Featured New Release of the Week: Learning to Speak God from Scratch by Jonathan Merritt

This week, we return to a book we featured in #HypeTrain last month – Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch.

This time though, I want to take a bit of a different tack on my writing regarding this book. You see, I was recently reminded of a quote from Jonathan’s dad, former Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. James Merritt, that I had heard about a year ish before I found how awesome Jonathan himself was when I read his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own. This particular line actually speaks to the discussion Jonathan has in Learning to Speak God From Scratch, and is:

The Church can influence the nation more through supplication than the Congress can through legislation.

Now, Jonathan doesn’t discuss the word “supplication” in this book. But this is where it gets interesting… because he *does* discuss “prayer“, and Merriam-Webster definessupplication” as “to make a humble entreaty; especially : to pray to God“. So “supplication” is just fancy Christian speak for… prayer.

Another term Dr. Merritt likes to use in his sermons is “justification“. Again, Jonathan never has a chapter devoted to that particular word. But “justificationmeansthe act, process, or state of being justified by God“, and Jonathan *does* devote chapters to words like “God“, “Sin“, “Lost“, and “Confession“.

Still another term you’ll often hear Jonathan’s dad use is “sanctification“. And yet again, Jonathan never uses that word as the basis of a chapter in this book. But it meansthe state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion“, and Jonathan devotes chapters to words like “Grace“, “Mystery“, “Brokenness“, and “Neighbor“.

Indeed, the entire point of this experiment in learning to speak God from scratch is to take the everyday Christian terms like “lost” and “creed” and “pride” and use them to unpack their truths and help us understand better both these words themselves and the more theologically-oriented “cation” words. And in so doing, Jonathan has created quite possibly one of the defining works in seeking to bridge the conversation gap between Christians and non-Christians.
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: Learning to Speak God from Scratch by Jonathan Merritt”

Movie Review: The Meg

Let’s talk about The Meg, the movie based on Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.

First, I was excited about this movie from the time I heard about it. Despite my misgivings regarding Alten’s political discussions on his author page – something I *highly* discourage -, The Meg Trilogy is some of his finest work, and his only series I’ve found so far where he doesn’t go off the deep end with Book 2. (In the Meg series, he waits until Book 4 for that, but even then it could be sold as setting up a new trilogy – that he has yet to continue – over truly “going off the deep end”.) The scene with the young girl I immediately knew was never in the book, but the rest of the early promotion stuff looked pretty close. The casting of Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor was about as close to spot on as I think you can get at the moment with well known lead actors, and I was happy about it. The particular experience at the theater closest to my house was ruined by a large group of people immediately behind me who could not stop talking throughout the movie, including cracking jokes during what were meant to be some of the more serious and terrifying moments. One example: When the Meg first shows up at the underwater hallway where the girl is playing alone in the trailer, it is clearly meant as a terrifying moment of the movie. And the people behind me loudly said “Hello, I’m Bruce”, from Finding Nemo. Hilarious, actually, but took me completely out of the terrifying aspect of that scene.

Now, as a generic late summer shark attack movie, Meg is perfectly fine. Kind of an updated Jaws, really. If you like this type of movie, you’ll like this one. If you despise this type of movie, you’ll despise this one, and if you’re ambivalent about them… well, you might actually like this one.

HOWEVER, with this specific title, I’m looking for a specific tale. One that I read numerous times after my aunt gave me a copy not long after it came out in paperback, thinking I might like it. While I waited a few years (the cover was fairly bland at the time), I did eventually read it… and every book in the series that would come later. Multiple times. And it turns out while watching this movie that I actually remembered more details than I thought I did, what with my last re-read of this trilogy being roughly a decade (and several hundred, maybe even low thousands, books ago). And at a spoiler free level, I’ll say this: For those in my position, you’re better off approaching this movie as fans of Star Trek: The Original Series have to approach the latest Star Trek movies: You’re going to get the same basic tale, but it is going to be completely repackaged and this repackaging seems to possibly preclude some side plots.

Here’s the trailer for the movie. WARNING: WE BE TALKING SPOILERS BELOW THE TRAILER.

Continue reading “Movie Review: The Meg”

Featured New Release of the Week: The Black and The Blue by Matthew Horace

This week we branch out into our first nonfiction book, again from NetGalley. Today, we’re looking at The Black and The Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace.

Now, this one was a bit interesting for me. You see, even up until the week before I started this site, I had been active in fighting police brutality for most of the last decade. Indeed, I was fighting police brutality before America had heard names like “Walter Scott”, “Michael Brown”, “Tamir Rice”, and numerous others. My story truly began with some cops illegally questioning me – a smart yet unpopular “weird” lower middle class white kid in the suburbs – without so much as a parent or school counselor, much less a lawyer, present. But my story really picked up when I began hearing names like “Kathryn Johnston” and “Jonathan Ayers”, then I was following online as some online acquaintances were harassed as they drove across America searching for liberty. They would found CopBlock.org soon after, and for the next several years I would be involved in that project locally, regionally, and even nationally at various levels. As recently as earlier this year, I finally created my own website to track all instances of people killed by police in America yet allow some basic reporting on the issue, something no other website did anywhere near the level I did.

So make no mistake about it, while I gave up that life completely when I came into this new world of book blogging and putting my efforts into books and publishing, I have a very strong and still quite recent history of doing everything I can to illuminate and bring awareness to the issue of police brutality in America.

Which is why coming into this book was so interesting for me. For someone like me to sit there and read the words of not just a cop, but someone who actively trained other cops for years, knowing all that I know? It was actually an interesting and at least somewhat pleasant experience.

Structure wise, this book probably wasn’t as comprehensive as I would have liked, and I indeed recommend the far superior book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police by Radley Balko, written over a year before #BlackLivesMatter became a thing, from that side. This book instead takes a personal look at a few instances from Horace’s own career as a cop, from his days on the streets of Baltimore to his ascendancy into the upper echelons of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms while also spending a good chunk of the book examining Chicago, Ferguson, and New Orleans in detail. There are a few grammar issues, mostly misplaced words similar to the clearly intended word.

Overall narrative wise, the book flows well and is an interesting and fairly easy read. The transitions are fairly seamless, and the sections allowing cops from all levels to discuss different topics worked well with the chapter they were placed with. The story was much more balanced than I expected from someone in Horace’s position, while still lacking in certain key areas to my tastes – but surely too much attention in certain areas for the tastes of someone more pro-cop than myself.

Overall this is in fact a book I recommend, just at the 3 star level and with recommending that Balko’s book be read as well. To me, it really does add a voice that can be missing from these conversations at times, and while Horace never does what is really needed, he does in fact seem like someone at least willing to hear all sides – even if he has his own preconceived notions that will not change regardless.

And the obligatory Goodreads/ Amazon review:

Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: The Black and The Blue by Matthew Horace”

#HypeTrain: Robinsonfest 2018

Two weeks from this morning, I take an Uber over to Jacksonville International Airport to fly up to Boston’s Logan International Airport to take a bus to Portsmouth, NH. There, I will finally meet a man I met online back in the Myspace era a decade ago. Back then, the guy had written just two novels, and was publishing them on demand (the Kindle had just come out a year earlier and was still a few years away from becoming what it is now). I ordered both of his books from him, and when I read The Didymus Contingency, I was hooked. (The organization featured in that book is actually the one featured on the light gray shirt in the picture.) Antarktos Rising, featuring a crustal displacement event a couple of years before the movie 2012 would come out and make that idea somewhat popular, just sealed the deal. From that moment, I read every book this author put out – now over five DOZEN books in that decade.

This author – Jeremy Robinson – has become the single one I recommend the most to people, in part because he really is that good and in part because of how prolific he is. I say he is the Master of Science Fiction, and there is a reason for that – I know of no other author (ever) who has written in more science fiction sub genres than he has. And not only that, but with the characters and ideas he writes about, it is to the point that almost no matter what a particular reader is interested in, there is probably a Jeremy Robinson book that is close enough that they may be interested in reading it.

And over the decade, it has been one hell of a ride. I’ve been so scared I had nightmares for weeks (TORMENT). I’ve read PULSE pounding military/ creature thrillers with the Chess Team / Jack Sigler Adventures – which are coming to a close with the next book in the series. I’ve sailed over and under the Atlantic with the fish from the Biblical story of Jonah in KRONOS. I’ve explored the furthest reaches of the galaxy – and my own mind – in INFINITE. I’ve watched a young woman who just discovered she was pregnant try to go THE DISTANCE and survive an apocalypse for herself and her unborn child, and I’ve watched another young woman named Jenna Flood survive a bomb meant to kill her and fight to find out why someone wanted her dead. I’ve watched surviving Nazis try to create a SECONDWORLD, and I’ve seen a man who everyone thinks is Crazy be able to walk in a MIRRORWORLD. I’ve seen a XOM-B, and I’ve seen an APOCALYPSE MACHINE and I’ve seen a DIVIDE to try to save at least some of humanity. I’ve seen a PROJECT with Godzilla and Pacific Rim style giant monster/ robot fights, and experienced an Avengers Level Event that was at least as long in the making as the original Marvel’s Avengers movie – and even more epic. (Without giving too much away there, whereas in Marvel’s Avengers, the team had to come together to save *one* Earth, in Jeremy’s Event his team has to come together from multiple realities to save ALL realities.) I’ve watched a kid be kidnapped by monsters and transform into the King of Antarktos, with unparalleled power over that continent’s elements.

And I’ve even personally caused the Apocalypse by trying to save the planet by solving world HUNGER.

Yes, I – among many of his other fans in various books – have been written into one of Jeremy’s books. So far, I’ve survived – hence the top shirt in the pic above. I’ve even gotten a version of the tattoo that features heavily in UNITY, where a group of kids have to come together to save the world. To my knowledge, I am literally the only real person with this tattoo. (Another fan of Jeremy’s has a tattoo of a symbol featured heavily in the CHESS TEAM books.)

So now I actually get to finally meet the man behind all of these adventures in person and hang out with him for a weekend in his own turf at an event – Robinsonfest – that he has been putting on for a few years now. I get to share a few meals with him and go go-karting with him and go searching for Leviathan with him and hang out in an area somewhat similar to the Chess Team’s base of operations, among other things. I even get to meet at least a few people I’ve met online through Jeremy, including his editor and co-author Kane Gilmour, a friend I run a Facebook group with and who is an author himself in Xander Weaver, and a few other mega-fans of Jeremy’s that I’ve known on Facebook for several years. (And I may wind up dragging them over to Maine to try “barbecue” tofu – because this Southerner distrusts any Yankee claiming to be able to barbecue, and “barbecue” tofu is just blasphemy. If nothing else, I have to go try this stuff myself. :D)

For me, this is more exciting than going to Disney World – and may well be the same kind of trip that most people have at Disney: once in a lifetime.

But even if it is once in a lifetime, it is going to be one hell of an adventure, and I can’t wait. 😀

Featured New Release of the Week: The Same Blood by M. Azmitia

This week we’re branching out further than I knew when I picked up this book from NetGalley due to its release date and the fact that it sounded interesting. Today, we look at The Same Blood by M. Azmitia, releasing on August 1, 2018.

I went into this book expecting a novel about a girl who is struggling with the death of her twin sister and subsequent revelations about herself. And I was highly surprised to find not a novel, but a long form narrative poem – a type of literature I hadn’t read since college, when I had to read Beowulf for a world lit class. In 2001.

Even with the unexpected writing device though, this book offers a strong tail of a young teen’s struggles – perhaps made more effective due to its writing and printing style, though I still believe that a stronger tale could have been told in a more traditional novel form. Overall, its examination of mental health, guilt, addiction, longing for home, and the struggles of Puerto Ricans generally and specifically after Hurricane Irma destroyed large swaths of the island last year are strong and worthy of considerable thought – which seems to be the overall goal of the author.

My only complaint this week is of a more technical issue – apparently the publisher only made a certain file type available via NetGalley, and that forced me to get creative to actually be able to read and review this book. Instead of reading it on my Kindle Oasis, as normal, I had to download the Overdrive app to my laptop and read this book on my dual monitor setup there. The book itself was perfectly fine for what it was, and a very recommended read – if for no other reason than a bit of diversity in story format.

And the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: The Same Blood by M. Azmitia”

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 fiancée 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”


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?”