A Month of Reading: July 2018: Starting A Blog and Reading An Entire Series

July 2018. The month I finally gave up politics completely and embraced something I’ve loved for far longer – reading.

It was the month I started this very blog just a few short weeks ago, and the month I finally read a series that I’ve had at least one book from for nearly 5 years, and whose author I’ve known for 6 years – we share a small book club on Facebook where he is one of about 70 or so author members and I run the monthly Group Read subgroup. And those two things pretty well dominated my month in reading.

Overall, I read 14 books in July 2018, per my Goodreads list (which I’ve become devout regarding updating when I finish a book). This pushed me into unknown territory at 81 books on the year – a new personal record. Of the 14 in July, 7 were from Brett Battles’ PROJECT EDEN series. Of the remaining books, 5 were Advance Review Copies (and 3 of those were from Lake Union Publishing) while the other two were new releases from friends – including Jeremy Robinson, who I will be meeting for the first time in just 16 days.

There 14 books accounted for over 3700 pages of (Kindle) text at an average length of over 260 pages each.

I only read one series on the month, so best series of the month goes to PROJECT EDEN by Brett Battles.

Most interesting book of the month I will give to The Same Blood by M. Azmitia, for the simple reason that it was good, yet very far out of the norm for me in virtually everything about it – particularly with it being a long form narrative poem.

I only read one book that was remotely humorous in tone, so funniest book of the month goes to #SecondCivilWar – Letters: Letters from America’s Second Civil War by U. Ray Moran (a pen name of a friend for this effort, though I’ll not reveal who it is). If you’re already sick of politics and political news and 2018 Election coverage, this book is for you.

Overall best book of the month, I think I’m going to have to give to The Space Between by Dete Meserve. It was simply a very wild ride, and I loved the fact that a female NASA scientist got to play a lead role, even if her job wasn’t the main plot of the book.

Below the break, the entire list, in date completed order – with links to my Goodreads reviews of each.
Continue reading “A Month of Reading: July 2018: Starting A Blog and Reading An Entire Series”

Featured New Release of the Week: The Space Between by Dete Meserve

This week we’re going to another new-to-me Lake Union author, Dete Meserve and looking at her book, The Space Between.

This book was intriguing from the outset. We first meet Sarah Mayfield when she is in DC presenting the findings of her NASA team – an earth shattering discovery of an asteroid in Earth’s orbit hidden by the sun. This particular BookAHolic lives just a couple hours or so north of Cape Canaveral and absolutely loves going down there, as well as almost anything to do with space generally – I’ve read the memoirs of two separate former International Space Station Commanders this year alone, in addition to the memoirs of a legendary NASA Flight Director. So I was excited about this book nearly instantly, from the first time I even heard about it – much less once I started reading it!

And then Ms. Meserve goes in and spins a form of a Gone Girl type of tale around Ms. Mayfield as soon as Ms. Mayfield gets back home to her family. Her husband is missing, there is a brand new gun in their nightstand, and his last words to his son were to make sure the doors were locked. What follows is the type of tale fans of Gone Girl will love, but also fans of NASA and tech generally – Ms. Meserve has done her research, because Ms. Mayfield is very geeky indeed!

My *only* complaint about this book is that despite being someone who virtually never figures out a mystery before the central character does, in this book I figured out who the person ultimately responsible was about 60% or so of the way in, and I was right on the high points if not the particulars by the end of the book. Still, one of those books I truly did not want to put down, and very highly recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: The Space Between by Dete Meserve”

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

This week, we’re going to the first book I’ve read from a new to me author, Barbara O’Neal, whose publisher (Lake Union) I’ve come to trust. This week, we’re looking at The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal.

I’ve never met nor interacted online with Ms. O’Neal, and admittedly the setting of this book was one that I have absolutely no familiarity with at all other than the occasional TV show or movie, and who knows when those things are actually accurate? But the central character herself proved as relatable as can be expected for a first person female perspective being read by a male. Olivia Shaw’s mother has died, and she left behind some substantial secrets – the most obvious of which being that she had a full estate and title in England that Olivia has now inherited and must decide how to handle. She’s also dealing with having been out of work for a few weeks already due to breaking her leg, and once we meet up with her in England on the first page, she’s already dealing with the fact that her relationship with her fiancĂ©e doesn’t feel as close as it once did.

As Olivia gets introduced to the land she inherited and the land and people nearby, we come to know more about her, them… and her mother’s far darker secret, along with a tragic secret from her grandmother. And pretty much everyone tends to grow on at least this reader, from the charming townspeople to the knowing Baron of a nearby estate who takes Olivia under his wing. We see a fair amount of character development over the months covered in the story as Olivia struggles to learn to become the new Countess of Rosemere, and we fall in love with the land at the same time she does.

Overall a very strong tale, if not quite the same as I’d come to expect from Lake Union and indeed not a type of tale I would normally pick up on my own. Definitely a worthy read, and I’m very glad I picked it up, even if I was more concerned with the publish date than any other factor when I originally chose to read it. Now that it is out, you should absolutely pick this up and read it at the first opportunity you have. You won’t be disappointed.

And once again, I leave you with my Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal”

#HypeTrain: Jonathan Merritt’s Learning To Speak God From Scratch

Earlier this year – back in February or so – Jonathan Merritt told his social media followers that his new book was on pre-order already and would be released in a few months. I’ve been a fan of Jonathan’s since his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own, so there was no question – I immediately pre-ordered the book. Didn’t even have to know anything about it other than he wrote it.

I actually recently had a chance to actually read the book as an ARC, and – to steal part of the title of his 2014 book – it was “Better Than I Imagined“.

The setup was a familiar tale of a kid from the suburban South moving to the Big Apple… and realizing he couldn’t communicate with anyone using the words he had grown up using and had been using as a professional in his field for several years. One of those timeless tales, really.

But that doesn’t even get to the good stuff, and fortunately the setup, while interesting, mostly is there to explain what comes next.

For the rest of the book, Merritt takes words that are heard in nearly any and every Southern/ Evangelical Christian conversation and dissects them down to the message they are really trying to convey, then looks at how we can convey that message better in some way. And just as with his other books, once he gets to this part of the book is where he really shines.

Various words will mean more or less to various readers, but I found a few truly profound.

When discussing PAIN, for example, Merritt reveals his own battle with chronic pain and how it has both shaped and transformed him in unexpected ways. When discussing CONFESSION, Merritt speaks to a controversy that erupted around the time of the publication of his last book and what he now thinks about it.

When discussing BLESSED, Merritt takes aim at #HollowHashtags, and when discussing NEIGHBOR, he connects Fred Rogers to the current refugee crises.

But for me, the most transformative word Merritt discusses in the entire book is also the last word he discusses in the book, and one of the ones far too many Christians use to cause the most harm: LOST. Merritt’s words here are truly profound, more needed for the American Church than anything I have ever heard his former Southern Baptist Convention President father say in any sermon. And not to be spoiled in a blog post a month before release day.

To find out what Merritt the Younger* has to say about Learning To Speak God – words like PAIN, BLESSED, NEIGHBOR, LOST, SIN, PRIDE, SAINT, CONFESSION, GRACE, BROKENNESS, and even GOD – From Scratch, you can pre-order the book from your favorite bookstore by visiting SpeakGodBook.com. If you speak God at all, from any angle and from any belief, this is truly a book not to be missed.
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: Jonathan Merritt’s Learning To Speak God From Scratch”

Inspired?

When I read Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday a couple of years ago (technically listened to Evans herself read it to me via Audible as I ran many miles along the Lake Murray Dam outside Columbia, SC), I was blown away. Here was someone who was roughly my age, who had grown up in roughly my part of the country (within a couple hundred miles as the bird flies), and who was speaking to one of the things I have been doing for seemingly twenty years already – searching for a way back into the church that she cherished as a child, but that she had grown disillusioned with as an adult. I didn’t agree with her ultimate conclusions then (read the book to find them for yourself), but at least the fact that she did find answers gave me hope that one day I too might find what I’ve sought for so long.

When I recently saw a Facebook ad to sign up for the launch team for her new book, INSPIRED: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, and Loving the Bible Again, I was extremely excited. I’ve been doing ARC work for various authors for a few years now, some public and some private, and this was a chance to give back to someone who had so inspired me just a couple of years ago. So I applied and, along with around a thousand others, was accepted. This would not be the small, intimate ARC groups I am much more familiar with. And following posts from 1000 people, all excited about this new venture and at various stages of reading the book in question as well as introducing themselves to each other and everything else that goes into a large new group of people joining together for even a limited purpose, well, let’s just say that I probably missed more than a few. And that there is no probably to it.

As a storybook from Evans’ perspective, INSPIRED is an interesting work, told in the familiar cadences of Searching for Sunday. If you like the writing style of that book, you will like the read of this book from that perspective at a bare minimum. And INSPIRED raises some good points, at least a few of them likely not intended by Evans in the way I took them. For example, she speaks of prophets saying “”In other words, the prophets are weirdos. More than anyone else in Scripture, they remind us that those odd ducks shouting from the margins of society may see things more clearly than the political and religious leaders with the inside track. We ignore them at our own peril.”. You see, Evans is a hard core, Obama and Clinton loving Democrat. She hasn’t met an instance of Big Government she doesn’t like (other than maybe war), and insists on disarming peaceful people in spite of the fact that police have murdered more children than school shootings have killed people, and have done so in less time. Evans believes in systemic oppression and praises people who destroy property they disagree with. I myself, as most anyone who knows me knows, am an ardent anarchist. While Evans is so much in the mainstream that she has worked with the White House at times, I stand at the margins of society, both religiously and politically, and declare that in each case the Emperor has no clothes.
Continue reading “Inspired?”

Featured New Release of the Week: Death Warmed Over by Kent Holloway

New blog, new features. One of them I want to do every week will be to feature a new book that I’ve either read that particular book or at least read another book from that author.

For the inaugural edition of this feature, I want to talk about the newest release from one of my author friends that I’ve known for several years and who happens to live in the next county down from me at the moment. This book is Death Warmed Over by Kent Holloway.

I did have the privilege of reading this book as an ARC a couple of weeks ago, and I found it to be a refreshing yet familiar tale in the vein of the TV show Lucifer or even the movie Meet Joe Black. Indeed, it almost feels like Kent took those two as inspirations to tell his own tale, and Meet Joe Black is actually referenced in the book itself.

Here, we meet Silas Mot, who as it turns out currently holds the title of Death. But he has a problem – people are dying that are not actually scheduled to die, and he doesn’t know how. So he enlists the local police department and in particular its blonde female Chief to assist him in his investigation even as they work to solve the murder for their own purposes. Mott is presented as the suave, sharply dressed, playful yet serious Death that fans of Lucifer will instantly recognize, though his power set is a bit different – more in line with traditional interpretations of the Grim Reaper than with Tom Ellis’ portrayal of the Angel of Light.

This is the second book published under Holloway’s new publishing company he founded with his friend David Golemon – Golemon’s latest Event Group book being the first. As such, the slightly higher than I typically pay price point of $4.99 is understandable, and really it isn’t out of the normal range of independent Kindle books, if a bit on the high side of that. Still, well worth the money – I bought a copy even though I was given one for free. That’s how much I enjoyed this book.

I’ll leave you with my GoodReads/ Amazon review (I always just copy the GoodReads into Amazon):
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: Death Warmed Over by Kent Holloway”

An Open Letter To Shane Claiborne Regarding Executing Grace

Shane,

We’ve never met, but from what you said about yourself in Executing Grace, we come from a roughly similar background. You grew up in Tennessee, I grew up on the exurbs of Atlanta. We’re within a decade of the same age, and we were raised in similar conservative church backgrounds. We’ve both made something of ourselves that those in our hometowns may never have suspected us capable of back in those days.

I’m currently working on what I call a “2018TBR” project, where I set before myself a set list of books I wanted to read in 2018 – over 100 books in all, and I allowed for books to be added due to my Advance Reader Copy work with a few authors and publishers. Your book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It Is Killing Us, was on that list and I finished reading it today after having just started it yesterday. (Such is the norm for many of the books, and why yours was the 30th book I have read this year.)

Just so we are upfront with one another, despite agreeing with the premise of Executing Grace wholeheartedly and finding the stories you presented moving, the overall execution of the book was simply lacking. I won’t rehash what I’ve already put openly on Goodreads and Amazon, my normal places for reviewing books. Instead, I want to try to appeal to you personally.
Continue reading “An Open Letter To Shane Claiborne Regarding Executing Grace”

How The Political Climate Led Me To Read More

Earlier today, I read a post on BookRiot titled HOW THE POLITICAL CLIMATE LED ME TO ROMANCE NOVELS, and the title held such promise. Unfortunately, the article itself went on yet another political diatribe. So allow me, if you will, to explain in my own way how the political climate of late has led me to read ever more.

In 2017, I read 80 books. In 2018, I’ve got closer to 120 or so on deck, and we’ll see how many of them I actually read. This, after struggling in 2008 to even read 53 books. Of course, 2008 was very different in terms of the US political climate and my own life. In 2008, I was newly married and working 100 miles (one way) from home. This was before the era of eBooks, and even audiobooks weren’t quite on full mp3 the way they are now. So I had to lug around physical books and could only read on my lunch break or a few hours at home – hours dominated by sleeping, eating, and spending time with my new bride. So 53 books that year was quite an accomplishment – one that my new bride said I should never ever repeat.

But over the last couple of years, I find the political discourse in the United States to be ever more rancorous, and honestly even I – the former Libertarian Party official and political blogger/ activist – am honestly getting sick of it. While I still debate more on Facebook than I should, I’ve also unfollowed quite a few pages, unfollowed or defriended many people, and blocked over 1500 people on Facebook in 2017 alone. But even with all of this, there is just so much discord out there. You almost can’t discuss a political topic, even among the closest of friends, without people speaking harshly to each other and in many cases seemingly coming close to throwing punches. And it doesn’t matter the topic or your position. Someone is inevitably going to disagree, and then the fight is on.
Continue reading “How The Political Climate Led Me To Read More”

Frank Viola’s The Letters of Marvin Snurdley

Over the last month or so, I’ve been listening to Frank Viola‘s Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices via Audible on my 10k runs. The entire book has been utterly fascinating, particularly for someone like me who saw quite a bit of this over the years but could never quite give it voice.

The story of the Letters of Marvin Snurdley was a particularly fascinating example found in Chapter 11 (of 12), but the only place I could find it online was on a blog called “Common Sense Atheism“, and since they go on to attack Christianity in general, I thought I would copy it here with no commentary other than these notes and a strong recommendation to acquire and study this book for yourself. The story, in case it isn’t clear, is a direct examination of exactly what happened to form the largest single piece of the New Testament: The Pauline Epistles. Frank then does a great job throughout the rest of the chapter of examining and explaining why the issues presented in the story of the Letters of Marvin Snurdley unfortunately affect us all in the real world.
Continue reading “Frank Viola’s The Letters of Marvin Snurdley”

A Gold Mine

I finally finished reading David Murrow’s “Why Men Hate Going to Church (updated)”, after having put it down for a couple of months while I read other books and worked on other things.

The best I can say about this book is that it is a gold mine, in the truest sense of the term. You see, my wife watches Gold Rush on Discovery Channel, so I wind up watching quite a bit of it with her. On that show, various crews move around literally TONS of earth, searching for a few specks of gold. That is EXACTLY what you will be doing reading this book – searching through tons of detritus (to put it gently) for the occasional HINT of something worth noting.

To say I was disappointed in this book would be a statement in contention for understatement of the year, at least. Upon seeing the title and even a couple of the other BookSneeze reviews, I actually requested BookSneeze make this available in eBook format, which is how I read all my books now. I was hoping for something as mind blowing and concrete as Shaunti Feldhan’s seminal work, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men. Instead, the “research” in this book at one point literally consisted of the author standing outside an Alaska sporting goods store and asking 97 men what they thought was masculine or feminine about church.

And that is the most glaring flaw of this book – little to no actual research to base the author’s claims on. Instead, he draws on what he personally sees and how he personally feels. Which is fine, if the title would have been “Why Me and My Friends Hate Going to Church”. But in purporting to talk about a genuinely real crisis, the author falls flat on his face due to so little research on the topic. Add to this the guy’s blatant homophobia and misogyny – he dislikes any song that mentions a love of Jesus, because it sounds too gay – and you pretty much have a recipe for disaster. Indeed, one of the reasons I put the book down for a couple of months was because of the sheer number of times I was almost ready to destroy my Kindle just to get this book away from me. But I agreed to participate in the BookSneeze program (a truly great program, btw), and I didn’t want to review the book without completing it, so here I sit, having now done so.

Overall, I’d give this book 0.5 stars out of 5. It has enough good in it that if you’re DESPERATE for something to read and can get your hands on a free copy, I’d say it is better than nothing – but not by much. Had I paid for the book, I’d be demanding my money back.