Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse

Vanishing American AdultIt is not your imagination. Although we’ve been saying “What’s wrong with kids these days?” since Socrates, the “kids” we’re talking about now are in their twenties or even thirties. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been paying attention, and he has some very insightful things to say about Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.

When so many adults are living with their parents into their thirties, glued to a screen and not contributing to the household, we know that we’re seeing a failure to launch on a massive scale. We can’t blame the economy any longer, but it may have something to do with anti-free speech riots on campuses. Our young people have come to believe that their lives should be completely comfortable, never demanding sacrifice on their parts, and not requiring them to think too much. With social media, they can communicate only with people who agree with them on all issues, so when real human beings around them have different ideas, they feel justified in shutting them down by any means. In other words, today’s Millenials and Generation Z members are not equipped to take part in the life of a nation that came about as a result of an idea. Our founders expected the citizens of the country to be a moral group of people who read books and discussed issues, and today’s young adults cannot rise to the challenge. Our identity as a nation, and, indeed, our national security, is therefore at risk.

Ben Sasse lays out a program for Americans to follow in order to raise up a generation of adults who are thoughtful, industrious, and courageous. I was surprised at how much I agreed with him until I realized that he is a homeschooling parent, as I was years ago. The first point of his remedial program is to “flee age segregation,” which is astonishing in today’s America. However, shutting children into a room all day with 30 other people their own age and only one or two adults is such a new and bewildering concept. Humans are born into families, with at least two adults and a few kids of various ages, plus perhaps elderly adults. Until recently—historically speaking— people worked and socialized as families, and even the first schools had students of various ages all together.  The stringent age segregation in school, which takes up more and more of a child’s life, is truly a modern aberration in human history. When children spend their days observing only the behavior of other children, they will act like children. When they observe adults, they will act like adults.

Sasse familyThe senator goes on to prescribe hard work and less consumption in order to build character and create productive citizens. He gives statistics that show that many Millenials are perfectly comfortable with materialism as a goal of life. Sasse is raising his children to do serious manual labor and to take satisfaction in their accomplishments. In fact, he advises his readers to take pride in their work because of the contribution it makes to society, rather than continually grasping for more money and possessions. He also recommends that young people travel to broaden their understanding of the world, but not as a tourist would travel. Rather, he advises “roughing it,” or spending time as a student abroad, in order to dig into the real life of the citizens in other countries.

Finally, to my delight, Sasse builds a reading list by imagining that our young adult could only have one bookshelf that holds sixty books. Beginning with an inspiring account of how the Founding Fathers’ passionate ideas were a result of the wave of education that came from Gutenberg’s print revolution, he asserts that the United States can only continue to exist if the population reads the right books and understands the philosophy behind its founding. He divides his list of sixty books into twelve categories with only five books per category, creating what he believes is the canon essential for building a thinking society. He actually leaves a couple of categories blank so that the reader can fill in with the topics that are most important in her own life. If you are a historian or have been educating your children at home for any length of time, you probably already own many of these titles.

Sasse plainly states that this is not a policy book. It is a somewhat political book, and certainly a philosophy book, a parenting book, a self-help book, and a current events book. It is filled with both book learning and common sense. While the author deplores the ignorance and apathy of the rising generation, he presents a positive, forward-thinking plan for the future. Nebraskans can be proud.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Family

All the Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked SaintsThe Soria family was driven from their home in Mexico because the people there were afraid of their magical powers, so they settled in the Colorado desert in a place they call Bicho Raro. Pilgrims come from all over the world to ask for a miracle. The first half of the miracle is that the saint will make your darkness visible in concrete form. The second half of the miracle is distressingly difficult and sometimes endless: the pilgrim has to find a way to deal with his own darkness before he is healed, with no help at all from the saint, the saint’s family, or anyone who loves a Soria. If the saint tries to help the pilgrim, his own darkness will come out, and a Soria’s darkness is much, much worse than any pilgrim’s.

Joaquin Soria and his cousin Beatriz run an AM radio station from the back of a box truck that has been abandoned in the desert. Their cousin, Daniel, is the current saint of Bicho Raro. Pete Wyatt is on his way to Bicho Raro, because he has been promised that he can work for the Sorias in exchange for a certain box truck. Unfortunately, Pete is bringing disaster along with him.

True confession: I have been a Maggie Stiefvater fan for years. If she writes it, I will read it. I had no idea how she could follow the spectacular success of her “Raven Cycle” series, but I can tell you now that she did it by changing gears completely. All the Crooked Saints is a love letter to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and all of the other South American writers for whom the veil between the rational world and the world of infinite possibilities is gossamer-thin. Stiefvater’s new work is soaked in magical realism, which means that I am all in from page one. However, the old-world feel of this 1960s story is also shot through with Maggie’s own sly, winking humor. Brilliantly conceived characters and a complex, desperate plot are told through a filter woven of Latino culture and the intricacies of a singular family legacy.

This novel will be available in October, 2017. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a signed advance reader copy of this book, which I obtained at SLJ’s Day of Dialog. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Hate U GiveStarr and Khalil grew up together in Garden Heights, but they’d grown apart these last few years. When they met again at a party and some trouble started up, Khalil offered to drive Starr home before the police arrived. It wasn’t long before Khalil was pulled over for no apparent reason, and Starr found herself crying over his dead body while the cop held his gun on her until reinforcements arrived.

This was the second friend who had been shot in front of Starr, and she was only sixteen years old. In spite of the danger from one of the gang lords, she decided to give evidence in the case, but she hid the truth from her private school friends and even her white boyfriend. Starr’s life had already been complicated. Her father was a store owner and her mom was a nurse, but her father had served time in prison for drug dealing. In the meantime, her uncle was a cop and his wife was a surgeon. They lived in a big house in the suburbs. While Starr and her half-brother played basketball in the neighborhood under the watchful eye of one of the rival gangs, she traveled every day to a school where she was the only black girl in a very white world. Witnessing Khalil’s murder forced her to reexamine her everyday realities, her hopes and dreams, and her loves and loyalties.

It has been said that the Civil War was sparked by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. All of the elements were there for years before, but slavery was an intellectual question for most people in the north, and it didn’t touch their lives. Fiction has a magically insidious way of bypassing academic arguments and touching the soul. If you are a middle-class white person, as I am, we can read about racism in America, and we may even see Black Lives Matter protests on television, but then we can say, “Oh, dear! How terrible!” and turn off the TV. We don’t know what to think, and it happens far away (usually), and we just want them to stop so that we can all live peacefully. In a novel, we get a chance to live someone else’s life and to see through their eyes, and all of their experiences happen to us. We feel their sorrows and frustrations because we become them for a time.

I have had the advance reader copy of The Hate U Give for some months, but I knew it would be a gritty, emotional read, so I just kept it in the pile on my nighttable. It’s a debut novel, so when I bought it for our library system, I ordered the standard amount. Then people started to read it, and I’ve reordered twice. The holds continue to climb because everyone is talking about this amazing young writer and her complex, harrowing, yet triumphant story of personal growth and social justice. Fair warning that the language is realistically profane all the way through, so it may only be appropriate for older teens and adults.

Become Starr for a while. She has no easy answers, but she’s holding fast to the truth.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this novel, which was published in February. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Happy Hour!

We’ve received an abundance of new titles on tippling lately, some for serious tasters and others requiring tiny umbrellas. Please read responsibly.

Beach Cocktails: Favorite Surfside Sips and Bar Snacks

This bright and sunny volume by Oxmoor House offers almost 300 pages of fun recipes for summer drinks. Beginning with the tools of the trade and basic supplies, the cocktails are arranged loosely by the main spirit, with a full page devoted to the origin and production of each type of liquor. Although there are some fancy touches, such as the amazing blue Curaçao or whimsical bitters, most of the recipes use widely accessible ingredients. There are recipes to make your own syrups, such as Toasted Orgeat Syrup; mixes, such as Sweet-and-Sour Mix; shrubs, such as Lemongrass-Citrus Shrub syrup; and bitters, such as Homemade Peach-Vanilla Bitters. Yum.

For your young or expectant guests or those who do not indulge, they include a chapter of Mocktails, too. Nothing boring or derivative here. These nonalcoholic offerings are just as pretty and festive as the hard stuff. As a diabetic, a mocktail means a sugar-free version of a cocktail, but there are plenty of recipes in this book that are low enough in carbs on their own that there is no need to worry. And what is a bar without snacks? The last chapter is filled with savory bites that pair perfectly with the libations.

Fun and festive. A must-have for your next pool party.

A Field Guide to Whisky, by Hans Offringa

Subtitled An Expert Compendium to Take Your Passion and Knowledge to the Next Level, this handsome, chunky tome leaves no stone unturned in the quest for erudite knowledge of everything whisky—or should I say whiskey? The author even tells us why the spelling differs. Arranged by topic in a mostly question-and-answer format, the reader will learn about all the different types of whiskey, their places of origin, varying ingredients, aging, bottling, and how to read a whiskey label, among other detailed topics. There are stories of great distillers, discoveries of celebrated spirits, and interruptions like Prohibition. Here is a sample of some of the questions:

What is a rummager?

What is single pot still whisky?

What is the old bottle effect?

What is the devil’s cut?

What is the influence of water during mashing?

There are many more such in-depth inquiries in these 320 black-edged pages. After a thorough history of each country’s role in this amber liquid, the author also gives the current state of affairs for each geographic region involved in its production.

Thorough but readable, with both explanatory or just plain beautiful photos throughout. Pour a couple of fingers of your finest and sip your way through this one.

Moonshine Mixology, by Cory Straub

Now, to get really close to home here in North Carolina, this volume celebrates the (legal) revival of moonshine in the southeast. With the subtitle 60 Recipes for Flavoring Spirits & Making Cocktails, Straub brings the clear spirit out of that jug marked XXX. In the shiner tradition, this is a true do-it-yourself guide to everything moonshine.

First, Straub gives a short account of moonshine’s checkered history, followed by step-by-step instructions for distilling your own batch. The next section offers loads of suggestions for flavoring your basic moonshine, such as vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and apricot. The cranberry flavor is so pretty it begs for holiday cocktails. The longest section of the book is filled with recipes for fun drinks made with your moonshine. Some are reworks of classic cocktails, such as a “Moonhattan,” but most are completely original and very easy, with color pictures on every page.

The last part of the book gives instructions on creating gifts with your moonshine, such as lollipops and chocolate-covered cherry bombs. As a real DIY touch, Straub provides pages of adorable labels that you can scan and print onto label sheets for your Mason jars!

I doubt that I’ll set up my own still, but I happen to know of a new distillery very close by. I believe it’s time for a field trip.

Bourbon, by Kathleen Purvis

This slender hardcover is part of the single-ingredient series called “a Savor the South cookbook,” published just down the road by the University of North Carolina press. Nice to know that higher education in this country is not entirely wasted.

For the Teals, Bourbon is the house wine, so I read this volume with great attention. After Ms. Purvis gives an explanation of how bourbon is made and its colorful history, including the Whiskey Rebellion and some apocryphal stories of the Reverend Elijah Craig, she launches into cocktail and other recipes. Did you know that the barrels used to age bourbon cannot be reused for more bourbon? However, they can be sold off to age other whiskeys, like Irish whiskey or Scotch. These days, foodie entrepreneurs are also using them to flavor gourmet foods, to which I can attest, since I have a bag of bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans in my freezer right now.

The cocktail recipes in this book range from the classic Old-Fashioned and Manhattan to the newfangled Rhythm & Soul. A Sazerac is the perfect cocktail for a winter’s evening, and our favorite Garden & Gun tailgating drink is here in a modified version called a Bourbon & Burn.

After the cocktail section, the author presents a few chapters of main dish and dessert recipes using bourbon as an essential ingredient. Bourbon’s vanilla and caramel flavors lend a smoky sweetness to many culinary creations, from meats to ice cream, not to mention the much-loved Bourbon Balls, here in several incarnations, including Chocolate Nut Bourbon Balls. How about Bourbon Pimento Cheese, which combines two of my husband’s favorite things in the world? Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon-Mango Sauce, Bourbon-Pecan Sweet Potatoes, and Bourbon-Fudge Pie are just a few of the mouthwatering offerings in this very southern little cookbook.

Thank goodness that bourbon, like all pure spirits, has no carbohydrates. Time for a Bourbon & Burn!

Disclaimer: I read library copies of all of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Food

The Turquoise Table, by Kristin Schell

Turquoise TableWhen the delivery men asked Kristin Schell where she wanted them to put her new picnic table, she suddenly decided to let them leave it in the front yard. She and her husband painted it a cheerful turquoise color, and Kristin started hanging out at her very noticeable table every day, greeting walkers and slowly creating a sense of community in her neighborhood. People in other parts of her subdivision put out tables of their own, someone shared it on social media, and the Front Yard People movement was born.

The gilt-spangled cover of this lovely book was featured in a publisher email that I received, and since, let’s face it, turquoise is very close to teal, I was drawn in. When I found out that Ms. Schell was a Christian, and that she was deliberately trying to build community, I bought it for myself. Before I even received the book, I heard her speak on Eric Metaxas’ radio show, MetaxasTalk.com. They had a fun and friendly conversation about our efforts to create human interaction in this day when homeowners drive home from work, pull directly into their garages, hit the button, and close themselves into their houses.

Ms. Schell believes that the current state of isolation began with air conditioning. When I grew up, we did not have air conditioning, and people went outside in the evenings to cool off. Schell recalls the social utility of the front porch, where residents sat outside and greeted walkers in the evening, exchanging the news of the day and keeping the neighborhood network alive. Now that interiors are cooler, television and social media are our ways of making so-called connections with people who are nowhere near us, and when we do go outside, it’s to our back yards to barbecue. Schell wants to bring us back to our front yards to connect face to face.

The Turquoise Table tells her story, but it is also full of great tips: how to get started, what to do about smart phones, how to include kids and pets, activities for table time, and even what to do when no one shows up. There are several recipes for snacks to share. Schell is not naïve about the safety concerns of inviting strangers to your yard, and she suggests ways of dealing with problems. She also shares photos and stories of many Front Yard People across the nation who are meeting their neighbors and forging real relationships.

If you and your family are willing to venture outside, Kristin Schell is ready to turn you into Front Yard People. At the very least, I have a picnic table that would look great in teal.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Christian Life

Two Sugarless Cookbooks

It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I still don’t need to take medication because I follow a low-carb eating plan every single day—except for my birthday. So, I assumed that I had it down pat and didn’t need any new input. However, when these two new cookbooks came into our library, I just had to take them home.

SugarDetoxMe, by Summer Rayne Oakes

SugarDetoxMeSugarDetoxMe is a big, glossy hardcover filled with color photos of the author and her tasty recipes. After relating her experiences with sugar addiction, as well as the science behind this all-too-common modern affliction, Oakes helps the reader to set up her kitchen and pantry, and then launches into the eating plan. Granted, many of these recipes are still too high-carb for a diabetic, as she uses some grains and starchy vegetables, such as peas and potatoes.  However, if you are looking for a way to break out of the Standard American Diet, this is a great and delicious first step.

Here is the genius of this book: Oakes arranges her recipes according to Meal Maps. According to the author, Americans waste a massive amount of the food we buy. In order to avoid wasting money and resources, she creates a shopping list, and then gives the reader a week’s worth of meals that will use up all of the items on the list. Fantastic! I will warn you that the first Meal Map is all about eggs. If you cannot possibly face another egg in that week, by all means turn to other recipes in the book.

Beautiful and brilliantly formatted. Recipe I’m going to try: Spaghetti Squash Latkes.

 

Quick Keto: Meals in 30 Minutes or Less, by Martina Slajerova

Quick KetoThe ketogenic diet was first brought into popular awareness by Dr. Atkins back in the 1970s. Since then, this regimen of eating high fat/ no carbohydrates has been found to be effective in treating seizure disorders, which is certainly worth enduring what I considered the blandness of the limited food choices. What could a keto cookbook say, besides “eat a stick of butter”?

Quite a lot, it turns out. Slajerova gives a few short pages on the basics of the diet, and then launches into 100 easy recipes that are both mouthwatering and healthful. This paperback book shows pictures for almost all of the dishes, which range from tempting appetizers such as Crunchy Chili-Lime Nuts to beautiful desserts like Blackberry Lemon Mousse. The quintessential keto dessert is called a “fat bomb,” and sure enough, the last recipe in the book is No-Bake Blondie Fat Bombs. They have both cacao butter and coconut butter. There are entrées aplenty, too, such as the Prawn Cocktail Stuffed Avocado, which looks completely luscious. Low-carb diets in general seem to be very big on avocadoes these days, some in the most unlikely places.

These terrific recipes are quite simple, and I can eat every single one with no substitutions, so this book went into my Amazon cart. It’s a keeper.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Diabetes, Food

Stumbling on History, by Fern Schumer Chapman

Stumbling on HistoryIt is human, perhaps, to try to forget the past when the memories dredge up feelings of guilt and shame. The danger is that in sweeping our ugliness under the rug, we will never learn from our mistakes, and the suffering of the victims will never heal. Fern Schumer Chapman’s mother, Edith Westerfeld Schumer, was born in the tiny German town of Stockstadt am Rhein, into one of only two Jewish families at the time of the Holocaust. She and her sister were sent to America to live with an aunt and uncle they had never met when Edith was only twelve years old. She never saw her parents again. Only later did she learn that they died in two different concentration camps.

In 1996, German artist Gunther Demnig began an activist art project in Berlin called the Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteinen) Project. Demnig places a square, brass marker—about the size of a hand—in the street in front of a victim’s home or place of business. The marker is deeply inscribed with the person’s name, date of birth, and their fate. Since he conceived of it, the Stumbling Stones Project has spread to many cities in Germany, as well as France, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and Austria. Although he has met with opposition, “Demnig’s team embosses 450 Stumbling Stones each month,” and they have placed markers in over 1,000 cities.

Stumbling Stones

Stumbling on History, besides giving a factual account of the project, tells Chapman’s personal story of traveling with her mother to Stockstadt am Rhein to participate in a historical ceremony. The book is laid out in picture book format, but the amount of text is best suited to older children and adults who, like me, have never heard of this beautiful and significant art project. This inspiring story is accompanied by many large photographs on every page, both historical and contemporary. Chapman has produced a volume that will help children to recognize both the enduring tragedy of Nazi violence and the profound impact that a small work of art can have on an individual’s life.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book, which I had specially bound for our library. It can be hard to get, even though it was published in 2016, but the paperback is on Amazon. Well worth it. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews