Conference Book Haul!

My wife and I just got back from the Together for the Gospel conference, and in addition to hearing a lot of good speakers (John Piper, Shai Linne, Sinclair Ferguson, David Platt, etc.), we acquired a ton of good books…not quite literally, but I did just about injure myself trying to get the book suitcase into and out of the car (yes, we took an empty suitcase to bring back books).

I tried to take a picture of the conference bookstore, but with thousands of pastors, theology nerds, and related bibliophiles wandering around a conference center ballroom with about a dozen publisher tables, multiple kiosks, and scattered piles of heavily discounted books it was impossible. Plus there were palettes of 2-3 free books per attendee before each session.

Here are the ones that are immediately going onto my TBR (two are from a used bookstore we hit up after leaving the conference…shouldn’t be too hard to pick them out):

The TBR just keeps growing

…and here are the ones my wife is adding to her list and collection of teaching resources:

Plus plenty of other freebies, duplicates, church resources, and more:

No such thing as too many books!

Best conference ever!

The Serpent’s Doom

Mankind fulfilled the devil’s wish
As God the Son lay dead.
Yet hell’s hosts quaked; their doom was sealed.
Their “vict’ry” brought but dread.

It was God’s plan, this sacrifice,
Incarnate God had bled.
The wrath of God against our sins
Was borne by Christ instead.

But three short days death held the Son.
Then God’s plan moved ahead
As Jesus Christ stepped from the tomb
And crushed the serpent’s head.

(See Genesis 3:15, Acts 2:22-24, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

Please Help If You Can

I’ve never done this before on this site, but a close family friend is in desperate need of help. He has been dealing with cardiac and GI issue for the last year, including three major life-saving surgeries and at least four other hospitalizations. During that time, he has been largely unable to work…a couple times he was cleared to work, secured a job, and ended up right back in the hospital within weeks.

His recovery is not going well, as he is still frail, needs a cane to get around (and he is only 40ish years old), and seems to spend more time in the hospital than out. my family and I are trying to raise funds via GoFundMe for his ongoing medical bills and other monthly bills so that he at least doesn’t have that pressure nagging at him along with everything else.

Thank you for any help you can provide via this link!

Here is a picture of Dan from a couple years ago when we had a family outing to see the latest Star Wars movie:

A Breath of Fresh Air

Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Genre: Court Intrigue Fantasy (possibly YA)
Pages: 449
Rating: 4.5 of 5

This book pleasantly surprised me. The original cover and publicity blurb made me think it was some sort of cutesy YA fantasy clone, but a fellow book blogger’s rave review convinced me to give it a shot. There were a few of the usual YA tropes (teenage outsider whose parents are dead and who doesn’t want the role that has been thrust upon him), but it never descended into the obnoxious whining pity party and simplistic plotting/characterization that I think of as characteristically YA.

Maia, the unloved youngest half-goblin son of the elf emperor has been raised in obscurity far from court, but he is suddenly thrust onto the throne when the emperor and all of his other heirs die in a catastrophic accident. The rest of the book follows the challenges of growing into this role while navigating (potentially deadly) court intrigue.

In my experience, fantasy books that center on political maneuvering tend to be either cynical grimdark dystopias or trashy romance novels disguised as fantasy. This was neither as Maia brings kindness, warmth, and wisdom to the table. There’s plenty of awkwardness, self-doubt, and grief along the way, but this is the story of a refreshingly good-hearted young man.

If you are looking for high action, you’ll want to go elsewhere. If you need a break from angsty anti-hero fantasy this book is a breath of fresh air.

Stand By

It’s going on two weeks since I posted anything, so this is just a quick check-in to let you know that the blog isn’t dead. Corona finally found our house; the one family member who has preexisting breathing issues is the lucky one to catch a breakthrough case. No hospitalization yet but things are a bit touch-and-go so please keep us in your prayers and I’ll be back to book-blogging at some point.

Back to the Classics Signup 2022

It’s another challenge signup post! Thank you to Karen K over at Books and Chocolate for once again hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge.

The challenge involves completing classic books (50+ years old) in as many of the 12 sub-categories as possible for entries in a prize drawing (Click the picture I lifted from her page to go there, see full details, and sign up). For me, it’s mostly a fun incentive to include some “serious literature” in my reading and an opportunity to see what classics others have enjoyed.

You don’t have to choose which books you will be reading at the start of the year, but I like to start with a list of possibilities. This year I’m starting with two possibilities for each category… we’ll see how it goes. Without further ado, the list:

  1. A 19th century classic:
    The Black Robe by Wilkie Collins
    The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville
  2. A 20th century classic:
    The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Oil! by Upton Sinclair
  3. A classic by a woman author
    The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
    Julius by Daphne DuMaurier
  4. A classic in translation
    Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
    Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  5. A classic by BIPOC author
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cuba by Machado de Assis
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  6. Mystery/detective/crime classic
    Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
    Nightfall by David Goodis
  7. A classic short story collection
    The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne DuMaurier
    An Obsession with Death and Dying by Cornell Woolrich
  8. Pre 1800’s classic
    Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
    Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  9. A nonfiction classic
    Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
    The Travels by Marco Polo
  10. Classic that’s been on your TBR list the longest (Pretty close between these two)
    For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
    The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
  11. Classic set in a place you’d like to visit
    The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Middle Earth)
    Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (Oxford)
  12. Wild card classic
    Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham
    Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

TBR Challenge Signup

My TBR enters the year 103 books long (not counting all the half-remembered mental “I should read that!” thoughts). Some of those books have been on there for over a year, so this challenge seems like good motivation to knock a few of those off the list. Thanks to Roof Beam Reader for hosting, and if you are interested in participating click this picture that I lifted from the challenge signup post.

My challenge list of twelve books (plus two alternates) that have been on my TBR for over a year:

  1. Black Wings of Cthulhu 3 by S. T. Joshi (Ed.)
  2. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  3. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage by Robert Lindsey
  5. Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
  6. The Martyr by Liam O’Flaherty
  7. The Miser and Other Plays by Jean-Baptiste Molière
  8. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism by Elijah Hixson & Peter J. Gurry (Eds.)
  9. The Overcoat and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol
  10. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
  11. The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio de Maria
  12. William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague

Alternates:

  1. The 1980 Annual World’s Best SF by Donald A. Wollheim (Ed.)
  2. Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis by Matthew D. Hockenos

Best & Worst of 2021

This year I read 139 books with a total page count of 47,713 (~343 pages/book). I now present you with my sixth annual best and worst reads of the year lists (titles linked to my full review if I wrote one; excludes re-reads; presented in groups of five unranked; & starting with the “worst of” list so we can end on a positive note…no purchase necessary; void where prohibited):

Worst of the Year:

  • The Divine Comedy: Paradise by Danté (Translated by Dorothy L. Sayers): Between the constant reference to contemporary Italian politics and what I consider to be idolatrous reliance on Mary and the Saints, I found this hard to get through.
  • Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier: If you like melodramatic Harlequin-esque “historical romance,” this is for you…but that’s not my genre at all.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac: drugs, sex, jazz, blah blah blah…aren’t I deep!
  • Ripley Underground by Patricia Highsmith: a disappointing sequel to the interesting Talented Mr. Ripley. The complete non-ending was the worst.
  • The Tinfoil Dossier Trilogy by Caitlin R. Kiernan: A mashup of Cthulhu and black helicopter style conspiracies is a cool idea, but the execution was trippy to the point of incomprehensible and just plain gross (in both the splattery and moral senses).

Best Fiction

  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens: If you like Dickens, be sure to read this one. However, this isn’t a good place to start if you’ve never read him before.
  • Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez: This is pretty silly and episodic. Not great literature, but a lot of fun as the author plays with classic supervillain tropes.
  • The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells: This series (5 novellas and a novel so far) is top-tier sci-fi with an AI protagonist/narrator that any introvert can appreciate.
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones: I don’t usually enjoy revenge slasher horror, but this “literary horror” worked surprisingly well.
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: Another masterpiece from Andy Weir for those who like a lot of science in their science fiction.

Best Non-fiction

  • Gentle & Lowly by Dane Ortlund: A thoughtful reminder that “Yes, Jesus loves me,” and biblical Christianity is not based on “Try harder to be better.”
  • God Against the Revolution by Gregg L. Frazer: In a departure from the “fan fiction” version of American history, Frazer examines the anti-revolution arguments of loyalist clergymen in colonial America.
  • Nuking the Moon by Vince Houghton: This examination of various eventually-abandoned-due-to-stupidity military and espionage plans is equal parts funny and frightening.
  • The Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin: One of my new favorite authors interacts biblically with the kinds of statements that appear on yard signs beginning with “In this house we believe…”
  • Stephen Fry’s Greek Myths Trilogy (Mythos, Heroes, Troy) by Stephen Fry: I’m not sure if this exploration and retelling of the Greek myths counts as fantasy or non-fiction, but either way it’s a lot of fun.

That’s it for 2021. My reading goal for 2022 is my usual standby of “at least 100 books with an average page count of 300+.” Postings to this blog will probably continue to be sporadic unless work become unexpectedly less hectic, but we’ll see what happens. Happy New Year!

Happy Reformation Day!

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”

– Martin Luther

Top 10 Christian Book Recommendations

After an exhausting week of Vacation Bible School, I don’t feel inspired to write any fresh reviews. However, it’s been too long since I posted anything here, so I’m going to do something a little bit different today. I have compiled a list of the 10 Christian books that I most frequently recommend to friends. Some are an introduction to (or exposition of) what Christians believe, and some are more on the order of “how should we then live?”. I hope you find something useful here (presented in alphabetical order with title linked to a full review if I wrote one):

Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by [Mark Ward]

Title: Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible
Author: Mark Ward
Pages: 144

This is probably the most niche book on the list, addressing a concern that only crops up in certain conservative churches. However, if you grew up in “King James Only/Superiority” circles, you should read this balanced defense of modern English Bible translations.

Can We Trust the Gospels? by [Peter J. Williams]

Title: Can We Trust the Gospels
Author: Peter J. Williams
Pages: 162

This author demonstrates why it is reasonable to believe that the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are accurate accounts of the life of Jesus. This is one of the more scholarly books on the list, but the author does not assume prior knowledge or use unexplained academic jargon.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by [Rebecca McLaughlin]

Title: Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion
Author: Rebecca McLaughlin
Pages: 242

Topics addressed in this insightful book include religious violence, homophobia (she herself has been same sex attracted throughout her life), misogyny, slavery, theodicy (existence of evil/suffering), and much more.

Title: Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ
Authors: Andrew David Naselli & Claton Butcher
Pages: 160

Way too many conflicts that occur between Christians are over issues that the Bible has left up to our individual consciences. This book helps Christians think through Christian love that does not cause unnecessary offense or try to bind others to our own merely cultural preferences.

Title: Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Author: Dane C. Ortlund
Pages: 224

Sometimes we need to be reminded “Yes, Jesus loves me.” People who grew up in a certain kind of church soaked in the message of “Try harder to do better because God might have deigned to save you, but he doesn’t really like you that much.” This thoughtful book brings out what the Scriptures say about Jesus’ love and compassion.

Title: God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies
Author: Costi W. Hinn
Pages: 224

The “Prosperity Gospel” of guaranteed health and wealth that is peddled by smarmy televangelists makes me sick. Costi Hinn (nephew of televangelist Benny Hinn) demonstrates how destructive and unbiblical this corrupt teaching is. (for the short version, check out Shai Linne’s hip-hop masterpiece Fal$e Teacher$).

Title: Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says about Our Eternal Home
Author: Randy Alcorn
Pages: 560

This is by far the longest book on the list, but it is well worth your time to read it. It sweeps away misconceptions of heaven as a stuffy, boring place and digs into what the Bible actually says about the afterlife.

Title: How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil
Author: D. A. Carson
Pages: 240

One of the biggest difficulties for Christianity is “the problem of evil.” If God is perfectly good and all-powerful why is there evil in the world? D. A. Carson provides an excellent biblical framework for understanding this issue. (For a much more difficult in depth treatment check out The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil by John S. Feinberg)

How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by [Jonathan Leeman]

Title: How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age
Author: Jonathan Leeman
Pages: 252

This is a book that every American Evangelical Christian needs to read! It gives biblical guidance on how and why followers of Jesus should participate in the political process rather than being a poorly disguised partisan guide about who and what to vote for. (See also Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask by David Platt).

Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) by [C. S. Lewis, Kathleen Norris]

Title: Mere Christianity
Author: C. S. Lewis
Pages: 227

I had to put at least one book on here from my all time favorite author. I don’t 100% agree with everything Lewis says (e.g. sacraments as a means of applying grace, or the possibility of thwarting God’s will for your life), but this is an excellent introduction to the general beliefs of historical Christianity. Even if you’ve been a devoted Christian your whole life, Lewis comes at things from a different angle that will help you see your faith with fresh eyes.