Review of Being Christian, by Rowan Williams

August 1st, 2015

being_christian_largeBeing Christian

Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer

William B. Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014. 84 pages.

Here’s how this little book begins:

What are the essential elements of the Christian life? I am not thinking in terms of individuals leading wonderful lives, but just in terms of those simple and recognizable things that make you realize that you are part of a Christian community. This little book is designed to help you think about four of the most obvious of these things: baptism, Bible, Eucharist and prayer.

Christians are received into full membership of the Church by having water poured or sprinkled over them (or, in some traditions, being fully immersed); Christians read the Bible; Christians gather to share bread and wine in memory of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; and Christians pray. There is a huge and bewildering variety in Christian thinking and practice about all kinds of things, but these four basic activities have remained constant and indispensable for the majority of those who call themselves Christians.

In this book we shall be looking at what those activities tell us about the essence of Christian life, and what kind of people we might hope to become in a community where these things are done.

As I said, this is a short book. I read small parts of it each morning for a couple weeks. The author did get me thinking, and got me looking at these essentials of the Christian faith in a new way.

Here’s something he says about baptism:

So baptism restores a human identity that has been forgotten or overlaid. Baptism takes us to where Jesus is. It takes us therefore into closer neighbourhood with a dark and fallen world, and it takes us into closer neighbourhood with others invited there. The baptized life is characterized by solidarity with those in need, and sharing with all others who believe. And it is characterized by a prayerfulness that courageously keeps going, even when things are difficult and unpromising and unrewarding, simply because you cannot stop the urge to pray. Something keeps coming alive in you; never mind the results.

And here’s something about the Bible:

One of the things that Christian people characteristically do is read the Bible – or rather, in quite a lot of circumstances, they have the Bible read to them. It is worth remembering, especially for us who are inheritors of the Reformation and part of a literate culture, that for the huge majority of Christians throughout the centuries, as well as for many today, the bible is a book heard more than read. And that is quite a significant fact about it. For when you see a group of baptized people listening to the Bible in public worship, you realize that Bible-reading is an essential part of the Christian life because Christian life is a listening life. Christians are people who expect to be spoken to by God.

This is the first paragraph about Eucharist:

For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are always guests — that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is, perhaps, the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company.

And finally, here’s something from the chapter on Prayer:

That, in a nutshell, is prayer – letting Jesus pray in you, and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action; just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father – even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death.

There’s more in this book, but this will give you an idea of what to expect. I found surprisingly many new insights about these fundamental practices.

eerdmans.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of One Word from Sophia, by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

July 31st, 2015

one_word_from_sophia_largeOne Word from Sophia

by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2015. 36 pages.
Starred Review

This book is tremendously fun. The beginning concisely sums up the situation:

Sophia’s birthday was coming up, and she had five things on her mind –
One True Desire and four problems.

Her One True Desire was to get a pet giraffe for her birthday.

The four problems were . . .
Mother, who was a judge,
Father, who was a businessman,
Uncle Conrad, who was a politician,
and Grand-mamá, who was very strict.

Sophia presents her case eloquently to each of these adults, with her arguments perfectly and amusingly tailored to her audiences.

Her mother says she’s too verbose, her father that she’s too effusive, her uncle that she’s too loquacious, and Grand-mamá that she needs to get to the point.

So Sophia thinks hard and gets her case down to one word, “accompanied by a particularly compelling pair of eyes.”

Now, I expected this book to be an example of how, sometimes, you simply can’t get the things you want. Umm, this is not that book.

Also, kids won’t necessarily get the court references when Sophia makes her case to her mother the judge or the business proposal references in her presentation to her father the businessman or the polling references in the results shown to her uncle the politician. However, those are what makes the book tremendous fun for an adult reading it. And I think kids will enjoy the sounds of the words, even if they don’t grasp all the humorous implications.

And I’m not completely confident that we really should give little negotiators any ideas for how to work. They’re awfully good at what they do already. And if Sophia can con her family into getting her a giraffe? Well, clearly your own little negotiator is much more reasonable. Should we give that ground to them?

But this book is simply way too much fun not to recommend it, so I will be content with warning potential adult readers. In general, I suspect that the enjoyment you get from reading this book will outweigh any drawbacks from ideas your children pick up. (As if they actually need any.) And, best of all, they may remember to say Please!

I should add that the pictures are delightful – portraying a mixed-race family with lovely vibrant colors. And just the right amount of words.

May we all know our One True Desire as clearly as Sophia.

jimaverbeck.com
YasmeenIsmail.co.uk
KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman

July 23rd, 2015

nightbird_largeNightbird

by Alice Hoffman

Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2015. 197 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve read at least three different books about a teen who sprouts wings, and how they deal with that. This book is different — It’s about the sister of a boy with wings. In fact, the wings are part of a family curse on all the men of the family.

Twig Fowler lives in the small town of Sidwell, Massachusetts, with her mother and a brother that no one knows about. The town has plenty of tradition – including Twig’s mother’s Pink Apple Pie. But one of the traditions — the Sidwell Monster — is not so benign.

James is tired of living in hiding. And Twig is tired of not having friends. When a family moves into the home of the witch who cursed the Fowler family, and they are descended from that witch — Twig and her new friend Julia decide it may be time to break the spell. But how? And James is getting more and more reckless — and falling in love with Julia’s sister Agate.

This is a feel-good story, and if things worked out awfully nicely, I don’t begrudge any of them a happy ending. We’ve got a kid just wanting friends, a small town infused with magic, and Alice Hoffman’s brilliant writing.

alicehoffman.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at an ALA conference.

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Review of Elena Vanishing, by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle

July 22nd, 2015

elena_vanishing_largeElena Vanishing

by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2015. 293 pages.
Starred Review

Full disclosure: Clare Dunkle is a friend I met when I lived in Germany, and I love everything she writes. But I have good reason! Her writing is wonderful.

Elena Vanishing is a memoir, written from the perspective of Clare’s young adult daughter, Elena, about her years fighting anorexia nervosa. This was released alongside Clare’s book alone, Hope and Other Luxuries, which had the mother’s perspective about everything. I related to that book more, because I’m a mother, too. This book was more painful to read because Elena verbalizes the voice in her head that was saying awful things to her, fueling the anorexia.

I have pages on my site for Children’s Nonfiction and Adult Nonfiction. I should perhaps separate out a page for Young Adult Nonfiction. As it is, I’m going to post this on the Nonfiction page, with the note that it is written for teens, from a teen’s perspective. It may be painful to read, but it does give the reader a better understanding of what it feels like to be in the trap of this life-threatening disease.

Clare says in a note in the front that she thought she knew about anorexia nervosa.

I had believed anorexia nervosa was about dieting to achieve a “supermodel” look. In fact, during Elena’s worst years, she never once looked at herself. Elena dieted because not eating was the only thing that brought her a sense of peace. Anorexia had so altered the pattern of her mind that following her into that inner world was like stepping through a fun-house mirror: everything I took for granted seemed to twist into something else.

Most important, I had believed eating disorders were relatively rare. In fact, around ten percent of the American population will suffer from an eating disorder at some point — the vast majority of them while they’re in their teens or twenties. Now that I know what to look for, I see them everywhere.

But this isn’t the story of anorexia nervosa. It’s the story of a person. It’s the story of Elena Dunkle, a remarkable young woman who fights her demons with grit and determination. It’s the story of her battle to overcome trauma, to overcome prejudice, but most of all, to overcome that powerful destructive force, the inner critic who whispers to us about our greatest fears.

Elena is a fighter, a survivor — but never a victim. This is an inside view of her life-and-death struggle with anorexia nervosa: what she once called “the good girl’s suicide.”

This is a powerful and eye-opening story about a difficult journey.

claredunkle.com
chroniclebooks.com

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Review of The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

July 21st, 2015

goblin_emperor_largeThe Goblin Emperor

by Katherine Addison

Tor Fantasy, New York, 2014. 502 pages.

This is the sort of book that usually gets me telling people I don’t particularly like fantasy written for adults — so much detail in the world-building! So many strange names and strange cultural facts! So much strangeness in names and terminology!

However, unlike some others which I won’t name, Katherine Addison won me over completely with her story, despite the abundant detail. I found myself completely caring about the protagonist and even about his detailed choices — which at first I’d been impatient about.

Maia is the half-goblin fourth son of the elven emperor. His father is ashamed of him — he looks far too much like his goblin mother. He only met his father at his mother’s funeral, when Maia was 8 years old, and then was sent back into exile, accompanied only by a tutor who was also in exile and unhappy about that.

But then the emperor and his three oldest sons are all in an airship crash. Maia must come to the capital city immediately and take the throne.

This book is the story of an 18-year-old young man with no training for leadership being suddenly exalted to the position of emperor. He must learn how to rule and how to navigate the court and the halls of power. As well as wanting to stay alive.

Maia doesn’t even know how to dance or ride a horse. Can he get himself crowned, investigate his father’s death, choose an empress, rule the country — and stay alive while he’s doing it?

Despite my original prejudices, this ended up being an absorbing and engaging story.

katherineaddison.com
tor.com

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Sonderling Sunday – Headlines!

July 19th, 2015

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. Sort of a Traveler’s Phrasebook for Very Silly People.

Sonderlinge3

This week, I’m back to the book that inspired Sonderling Sunday, The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy, the most Sonder book of them all, Der Orden der seltsamen Sonderlinge.

This is my first week back after two and a half weeks of vacation on the west coast (which was great!), so once again I’ll have to keep it short. But there’s enough time for a little fun.

Last time I left off on page 234 in the English edition, Seite 295 auf Deutsch. I am in the middle of Chapter 18.

The first sentence I had to look up in German reveals no surprise I didn’t understand it:
Sir Alasdair übte oben auf seinem Urk-ack.
= “Sir Alasdair was practicing his urk-ack upstairs.”

“stopped hammering, drilling, and sawing” = aufhörten zu hämmern, zu bohren oder zu sägen

Don’t you want to know how to say this?
“the mellow tones of the urk-ack”
= die sanften Töne des Urk-ack

I still like long German words:
“pounded up and down”
= hinauf- und hinunterpolterten

“Inconvenience” = Ärgernis

This doesn’t sound like what it means:
“comfortable silence” = behagliches Schweigen

“often distracted” = häufig abgelenkt

“cot” = Pritsche

I’m not sure why this place-name was translated this way:
“Snoodsbottom” = Bilgental

“the important thing” = die Entscheidende

Here’s a good one!
“hopping mad” = fuchsteufelswild

“Girl Scout” = Pfadfinderin (“pathfinder girl”)

“brawl” = herumprügele

Another good phrase to know:
“That all sounds grand” = Das klingt alles ganz großartig

“bravely” = tapfer

“etiquette” = Verhaltensregeln (“behavior-rules”)

And I like how this sounds:
“Aunt Lily raised an eyebrow.”
= Tante Lily hob die Brauen.

And I have to list how the alliterative headlines were translated:

“ELDERLY ELDRITCH EXILES EXONERATED!
EXUBERANT EX-EXPATRIATES EXULT!”
= EXIL ENDLICH EXTERMINIERT!
VERGNÜGT VERBANNTE!

“MAGNANIMOUS MAYOR MAKES MERCIFUL MOTION
MANDATING MURDER MATTER MENDED!”
= BARMHERZIGER BÜRGERMEISTER BEENDET BANN
MORDVORWURF MAKULATUR

“STRIKE FORCE STEADFASTLY SCORNED SURRENDER TO
SILENT SISTERS, SUBSEQUENTLY SUFFERED SEVERE SANCTION,
SENTENCE SINCE SUSPENDED.”
= STREITMACHT VERHÖHNT STUMME SCHWESTERN
ANSCHLIESSEND ABER ABGEFAHRENER ÄRGER
SANKTIONEN SEITDEM SUSPENDIERT

(Not bad.)

That’s all I have time for tonight! But it’s good to be back! I am häufig abgelenkt, but die Entscheidende is to get back to it!

Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry

July 19th, 2015

scandalous_sisterhood_largeThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

by Julie Berry
read by Jayne Entwistle

Listening Library, 2014. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Starred Review
2015 Odyssey Honor Audiobook

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place are the students at a girls’ Victorian boarding school in Ely, England, St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies.

Right at the start of the book, the girls’ awful headmistress suddenly dies, as does her odious brother. The girls don’t want to be sent home! Smooth Kitty forms a plan. They will carry on as if nothing has happened. Stout Alice is an aspiring actress, so she can impersonate Mrs. Plackett when visitors come to the door. Pocked Louise is a budding scientist, so she can determine if poison was used. Dour Eleanor can be in charge of burying the bodies in the vegetable garden, and Disgraceful Mary Jane can distract any men who come around. Dear Roberta and Dull Martha have parts to play as well.

There’s one problem: What will the murderer do if their plan didn’t work the first time? Will they be convinced Stout Alice is in fact Mrs. Plackett and try again to kill her?

This is a delightful book about girls caught in a difficult situation who come up with questionable ideas for dealing with it.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of Ely with the cathedral looming, as I have been there and that’s what I remember.

Naturally enough, it reminded me of Summer of the Gypsy Moths in that both books begin with girls burying a body and trying to convince others that nothing has happened. The Sisters of Prickwillow Place have the advantage of there being seven of them. Can they work together to be able to stay together?

This is a murder mystery with a Victorian atmosphere. I listened to the book, and the narrator is wonderful, using a distinct voice for each character, and all with an English accent which of course makes for delightful listening.

The trailer is wonderful and gives you the flavor of the book.

julieberrybooks.com
listeninglibrary.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Billy’s Booger, by William Joyce

July 18th, 2015

billys_booger_largeBilly’s Booger

A Memoir (Sorta)

by William Joyce and his younger self

Moonbot Books, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), New York, 2015. 54 pages.
Starred Review

In this book, William Joyce explains for kids how he got his start writing picture books. He was in fourth grade, and he wrote a book for a school contest.

He worked hard on it. He exercised his imagination. The book he wrote and drew the pictures for is included in the center of this book.

What I love about it is that it reminds me of the stories my sons wrote when they were in about fourth grade. The smaller book is called Billy’s Booger and explains how Billy and his booger got bonked by a meteorite and gained super powers. The booger became a mathematical genius, and Billy could call on it at all times. The President of the United States asked advice from Billy and his Super-Booger!

Billy is tremendously disappointed when he doesn’t win any prize at all, not even honorable mention.

But the librarian puts all the kids’ books in the library — and Billy’s Booger gets checked out more than any other book.

And so began the adventures of a picture book author.

KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Lost in NYC, by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

July 17th, 2015

lost_in_nyc_largeLost in NYC

A Subway Adventure

by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

Toon Graphics, 2015. 49 pages.

Here’s a story that makes the most of the graphic novel format and throws in plenty of facts – even historic photographs – about New York City and the subway system.

Pablo’s first day of school in New York City happens to be the same day his class is going on a field trip, riding the subways, to the Empire State Building. Alicia helpfully offers to be his partner, but he is wary of making friends, since his family moves so often.

With Pablo’s inexperience, Alicia and he get separated from the class, and then Pablo gets separated from Alicia. However, Pablo knows where they’re going and asks for directions. Alicia uses her knowledge of the city to walk to the Empire State Building, and the class rides the subway. The graphic novel is perfect for showing how the three different groups take three different routes.

Along the way and in the back of the book, we get the history of the subway and facts about New York City.

And we’re told about another nice touch at the back. When the illustrator, Sergio Garcia Sanchez, was researching in preparation for drawing pictures of the subway stations, he took lots of pictures, and then noticed a policeman keeping a wary eye on him. So on almost every spread of the book, he included himself taking pictures and being followed by a cop. And of course once the reader finds that out, you go back to spot Sergio and the Cop in every crowded subway spread.

Even though this is a story about getting lost, I think the happy ending will help kids approach something potentially daunting – like riding a subway – without fear and with confidence.

toon-books.com

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Review of Wearing God, by Lauren F. Winner

July 16th, 2015

wearing_god_largeWearing God

Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God

by Lauren F. Winner

HarperOne, 2015. 284 pages.
Starred Review

This is a lovely book that challenged my thinking and opened my mind. I read it a little bit at a time, then finished the last few chapters during the 2015 48-Hour Book Challenge. In a way it was a shame to finish off the end quickly, since I liked the daily dose of thinking about God in new ways.

In this book, Lauren Winner looks at metaphors found in the Bible about God — but which the church doesn’t talk a lot about. Or at least the modern church. She did find writings from years past about each of the figures of speech.

She looks at God as clothing, God as scent, God as bread and vine, God as a laboring woman, God as one who laughs, and God as flame. All of these metaphors are found in Scripture, and all have something to offer us today.

I’ve been a church-goer all my life, and I enjoyed hearing things I hadn’t heard before. I enjoyed having a different light cast on my thinking about God.

Here are some of the author’s words in the introductory chapter:

The Bible has a great deal to say about this. Your church might primarily describe God as king, or light of the world, or ruler of all. In my church, we tend to call God Father, or speak of God as shepherd or great physician. When we are really going out on a limb, we pick up Matthew and Luke’s avian image and pray to God the mother hen tending her brood. Most churches do this — hew closely to two or three favored images of God, turning to them in prayer and song and sermons. Through repetition and association, these few images can become ever richer: there was once a time when I didn’t have many thoughts or feelings about God as great physician, but now I have prayed to that God with Carolanne, whose husband is pinned down by Parkinson’s, and Belle, who so much wants to keep this pregnancy, and Albert, who is dogged by depression, and because of those prayers, and the fears and hopes and miracles and disappointments they carry, God-as-physician seems a richer image than I first understood.

Yet the repetition of familiar images can have the opposite effect. The words become placeholders, and I can speak them so inattentively that I let them obscure the reality whose place they hold. I repeat them, I restrict my prayer to that small cupful of images, and I wind up insensible to them.

Unlike my church, with its four favored metaphors, the Bible offers hundreds of images of God — images the church has paid a great deal of attention to in earlier centuries, although many are largely overlooked now. Drunkard. Beekeeper. Homeless man. Tree. “Shepherd” and “light” are perfectly wonderful images, but in fixing on them — in fixing on any three or four primary metaphors for God — we have truncated our relationship with the divine, and we have cut ourselves off from the more voluble and variable witness of scriptures, which depict God as clothing. As fire. As comedian. Sleeper. Water. Dog.

Here is her invitation to the reader:

In this book, we will explore several overlooked biblical idioms for God. We will look at what the Bible itself suggests about these idioms, and what our daily lives have to say about them, and what various preachers and pray-ers and writers from earlier eras made of them. Your guide in this exploration is a bookworm who can happily get lost for a few days on a research trail, and I sometimes bring the words of anthropologists or historians or literary critics to bear on our ruminations. (Since the library of insights from those who have gone before us, and from contemporary scholars and preachers, is so rich, I have set additional gems at the bottoms of many pages. These quotations are there for stimulation and contemplation. Feel free to stop and linger over them, or skip them, or add your own musings.) Because I hope the book will help you sit down with God in a place the two of you have never visited before, each chapter concludes with a prayer. The final aim of this book is not to persuade you to stop thinking about God as your shepherd and start thinking about God as a cardigan sweater or One who weeps. The aim, rather, is to provoke your curiosity, and to inspire your imagination, and to invite you farther into your friendship with God.

If that invitation sounds even a tiny bit enticing, I highly recommend that you spend some time with this book.

laurenwinner.net
HarperCollins.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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