Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Look Both Ways

A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

by Jason Reynolds

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2019. 4 CDs.
Starred Review
2019 National Book Award Finalist
Review written November 22, 2019, from a library audiobook

This book is a set of overlapping stories about lots of kids, all of them walking home from school. The audiobook version is read by too many people to list at the top of this review, so I’ll list them here: Heather Alicia Simms, Chris Chalk, Bahni Turpin, Adenrele Ojo, Kevin R. Free, JD Jackson, Guy Lockard, January LaVoy, David Sadzin, and Jason Reynolds. Something odd that all the stories have in common is the mention of a school bus falling from the sky.

School’s important in this book, because the kids are leaving school, but our heroes and heroines are walkers. They do get passed by buses and talk about buses and think about school buses falling from the sky, but most of the action happens once school gets out, in the ten blocks near the school.

I think it was a little more difficult to notice details that overlapped between stories when listening. If I’d had the print book in front of me, I would have leafed back to make sure I remembered when a name popped up again. But I did enjoy the variety of narrators, so I think it was worth listening. I may not be sure if there was a big picture in this book, but I do know I enjoyed each individual story.

The stories include things like buying penny candy from a lady in the neighborhood after scrounging change; planning to outwit a new fierce dog that’s popped up on the route home from school; preparing to talk with someone you like; navigating hallways; and figuring out how to protect your mother who’s there to protect others – and who got hurt doing that.

These are slice-of-life stories about a lot of different kids, and there’s something here for everyone to like. Some of the stories do have hard things, but through all the stories, there’s an infusion of joy and a splash of friendship. Everybody’s got someone looking out for them.

As usual, Jason Reynolds is writing about a black neighborhood, and that makes me happy – but there’s nothing here that kids of any ethnicity won’t enjoy. I’m also glad that this isn’t an issue book. It’s a book about kids being kids together during that daily activity – walking home from school.

jasonwritesbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 The Rapture Exposed, by Barbara R. Rossing

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

The Rapture Exposed

The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

by Barbara R. Rossing

Westview Press, 2004. 212 pages.
Starred Review
Reviewed November 16, 2019, from a library book

When I was only in elementary school and junior high, I was already an expert on the End Times. That is, the End Times as defined by dispensationalists. (Dispensationalists believe that God deals with humans in different ways during different time periods or dispensations.) The church my family attended had a chart on the wall in the library where my Sunday School class met showing all the dispensations of human history, including the Church Age (when we are now), the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Millennium, the Second Coming, and the New Heaven and New Earth. It was all charted out in that order. Many books were being published about biblical prophecy, including Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. My family purchased many of them, and I read them, fascinated. Our church held some conferences on biblical prophecy where some of the authors spoke. I read Tim LaHaye’s books on the End Times a couple decades before he ever became a best-selling author with the Left Behind novel series.

When I got to college, I attended a Christian university. As it happened, I took a class on “The Church and Last Things” at the same time I was memorizing the Book of Revelation. I couldn’t help but notice that the Book of Revelation has no chart. And that the things I’d been taught might be something of a stretch to actually find in the Bible.

I’d already noticed that when Jesus came the first time, he did not meet the expectations of religious leaders. I have a feeling that prophecy isn’t usually given so we’ll be able to predict the future, but more so that we’ll be able to recognize God’s hand when He moves. I also noticed that Revelation is about telling us who’s going to win. Almost every chapter has a significant section of praise to God.

Things certainly don’t seem to be strictly chronological in Revelation. And a lot of the imagery to me doesn’t seem to quite fit what I was told it represented. When I did read the first several Left Behind books, I thought it was silly how they took some things literally – like locusts with human faces – and others figuratively.

I also clearly disagreed with some theology in the books, but I still had pretty ingrained in me that Revelation would happen basically the way they predicted. I am thankful to this book for showing me another way to look at Revelation, and a way that makes more sense and to me seems to follow more easily from what you read.

Now, I did know from my class at Biola University that not all Christians believe in a “pre-tribulation rapture.” But almost everything I’d read about end times – except the Bible itself – was from that perspective. Barbara Rossing begins her book this way:

The rapture is a racket. Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God’s vision for the world. In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims escape. In place of Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers, the Rapture voyeuristically glorifies violence and war. In place of Revelation’s vision of the Lamb’s vulnerable self-giving love, the Rapture celebrates the lion-like wrath of the Lamb. This theology is not biblical. We are not Raptured off the earth, nor is God. No, God has come to live in the world through Jesus. God created the world, God loves the world, and God will never leave the world behind!

Most of this book is about going through the book of Revelation and looking at the things it actually tells us, but the author begins by giving us the history of the idea of the “Rapture.” She explains that it began about two hundred years ago when a girl in Scotland had a vision that the second coming of Jesus Christ would happen in two stages. The word “Rapture” does not occur in Scripture, but comes from the Latin word raptio, a translation of the Greek word for “caught up” from I Thessalonians 4:17 about what will happen when Jesus returns. But the two-stage return idea was new, and the idea of dispensations was developed to make it fit.

Dispensationalists admit that they pull things together from different parts of the Bible to make their teachings and their charts. Even the idea of seven years of tribulation has to be pieced together within the book of Revelation.

So you can read all this – where the Rapture came from and how the whole theory is pieced together, and it’s all very interesting, sounding much less coherent than when I read the theories from the authors themselves when I was a child.

But what I especially love about this book is the way she looks at Revelation and helps me to look at it with new eyes. She talks about how Revelation fit with other apocalyptic writings of the time and followed a similar format. Here’s an overarching view of the message of the book:

In the first of his apocalyptic journeys (Rev 4-5) John travels up to heaven. There he sees a beautiful vision of God’s throne, revealed to be the true power behind the universe. Angels and animals are worshiping God and singing songs of praise to Jesus, the Lamb. Revelation’s subsequent visions pull back the curtain to “unveil” the Roman empire for what it really is: Rome is not the great eternal power it claims to be, but a demonic beast that oppresses the world. God’s people must undertake a spiritual exodus out of the empire, led by the Lamb. God threatens evil Babylon/Rome with plagues like the plagues of the Exodus story. We must not put our trust in Roman security or power, nor that of any other empire. We are to give allegiance to God alone.

She reminds us of how the book came across to its original recipients:

Revelation was originally written for those whom South African theologian Allan Boesak calls “God’s little people” – communities of people who struggled under oppression – not for people with access to airplanes or money or the latest technology. The best way to understand Revelation’s message for today is to put ourselves in the place of the audience for whom it was originally written. Imagine Revelation as a message from the underside, written to comfort beleaguered churches struggling under Roman imperial violence and power. Revelation has spoken powerfully to oppressed people throughout history. Its voice of protest is heard in spirituals as well as gospel songs and hymns.

I do love that she points out something that struck me hard when I memorized the book of Revelation: the book is packed with praise.

Revelation is full of songs – heavenly choruses praising God and encouraging us to sing in the midst of tribulation. Just when the book begins to sound hopeless or despairing, a host of witnesses in heaven break into song. Even animals join the Lamb’s chorus, singing along with a cacophony of “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea.” No other book of the Bible has shaped Christian hymns and music as much as Revelation, from Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” African American spirituals, and even reggae (“Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon,” from Bob Marley’s “One Love”). Revelation’s songs are not intended to be literalistic. Indeed, the metaphorical dimension is precisely what gives Revelation’s songs their power. Songs connect us to something deeper: they evoke our capacity for solidarity and resistance, they give us hope.

Or as she puts it later:

Singing and worship are central to Revelation, a fact often overlooked by people who see the book only as a system of end-times predictions and timetables. In Revelation we sing our way into God’s new vision for our world, more than in any other book of the Bible.

The author urges us to relish the metaphors of Revelation:

Revelation’s world of vision is like that of a Magic Eye picture. It is an “Aha” kind of vision that draws us in to see the deeper picture. God invites us to let go of the flat page, to stop trying to figure out each literal detail of Revelation, and instead to enter further into the larger picture. As we read and meditate on the images of Revelation, we find whole new levels of God’s vision for our world unveiled to us: We taste water that is not just water – it is living water, the river of life. We follow Jesus, the shepherding Lamb, who invites us to drink from springs of that living water. We hear God’s lament for our world that is oppressed, and we witness the trial and judgment of oppressors in a suspense-filled courtroom. Finally, most wonderfully, we see God coming to earth to live with us in a beloved city – to wipe away all the world’s tears.

But I especially love the chapter called “Lamb Power,” where Barbara Rossing explains the subversive heart of the book of Revelation. She points out that just when you expect Rome’s images of power and victory is when the Lamb comes out.

Seated on the throne in heaven, God holds a scroll sealed shut with seven seals that must be opened. But who is worthy to open this scroll? God’s voice from the throne tells John in chapter 5, “Do not weep, for the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Two words in this admonition – “lion” and “conquer” (nike in Greek) – lead us to expect that a fierce animal will appear to open the scroll with its claws, like the conquering lions in gladiatorial spectacles. A lion would be typical for an apocalypse; such fierce animals are often introduced to advance the plot. In Second Esdras, for example, the Messiah is portrayed as a roaring lion prophesying judgment against the Roman eagle and its violence.

But Revelation pulls an amazing surprise. In place of the lion that we expect, comes a Lamb: “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Rev 5:6). It is a complete reversal. Actually the Greek word John uses is not just “lamb,” but the diminutive form, a word like “lambkin,” “lamby,” or “little lamb” (arnion in Greek) – “Fluffy,” as Pastor Daniel Erlander calls it. The only other place this word arnion is used in the New Testament is where Jesus says he is sending his disciples out into the world “as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). No other apocalypse ever pictures the divine hero as a Lamb – Revelation is unique among apocalyptic writings in this image. The depiction of Jesus as a Lamb shows him in the most vulnerable way possible, as a victim who is slaughtered by standing – that is, crucified but risen to life.

Reminiscent of the servant-lamb of Isaiah 53, who “is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep to the shearer is silent,” the Lamb of Revelation became the victor not by militaristic power and slaughter but rather by being slaughtered. From beginning to end, Revelation’s vision of the Lamb teaches a “theology of the cross,” of God’s power made manifest in weakness, similar to Paul’s theology of the cross in First Corinthians. Lamb theology is the whole message of Revelation. Evil is defeated not by overwhelming force or violence but by the Lamb’s suffering love on the cross. The victim becomes the victor.

Lamb theology is what true victory or true nike is. For we, too, are “victors” or followers of the Lamb on whom the term nike or conquering is bestowed. This is one of the amazing features of the book. Much of Revelation can sound so violent, but we have to look at the subversive heart of the book — the redefinition of victory and “conquering” — to understand how Revelation subverts violence itself. Just like the Lamb, God’s people are called to conquer not by fighting but by remaining faithful, by testifying to God’s victory in self-giving love.

Another point that I love comes when the author talks about the centrality of the final two chapters of Revelation – chapters that dispensationalists gloss over as for a far distant day.

Contrary to the dispensationalist view, there is no rapture in the story of Revelation, no snatching of people off the earth up to heaven. Look at it this way: it is God who is raptured down to earth to take up residence and dwell with us – a rapture in reverse….

The word “dwell” in Revelation [21] is the same word as used to describe Jesus’ coming to earth in the Gospel of John, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The whole message of the Bible is that God loves the world so much that God comes to earth to dwell with us. The Gospel of Matthew calls Jesus “Emmanuel,” which means in Hebrew “God is with us.” Revelation proclaims that same message of God’s dwelling in our world. It is the message that God’s home is no longer up in heaven, but here in our midst, incarnate on earth. In Revelation 21-22 God’s throne moves down out of heaven, where it was in chapter 4, and is now located in the midst of the city – in the city descended down out of heaven, down to earth.

There’s lots more in this book. I highly recommend it. I admit that I am still will freak out if someone suggests everyone get a chip embedded in their right hand or on their forehead in order to buy and sell. But for the most part, this has enabled me to look at revelation with eyes of hope instead of fear and terror.

The hope of Revelation centers around the slain-yet-standing Lamb who has conquered – and around everything that that Lamb represents in God’s vision for us and for the world. The Lamb who replaces the expected lion in Revelation’s storyline continues to dwell with us and to overturn all the structures of war and injustice. In the face of empire, Revelation teaches us a way of life that is “Lamb power” – the power of nonviolent love to change the world. The hope of Revleation is simply this: that the Lamb has conquered the beast and that a wondrous river of life now flows out from the Lamb’s throne to bring healing water to every corner of our wounded world.

I also appreciate how she leaves us in the Epilogue:

To read the Bible’s hardest passages is like wrestling with God, much like Jacob who wrestled through the night at the river Jabbok. You grapple to make sense of the words, you hold on, you struggle for clarity, you seek to wrest answers for all your questions. What God gives you instead of a system of answers is a blessing, a new name — a living relationship. You are forever changed by the encounter. You have seen the face of God.

westviewpress.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 The Wicked King, by Holly Black

Monday, November 11th, 2019

The Wicked King

by Holly Black
read by Caitlin Kelly

Hachette Audio, 2019. 10.5 hours on 9 CDs.
Starred Review
Review written 9/13/19 from a library audiobook

The Wicked King is the sequel to The Cruel Prince, and was just as action-packed and full of plots and intrigue as that one.

In this installment, Jude, a mortal who has grown up in Faerie, has gained power over Carden, who once bullied her and is now the High King of Faerie. (Never mind how she gained power – that’s what the first book was about.) Jude’s twin sister Taryn is getting married to Locke, another immortal who has treated Jude terribly.

But gaining power is one thing; keeping it is quite another. The Queen of the Sea is plotting something with Carden’s older brother, who had expected to gain the throne but is now in prison for murder. And it looks like they will make their move at Taryn’s wedding.

There are plots within plots, shifting alliances, and confusing feelings toward Carden. Can Jude navigate it all, stay alive, protect her little brother, and keep hold of the power she finds she enjoys perhaps a little too much?

There’s a lot more I could say, but I don’t want to give anything away. I don’t think I’ve expressed how gripping this book is, with one tense situation happening after another. It ends at a satisfying place – but also at a place where you need to know what will happen next! The next book cannot come out soon enough for me!

blackholly.com
HachetteAudio.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 Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Ordinary Hazards

A Memoir

by Nikki Grimes

Wordsong (Highlights), 2019. 325 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 9, 2019, from a library book

Wow. Nikki Grimes wrote a powerful and moving memoir in verse.

Between this book and Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, I should make a new page on my website for Teen Nonfiction. This book isn’t for children, even though it tells about Nikki Grimes’ childhood. It is for teens, and will speak to teens who have to deal with hard things.

There’s a caption at the front:

MEMOIR:
a work of imperfect memory
in which you meticulously
capture all that you can recall,
and use informed imagination
to fill in what remains.

The author explains that there are blanks in her memory because of trauma. And her childhood had lots of trauma. At the point when she finally found a loving home in a foster home, her mother took her back, and the difficulties began again.

At one point, when she’d described the abuse she went through at the hands of her mother’s husband, she then wrote about being thirteen – and I wanted to cry. So young! Later, when she was in high school and had built a good relationship with her father at last, more tragedy struck.

But she doesn’t ask you to feel sorry for her. And you can see her coping. One of the ways she coped, even as a child, was writing, always writing. She’s got excerpts from her Notebooks over the years, adding immediacy. (Though, alas, they are reconstructed and imagined.)

This is a quietly Christian book. She shows how important prayer was to her and how her faith in God was her lifeline – along with key people who came into her life and helped her through.

And there are tough things in her story, but Nikki Grimes infuses the book with joy. I love the story about going on the subway with her best friends – which goes with one of the handful of pictures in the back of the book.

One afternoon,
we three dressed up
in our finest rags
to help Gail’s boyfriend,
a fledgling photographer
in need of a portfolio
to display his considerable skills.
Debra and I ripped off our glasses,
and we three posed for portraits
in the park
(me in my new coat!),
then hung from a vertical pole
in the middle of a subway car,
swinging round it gleefully,
pretending to be
professional models.
In other words,
we hammed it up, yo!
And those photographs?
Oh, my God! Portraits
of joy.

I love reading this knowing that the little girl portrayed here, up against so much, did become the writer she planned to be.

“I want to write books about
some of the darkness I’ve seen,
real stories about real people, you know?
But I also want to write about the light,
because I’ve seen that, too.
That place of light – it’s not always easy
to get to, but it’s there.
It’s there.”

Yes! She achieved this. Even though this memoir portrays childhood trauma and difficulties, it’s a book about the light.

nikkigrimes.com
wordsongpoetry.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 Prime Suspects, by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville, illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Prime Suspects

The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations

by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville
illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Princeton University Press, 2019. 230 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/19/19 from a library book

Okay, now I’ve seen everything! This is a graphic novel murder mystery about research mathematics!

The characters have names that play off of the names of distinguished mathematicians. The lead detective uses ideas from his namesake.

The most interesting part is that when the detective team goes to the autopsy of recent victim Arnie Int, lieutenant of the Integer Crime Family, they found everything inside his body has decomposed – except for prime numbers! The apprentice detective pulls a bloody number out of his body and says, “It’s a prime, sir!”

They find the body is similar to a previous victim, Daisy Permutation. I like the scene where the detectives discuss it while playing billiards:

“It’s not a similarity, but in both victims, the internal organs were completely decomposed.
Except that in Arnie Int there was a smattering of primes, and in Daisy permutation, a smattering of cycles.”

“But that’s only to be expected.
Cycles are the fundamental constituent parts of a permutation, just like primes are the fundamental constituent parts of an integer.”

And it’s all done in a dark style, with some clueless videographers to explain things to, and mathematical puns in the background.

The math itself – where they compare the set of integers to the set of permutations – went over my head, and I’ve got a Master’s in Math. I read the back matter where it’s explained, and it still went over my head – though I at least understood what basic concepts were at work. And I did, after reading, understand at least that cycles are the building blocks of permutations as primes are the building blocks of integers.

And I’m still tickled to death that someone made a graphic novel thriller about higher math.

There are fun ads on the inside cover, such as: “Are you looking to get away from it all? Why not come and stay at Hilbert’s fabulous “Infinite Hotel”? There is ALWAYS room for as many guests as want to stay.” And: “RIEMANN’S ROOTS: We’ll plant your organic roots in straight rows. Guaranteed to have at least 41.69% of the roots in a straight line!” And: “Fermat’s Dreams: Truly remarkable ideas for the future which this inside cover is too small to contain!”

The back matter takes up 50 large pages, so it takes as long to read as the 180 pages of the graphic novel part. Yes, it includes the math, but also you’ve got notes on the mathematicians referred to, notes about the references in the art, and an explanation of how the book came to be – beginning as a screenplay (which has been performed in live readings).

Here’s the beginning of that section:

Integers and permutations are fundamental mathematical objects that inhabit quite distinct worlds though, under more sophisticated examination, one cannot help but be struck by the extraordinary similarities between their anatomies. This comic book stemmed from an experiment to present these similarities to a wider audience in the form of a dramatic narrative. In these after-pages, we will clarify some of the mathematical ideas alluded to in the comic book, giving the details of Gauss’s lectures and Langer’s presentation at the police precinct. We will also break down the content of some of the background artwork, explaining how some of it refers to breakthroughs in this area of mathematics, some of it to other vaguely relevant mathematics, while some content is simply our attempt at mathematical humor.

Our goal in Prime Suspects has been not only to popularize the fascinating and extraordinary similarities between the fine details of the structure of integers and of permutations, but also to draw attention to several key cultural issues in mathematics:

— How research is done, particularly the roles of student and adviser;
— The role of women in mathematics today; and
— The influence and conflict of deep and rigid abstraction.

I’m not sure everyone will love this book, but I sure do! Sure to be all the rage in graduate wings of math departments across the nation!

press.princeton.edu

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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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Is for Elizabeth, by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Paige Keiser

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

A Is for Elizabeth

by Rachel Vail
illustrated by Paige Keiser

Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2019. 121 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 21, 2019, from a library book

I picked up this new book because I didn’t have very many beginning chapter books to talk about when booktalking in the local elementary schools this year for the Summer Reading Program. This one is exactly what I was looking for.

Elizabeth is starting second grade at the start of this book, so it’s perfect for the rising second graders. She has her first homework assignment – to make a poster about her name. She doesn’t think this is fair, since ELIZABETH has so many letters.

To be even more unfair, the posters will be presented in alphabetical order. That means Anna is going to go first. But that doesn’t seem right. After she makes the poster, she talks with her brother Justin:

“Sometimes the name Elizabeth starts with the letter A,” I explained to Justin.

“No it doesn’t,” he said.

Justin is in fifth grade, so he thinks he knows everything.

“Sometimes it does,” I said.

“Never,” he said.

“Haven’t you ever heard of sound it out?” I asked.

Justin looked confused. Ha! Even fifth graders don’t know everything.

Annoying. Amazing,” I said. “Sound it out. What letter makes the uh sound at the beginning?”

“An A,” Justin said.

“AHA!” I said. “And my name starts with the same sound! A-lizabeth!”

As a mother, I especially enjoyed the part where Elizabeth tells her parents that she needs poster board for a project due tomorrow.

There is a rule in our family that I forgot all about.

It is:

No saying the words Poster Board after 6:00 p.m.

“You said it, too,” I told Mom.

“Said what?” she asked me.

“The words that rhyme with toaster sword . . .

“Toaster sword?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

I whispered the words poster board.

“You said those words at least five seconds later in the night than I did, Mom.”

Mom shook her head.

Dad shook his head.

They both did loud breathing.

That is what they do when I make a good point and win the argument.

A Is For Elizabeth is a fun look at the challenges and triumphs of second-grade life. It has fifty very short chapters and illustrations on every spread. Reading this book will not be daunting, but will give a sense of accomplishment.

rachelvail.com
paigekeiser.com
mackids.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/a_is_for_elizabeth.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Raising Hell, by Julie Ferwerda

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

Raising Hell

Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire

by Julie Ferwerda

Vagabond Group, 2014. 293 pages.
Starred Review

I first came to believe that God really will save everyone, that it’s literally true that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” and that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive” from reading writings of George MacDonald in the 1990s and then checking with Scripture. Since that time, I’ve discovered many more books by people who believe the same thing, and I’ve reviewed them on my website. Each one has something new to offer, and together they bolster my picture of a great big triumphant God of love.

Raising Hell is the first book I’ve read about universalism that’s written by a woman. (About time!) This book is for laypeople and brings an emphasis on how you can study the Bible for yourself – how you can check for yourself on whether these things are true. She references many Bible study tools available to anyone with internet access. She says in the Introduction, “Raising Hell is intended to be the starting place, the opening of a most important conversation that I hope continues well beyond this book. One of my goals within these pages is to teach the reader how to do their own research by using a large variety of scholarly, historical, and informative resources that are easily accessed by anyone and everyone.”

Before I get into this, let me mention that, like all the books I’ve read on universalism, she has great arguments for universalism. Let me pull out some quotations I like:

This one’s from the Introduction:

Universal Reconciliation is the belief that all people for all time will eventually be reconciled to God – that this lifetime is not the “only chance” to be saved – but that there is only one way to God, through Jesus Christ.

Through a very intentional plan that reaches into future ages, I believe the true Gospel is that all people for all time will be willingly and joyfully drawn by the unconditional, irresistible, compelling love of a Father into a relationship with Him through His Son. In the end, every knee will have bowed, and every tongue will have confessed Jesus as Lord, giving praise to God (see Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).

Like most universalist authors, she makes good points about the character of God, particularly looking at the parables in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son:

Throughout this book, we are going to explore how understanding the message of these parables and learning the heart of the Father will deliver the fatal blow to any such notion of an everlasting hell, or even the more palatable version of “eternal separation from God.” As we piece together a remarkable story, we’ll find that it can’t be possible that He would turn away even one son or daughter, and that every person, given enough time to “starve among the swine,” will come to the realization that home is where they belong. Even before they can round the bend for home, they will be welcomed with the happy reassurance that the eyes of their true Father never stopped searching the horizon, ready to run to them with loving, open arms. If Jesus’ words are to be our instruction in the matters of life, then we can have assurance that love is the healer of all things. Our Father will ultimately never give up on nor ever reject – ever!

She talks about how her own quest began by noticing significant translation differences between different versions of the Bible, in many cases contradicting one another. This helped her realize that the English Bible we read – whatever version we choose – is not going to perfectly translate the original language. And the first word she looks at which is very suspiciously translated is hell.

The notion of hell is suspiciously missing from the OT as the destiny for most of mankind, unless you read the KJV or TM (The Message), both of which include the word hell over thirty times. Do KJV and TM know something others don’t? Why the inconsistency? . . .

In the rest of the popular modern versions, the literal translations, and the Hebrew and Greek texts, there are NO references to hell in the OT, or of the concept of everlasting tormenting flames – not one.

Then she looks at the New Testament.

Red flag alert. There are essentially three different Greek words that translators inconsistently pick and choose to translate as “hell” — Hades, Gehenna, and Tartaroo, but not one conveys hell as we know it and teach it today.

She looks in detail at the references where these are mentioned and how they can easily – and more naturally – be translated differently.

She also looks at where the idea of eternal hell came from. It wasn’t prevalent in the church until Augustine popularized it. He spoke Latin instead of Greek, and our early English translations were translated from the Latin rather than from the original Greek, so our understanding has drifted from what the original writers were talking about.

After looking at teachings on hell in the first part of the book, the second part looks at the character of God and the important teaching of the Bible that love never fails. The focus on fire is over and over combined with talk of a refining, purifying fire.

Is it not the same with our own children, each their own yet fully out of us? When I think of the bond earthly parents have with our children, I know it is utterly impossible that God would ever ask us to lose a part of ourselves forever, any more than He would ever intend to give up a part of Himself. His answer is not damnation, but regeneration of all His children into purified sparks!

Jesus always esteemed children because He came to show the heart of the Father toward His children. A true father’s love cannot be earned, and it cannot be done away with. Just as we would never give up on our children, God will never give up on His children; His love will not fail them.

The third part of this book looks at Hebrew themes carried throughout both the Old and New Testaments. This is where she covers the word that all universalist authors bring up, aion, which is incorrectly translated “eternity” in many English versions.

Eternity had no place in the mind of the early Hebrews, probably because neither their Scriptures nor their dealings with God included any such concept. In fact, the Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek were solely written with the perspective of generations or long periods of time (eons or ages), unfolding like a chapter book. About the closest you get in the Scriptures to the concept of never-ending is the word for “immortality,” (athanasia) which literally means “un-death.”

Julie Ferwerda has lots to say about the mistranslation of aion for “eternity” or “forever,” or actually many other words that are used. But I do love it when she points out something I noticed when I did my blog series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament: Very often, eonian life is talked about in the present tense, as something we are receiving right now. After a list of many verses like this, she says:

There are many more such verses you can look up, correcting them with eonian life and the proper verb tense to experience the greater truth that Jesus came to give us life right now — not just later – and that people’s lives are markedly improved when they believe, understand, and live the true Gospel message.

She does talk about the specific ages and covenants and harvests she sees in Scripture. I’m not sure I would get so specific, though her application of some Old Testament concepts of harvests and the Jubilee is fascinating. I am sure that I do agree with this:

We are living in a plan of ages, but the purpose of these ages – at least the ages we know about – is going to come to an end, as will all of the eonian (temporary) elements in them. The Scriptures do not provide detail as to what happens after the Story of the ages is complete, when all prodigals have been reconciled to their true Father, but we do know that all forms of death will have been destroyed and God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

Her perspective also sheds great light on the problem of evil. With her big picture view, she is able to bring me where I can see it like she does:

I have come to regard the problem of evil like a tension in a compelling novel, juxtaposed to the ultimate, euphoric resolution. In any good novel, the reader longs to find resolve, but has to wait until the final chapter to see how it is accomplished. In our Story, I believe God’s expression of love is exponentially expanded, not diminished, through the necessity of evil. Evil does not reign supreme or have the final say, but is only a limited, temporary tool or a means to an end of a great, full circle, happily ever after.

She sums up so nicely the effect believing in universalism has had on my own life:

When you realize that God fills everything and nothing is outside of Him, suddenly life around you becomes less dangerous, more hopeful, promising, and beautiful. The skies look bluer, the trees look greener, every single person you meet is more valued – even the filth and pollution is less oppressive, and darkness is less suffocating.

Thank goodness I don’t have to try to play God anymore. I can completely trust Him with my kids, my marriage, my finances, my health, and my future. I can simply trust Him in all things because His unchangeable plan has already determined that everything will work out in the end. In other words, if it hasn’t worked out yet, it’s not the end.

Like her, I find this teaching is full of joy:

This is the kind of Gospel – where no one is a throw away – that breeds life, and joy, and continuous wonder. This Gospel births a sincere, deep love for people, and the excitement to share the truly unconditional love of God with everyone. It is so gratifying to know that every single kind word or deed offered will someday result in the growing of a seedling or the bearing of fruit from a person created in the image of God. No effort will ever be wasted or insignificant. The joy and energy this realization has brought into my life is positively captivating and simply impossible to fully articulate.

The final section of the book contains resources – resources so the reader can study these things for themselves and figure out if these ideas are true. She lists several online resources, gives a chapter called “Simple Steps for Identifying Mistranslations,” and another chapter that looks at commonly misunderstood concepts in Scripture – with their Strong’s number so you can look up the original Greek word involved.

Several more resources are offered. One that especially gratified me is the final list, titled “Modern, Well-Known Commentaries of Aion and its Derivatives.” She gives quotations from nine different commentaries that agree that aion does not carry the meaning “unending.” These begin with Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Lange’s Commentary American Edition, and six more.

Why does this gratify me? Well, not long ago two different people – one a stranger on Facebook and the other my former pastor – pointed me to one particular Greek dictionary that said that aion can be translated “eternal,” and they said that was the final word on the subject. I didn’t have a resource those arguing with me would recognize as equally authoritative. Now I have nine.

I always hesitate to write a long review about a book that makes a persuasive case for something – lest you think that reading my brief summary of the argument is as good as reading the book itself. But in this case I wanted to give you a taste of the good things contained in this book. And like Julie Ferwerda, I challenge you to examine these ideas yourself. This book offers a wonderful jumping-off point.

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Review of Once Upon a Goat, by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

Once Upon a Goat

by Dan Richards
pictures by Eric Barclay

Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 10, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a silly twist on a fairy tale pulled off with just the right humorous touch.

The book opens with a king and queen who wish for a child.

“Yes, but where would we put it?” asked the king.
“Next to the vase on the hearth, naturally,” replied the queen.
“Or beside the roses in the garden,” the king added.
“Oh, yes. Perfect,” agreed the queen.

When their fairy godmother shows up, they tell her about their wishes.

“We’re not particular,” said the queen. “Glowing skin, bright eyes, and hair like ocean waves should do.”

“Hmm . . . ,” said their fairy godmother.
“A boy would be great,” added the king. “But any kid will do.”
“Of course,” answered their fairy godmother. “Look on your doorstep when the moon is full.”

At the next full moon, they eagerly look outside – and a little goat is sitting there! The king realizes he shouldn’t have said that any kid would do. They try to send the goat away, but it’s a blustery night, and they bring him in for just one night… and the night turns into many more.

The illustrations are a huge part of the fun as the little kid enjoys the run of the palace and the palace guards keep their faces stoic. And we’ve got more to the story when the fairy godmother comes back.

I can’t read this book without smiling.

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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 Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Damsel

by Elana K. Arnold
performed by Elizabeth Knowelden

HarperAudio, 2018. 7.75 hours on 7 discs.
Starred Review
2019 Printz Honor winner
Review written October 16, 2019, from a library audiobook.

First let me say that I have a new favorite audiobook narrator. Yes, Elizabeth Knowelden has a wonderful accent and her voice is a delight to listen to, but she also has the ability to pack every word with drama. When I raved about her reading this book and tried to imitate her, I simply sounded overdramatic, but when she does it, she makes every word seem important. She achieves exactly the right amount of emphasis and compels your attention.

The book itself is amazing.

Now, there’s a startling ending – but I had a strong clue what that ending would be from hearing the author’s Printz Honor speech. I had a feeling that Ama would not meekly succumb to the forces urging her to be a good little girl and submit. Let me say only that this book is perfect for the “Me Too” generation.

For generations, the prince of the kingdom of Harding, in order to become king after his father dies, must conquer a dragon and rescue a damsel. He will bring the damsel back to his castle and marry her at the Winter Solstice. They will have one child, a son, who will repeat this process after them.

Ama wakes up in Prince Emory’s arms, and he tells her that he rescued her from a dragon. She doesn’t remember anything from her life before. As they journey back to the castle, Emory kills a mother lynx that he thought was threatening Ama (she wasn’t), and Ama takes the baby with her to the castle. She names the baby lynx Sorrow.

At the castle, Ama must learn her place. There are still some months before midwinter, and she must learn her role in the scheme of things. But it’s almost as hard for Ama to fall into place as it is for Sorrow.

The reading of this story is outstanding, but this is not a family tale. There are many vulgar moments, and sexual things explicitly described. And Prince Emory is not a nice man.

Honestly, if I didn’t expect Ama to triumph, I would not have been able to listen to this story, so I think it’s safe to tell you that the horrible things that happen along the way make the ending of this audiobook all the more sweet.

elanakarnold.com
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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 The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables

by Catherine Reid

Timber Press, 2018. 280 pages.
Starred Review

Hooray! This was the perfect book to discover shortly before my own long-awaited trip to Prince Edward Island! I finished reading it a few days before I set out myself with two childhood friends.

The book is full of full-color photographs taken on Prince Edward Island. Most of the spreads that don’t have one have a black-and-white photo that L. M. Montgomery took herself, or an illustration from the original edition of Anne of Green Gables.

The author does a nice job of getting across the basics of L. M. Montgomery’s life and how important Prince Edward Island was to her. She peppers the book with many quotations about the island from the Anne books, from Maud Montgomery’s journals, and from her book The Alpine Path about her career – and how important the beautiful landscapes of her home were to her.

At the back of the book there is a list of L. M. Montgomery sites to visit, and you can be sure I’m going to visit all of the ones on Prince Edward Island.

I wish these photographs could be printed on the pages of L. M. Montgomery’s books! Seeing how beautiful Prince Edward Island truly is made me appreciate much more her many descriptions where she hopes to explain that to the reader. She does a good job – but pictures verify that instantly.

The section about Gardens on Prince Edward Island pulled together gardens in her books and gardens she talked about in her journals – with photographs of the flowers she mentions and gardens such as the kinds she described. That chapter especially gave me new appreciation of what L. M. Montgomery was saying – since I didn’t even know what some of the flowers she names look like.

Browsing through this book is a delightful experience. There are enough well-chosen words to help you appreciate what you’re seeing. And for building excitement for an upcoming trip – it is absolutely perfect!

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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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