspired him to write the song, and he had it down on paper in ten minutes, but as legendary Christian singer Amy Grant told him, referring to his background, “Bart, you didn’t write this song in ten minutes. It took a lifetime.”
Millard’s memoir details what a movie by the same name could only highlight. A product of a severely dysfunctional family, he suffered extreme physical, verbal, and emotional abuse followed by a long period of neglect which could still be punctuated by paternal outbursts of anger. But through it all, God had a plan. This book details Bart’s relationship with God and the dual miracles He worked in the life of Bart and his dad. How could Bart’s father morph from a monster into a role model? How could Bart forgive his father for the horrible abuses wrought on him and go on to become a kind and loving father and husband himself? The answer to these mysteries is summed up in one word—God. More exactly, the miraculous power, love, and mercy of God.
The book also shares how the band MercyMe was formed and worked its way up the ladder in the dog-eat-dog competitive music industry while remaining true to God’s calling for them. Theirs was not a path of instant success, but it was one that glorified God and reflected His plan and goals.
This memoir is well written and honestly reflects the struggles Bart had in his personal as well as musical endeavors. The part of the book that deals with abuse is, of course, difficult to read, but Millard shares enough that the reader understands the depth of what happened without being drawn into lengthy descriptions of the brutality. Millard shares his pain but also inspires with the wondrous miracle of God’s love.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson (W Publishing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication: February 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson (W Publishing)
But through all that noise in my life, whenever I heard perfect union of melody and lyric in a song, something traveled from my ears to my heart and made me feel alive.
I embraced the truth that no matter what happened or what Dad did to me, God was ultimately in control. I became more vocal about my faith, less afraid to ask questions about the Bible, and more confident to state what I believed. What I discovered is that there’s personal empowerment that comes with a relationship with Christ, and this, coupled with a newfound identity in Him, brings real healing to suffering people.
The maddening thing about verbal abuse is how the words you’ve heard replay in your head hundreds of times, even when the person is not around or has stopped saying those things to you.
We all face really hard seasons when it seems as if the entire world is against us, when we think we just cannot win. But when we keep standing strong, following the Lord, and obeying His calling, He will see us through and keep us on His path.
Who Do You Say That I AM?
by Becky Harling
Welcome to Who Do You Say That I AM?, an eight week Bible study by Becky Harling. I knew this was a study I wanted to experience as soon as I read the title. Jesus’ question to His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” has always made me pause. He was giving them an opportunity to think through what they knew about Him and make a declaration of faith. This Bible study gives us a chance to do the same thing. It examines what Jesus said about Himself in eight I AM statements, all recorded by His disciple John in the New Testament of the Bible.
Harling has a comfortable style of writing as she sets up her lessons (5/week) in a way that encourages the reader to delve into Scriptures looking for meaning based on the original Hebrew words. She guides the reader in the process so it is a facet of the study: it is not overwhelming or overly pedantic. The reader is always encouraged to apply the truths to her own life. There are practical tips as well, such as compiling an emergency Scripture kit for the tough times. She also emphasizes praise songs and prayer in each lesson. Each lesson is put in a cultural context including a Bible story or a recounting of personal experiences in contemporary settings.
Who Do You Say That I AM? will get you involved in really examining what Jesus says about Himself. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, this could be the book that helps you understand the claims of the Bible (God’s Word) and make a decision. If you are already a follower of Jesus, this book is a great way to learn more about Him and turn your focus on Him moment by moment as you make your way through each day.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: Bible study
Publication: February 6, 2018—Moody Publishing
In a culture that devalued women, Jesus makes His first I AM statement to a woman! While religious systems often devalue women, Jesus honors women.
The two best weapons I know for fighting Satan when he tries to throw guilt and shame at you are: Praise and Scripture.
Human love, wonderful as it is, will at some level disappoint us and let us down. It is only Christ’s perfect, infinite, complete love that comes with the promise of satisfaction.
As I began to be intentional about worshipping Jesus Christ every morning, the Holy Spirit began to radically change my life. Fear turned to courage, worry turned to calm, and doubt turned to faith. I now believe that becoming intentional in the realm of praise is essential for every believer.
by Tara Westover
Very few books leave me speechless, but Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is one of them. Well written, this is the author’s very personal story of growing up in a dysfunctional family with abuse of various types from several family members and later betrayal by others. Tara lived a secluded and physically difficult life with a large family dominated by an authoritative father with mental issues. He was an extremist Mormon with an antigovernment, end times, survivalist fixation.
Tara was supposedly homeschooled, but her education was basically nonexistent. She and several of her brothers in turn realized their only escape was through education. Self-taught, Tara scored high enough on her ACT test to qualify for admission to Brigham Young University as she turned 17. She was unprepared mentally and socially for a college experience. She did not even have basic hygiene skills.
Over the course of her academic education, she was confronted with multiple instances where the foundations of her beliefs from childhood were shattered by learning the true version of events. She was lied to, put in danger, and manipulated time after time. Tara’s journey to mental health and a new normalcy happened slowly and only after many confrontations with her family. Eventually she was forced by them to choose with whom her loyalties would lie and the direction of her life as an adult.
Educated is a powerful memoir and emotionally very difficult to read. Its focus on education, relationships, and faith results in a painful tale as Tara journeys from Idaho to Cambridge with forays to New England, Paris, Italy, and the Middle East—all places she could not even dream of because she previously knew nothing about them. This is a story that needed to be told, and one I am glad the author shared.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: links provided by Random House
LISTEN to Tara’s NPR Fresh Air interview: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/20/587244230/memoirist-retraces-her-journey-from-survivalist-childhood-to-cambridge-ph-d
WATCH Tara’s CBS This Morning segment: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/tara-westovers-journey-from-off-the-grid-childhood-to-cambridge/
DISCUSS the book with your book club: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550168/educated-by-tara-westover/9780399590504/readers-guide/
Publication: February 20, 2018—Random House
I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us—people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing, every day, for the End of the World.
“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”
It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.
In that moment part of me believed, as I had always believed, that it would be me who broke the spell, who caused it to break. When the stillness shattered and his fury rushed at me, I would know that something I had done was the catalyst, the cause. There is hope in such a superstition, there is the illusion of control.
Putting It Together Again When It’s All Fallen Apart
by Tom Holladay
We all have times when we need to rebuild, whether it is a “church, a business, a relationship, or a purpose in your life” says Tom Holladay. He is the senior teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, and he uses the book of Nehemiah in the Bible as his foundation for teachings about “putting it together again when it’s all fallen apart.”
Do you, like me, need a reminder, a prod—who was Nehemiah anyway? Holladay says “Nehemiah was a government leader who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem after it had fallen into ruin.” Actually, in the book I learned that Nehemiah also went on to reestablish the city, resettle its inhabitants, establish rules for commerce that aligned with God’s laws, and give thanks to God for completing the project which naysayers said couldn’t be done.
Holladay takes a book of the Old Testament that could be boring and makes it come alive. He analyzes the text well and applies it in a very practical way to a variety of situations from personal to business. He gives examples of how real people have used these principles successfully in their lives. I especially like that this is not a verse by verse study of Nehemiah; Holladay explains how Nehemiah worked through the problems of his building project and how we can apply the same Scriptures in our own lives.
I highly recommend this book for its interesting content and writing style and for its Scriptural insights and integrity. There are so many possible applications that I think every reader will come away enlightened and blessed in their daily walk with God.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Zondervan for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: This book ends with a Small Group Study Guide and references 10 minute videos available on YouTube to accompany each chapter.
Publication: February 6, 2018–Zondervan
Memorable Lines: (Just way too many—a sign of a book with a lot of wisdom—so I’ll just pull out a few of the first ones I highlighted.)
Gossipers love to destroy what others are building. It gives them a twisted sense of power.
Victory comes from your relationship with God. Nehemiah exemplifies dependence on God at every point in the battle: he talks to God in prayer, follows God in the changes, listens to God in his encouragement, and lives by means of God’s priorities through God’s Word.
Rebuilders must have thick skin because they’re going to face attack. That attack may come from an individual, but it can also come from within. One of the names for Satan in the Bible is “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10). He loves to ridicule your faith. So he’ll send a thought when you want to renew your faith, a relationship, a ministry, or a dream.
Lies Women Believe
by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
Lies Women Believe is a hard hitting book that encourages women to overcome problems in their lives by following Biblical principles rather than the lies of Satan as broadcast through the untrue words of others, whether family, friends, the media (both news and social), books, and movies. The author, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, has written chapters on various problem issues for women such as parenting, sexuality, and marriage. After explaining how sin began with lies that Satan told Eve in the garden of Eden, Wolgemuth starts each chapter with an imagined journal entry depicting Eve’s life experiences and the consequences of sin as it applies to that chapter’s topic. She then discusses the topic in depth including lots of Scripture to support her stance and many related examples from friends and from women who have attended her conference sessions. She ties up each chapter with the lies Satan tells about the topic and counters each lie with God’s truth and supporting Scripture references.
One of the chapters I think is excellent is “Lies Women Believe About Children.” In it Wolgemuth discusses the “Mommy Wars” where mothers engage in the comparison game considering themselves failures or better than other mothers. She clarifies that there are many choices that parents make that are simply that—choices. There is no Scriptural basis for the decision. She writes that parents need to pray about the choice as each family is different. An example would be schooling—homeschool, private, or public? Mothers should not look down on others based on their choices in areas like that.
As a reviewer I read this book over the course of several days, and I must admit to being overwhelmed about three-fourths of the way through. The book is Scripturally based, well written, and has great organization. The problem is that as I read each section, I found myself second-guessing past decisions and choices that I feel sure were made with God’s leadership. I suspect this kind of condemnation and doubt is not what Wolgemuth intended. I think God wants us to step out in confidence based on trust in Him. I do not think the unease in my heart is God moving in my life, but Satan using a good book to sow seeds of doubt. I understand the importance of thinking and praying about our choices in the light of God’s Word and because of this book I will be more aware in the future of the way Satan uses lies and half-truths to change our thinking.
I found the last part of Lies Women Believe to be especially helpful; so if you are having a hard time with some of the issues, I suggest you keep reading. The chapter “Lies About Circumstances” addresses this all encompassing part of life, which we all go through in various ways, in a very practical manner. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was reading about condemnation and perfection, but about how real women survive real circumstances with the help of a very real God. I also found the last two chapters “Countering Lies with the Truth” and “The Truth that Sets us Free” to be very practical and an offering of hope for the future.
In conclusion, my “take away” from Lies Women Believe is to be more aware of the many subtle forms of attack by Satan. At the same time I will keep Isaiah 26:3 in remembrance: “ You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!”
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: This is a major update and expansion of the original version.
Publication: February 6, 2018—Moody Publishing
What we read or hear may sound right, may feel right, may seem right—but if it’s contrary to the Word of God, it isn’t right.
Like a rock thrown into a pond, the ripples caused by sin go on and on. If only we could see that every single sin is a big deal, that every sin is an act of rebellion and cosmic treason, that every time we choose our way instead of God’s way, we are revolting against the God and King of the universe.
Through His sinless life, His death on Calvary as the sinner’s substitute, and His victorious resurrection, we can be fully forgiven for all our sin, we can be reconciled to the God we have offended, and we can have the power to live holy lives.