Book Review: A Return to 25 Tales From Our Youth (Sort Of)

Fractured Fairy Tales told by A.J. Jacobs; Bantam Books; copyright 1997; 183 pages

More than once I’ve read something by A.J. Jacobs and got a good laugh. His narrated versions of the Fractured Fairy Tales from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends made me want to go to YouTube and watch those clever episodes I watched as a kid. Jacobs did a wonderful job translating them to print.

These “Tales” are silly take-offs of original fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, The Princess and the Pea, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rumpelstiltskin. We remember them with delight even though they were a little twisted. Or maybe because they were twisted. Jacobs adds a bit of description because we miss the visuals we’d have if watching the stories on TV. Honestly, it’s not a distraction; it adds to the stories. Artwork is mostly of the frustrated Fairy Godmother. (Weren’t her expressions great?)

The compelling thing about reading the fractured fairy tales is how you can almost hear those voices from the cartoons. The voice characterizations were, in my opinion, more fun—not to mention more varied and less annoying—than the voices used in modern cartoons for kids.

And because fairy tales were a big part of our lives when Rocky and Bullwinkle first made the scene, even we could see the absurdity of how twisted the plots became. I mean, who ever heard of a witch worth her salt who needed a little girl to teach her how to fly a broomstick? (Way to go, Gretel.) And what a surprise that the witch didn’t eat them but instead…wait, no spoilers.

Jay Ward’s satirical and subversive Fractured Fairy Tales came to us before the age of “politically correct.” They’re just as witty and clever as you remember them. And full of puns. Let’s not forget the puns.

I think on one of those nights I can’t sleep and figure I may as well be up, I’ll pull out my copy of Fractured Fairy Tales and treat myself to a bedtime story. A good laugh is every bit as good as a good toddy.

Fractured Fairy Tales is available from Better World Books and Amazon.

**psst! BWB provides book donations based on your purchases and supports education and literacy programs. Check it out. Buy from them.**

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life: a book review

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen; copyright 2013; Harper One; 256 pp. (audio 7 hr. 14 min.)

Nouwen wastes no time in his story before he defines his conception of discernment. To him, discernment is finding the spiritual answers that help us live our lives from day to day. Even more, he says–and this seems to be his purpose for writing–discernment is listening to the voice of God to find a purpose for our lives.

God speaks to us, he says, directing us as we discover what we’re passionate about. And once we’ve determined what we’re passionate about, God directs us to fulfill our purpose in His Kingdom. Vocation, however, is not the same as passion, according to Nouwen. Work can be anything we do to accomplish tasks. When we’re fulfilling our purpose, the work comes so easily and is so gratifying, we come away not even feeling like it was work. It becomes ministry at its best. Because it’s ministry at its best, it also means it’s service to others. And as we so often say, it’s “not about us.”

In fact, Nouwen makes the case that the attitude of humility helps us discern God’s meaning in things more correctly. Conversely, discerning God’s meaning brings humility.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent nearly twenty years as a professor, also lived the Trappist life for a short time and worked with the poor in South America. But he discovered his purpose according to God’s will at L’arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Here, he worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So, according to Nouwen, the idea is to listen. To God, to mentors, to those who’ve gone before us, and to the rhythms of our lives. Nouwen often quotes Thomas Merton, apparently a role model for him. It sounded like Nouwen felt kinship with Merton because their pilgrimages were similar. Both struggled with finding where they belonged if they were to serve God the way they hoped to. For me, hearing some of Merton’s ideas was a bonus because I enjoy his works as well.

Nouwen is considered among the mystics; at least I’d put him in that category. He talks a lot about his experiences in learning discernment, and for the most part, the stories are pertinent to the narrative.

Since I was reading an audio book, which he narrated himself, my mind would wander because he tends to ramble as he drops little gems of wisdom. But I want this to be a go-to book so I’m probably going to buy a copy. Then I’ll be able to mark it up and take notes in the margins. There’s meaty content and wisdom here I want to experience a second time.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

Humilitas: a book review

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson; copyright 2011; Zondervan; 196 pages

Did I tell you about the time a local service group gave me a medal for my humility? Then someone saw me wearing it in public and I had to give it back. Just kidding. The author of Humilitas sort of makes the same statement, which is one we all know by now: Just about the time you think you have this humility thing nailed, you’ve shown that you probably don’t.

“The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility” is Dickson’s thesis for the book, and I believe he proved it well. The book digs into topics like the logic of humility; why the ancients didn’t like the idea of humility; how practicing humility lifts the people around us; why humility can generate abilities; and why humility is better than ‘tolerance.’ His research is nicely balanced with stories, some of them about his own encounters with people who he believes are humble. Dickson cites other literature, other topic experts, and well-known stories, but the research never makes the book unreadable. On the contrary; it’s readability is one of the reason it shines.

Several examples of great people who’ve demonstrated humility (and some who haven’t) give insight into how we respond to leaders as we examine their character. It becomes clear that we all know someone who isn’t necessarily in the public eye or in leadership who makes an excellent impression because of their humility. Those people may not even have great intelligence or great physical resources to draw on. It’s more of a heart issue than a head issue. The author includes a whole chapter, “Cruciform,” about Jesus of Nazareth and how He redefined greatness through humble living and service.

Consider Dickson’s definition for humility: The noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. People who give to others seemingly without even thinking about it usually have a positive impression on us. We may not even realize at the time we’re being impressed. But that’s the thing, Dickson is saying. Humble people aren’t trying to impress.

Steps to become (more) humble come at the end. They seem to make good sense. Becoming humble, as with any virtue, comes with practice. As we say, it’s a journey, not a destination. I was pleasantly surprised with Humilitas. That impression began when I read the author’s dedication to his mentors, “who know more about this subject than I do, but would never presume to write about it.”

This one will not only be a ‘repeater’ for me, but a reference book. I mean, after all, they took my medal away. I need all the help I can get.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

5 Good Reasons to Read Books

It’s “Read Across America Day.” And whether or not you live in the United States of America, reading is fundamental (to quote an old slogan).

I learned to read while sitting at our kitchen table eating breakfast**. I learned how to sound out words like riboflavin, barley, lecithin, syrup, and all those other things I was feeding my tummy. My big sister also helped because she was a ravenous reader. I suppose she hoped I would be too. When we sat outside the small downtown grocery store while Dad and Mom ran in for a few things, she’d help me with the words on the big old signs that told us what the specials were that week. Hamburger, Wheaties**, margarine, Wonder Bread.

Me, ignoring people who say I have too many books.

Consider these five good reasons to read, whether it’s books; newspapers; magazines; your email (Especially the ones from your boss); your Twitter feed (Unless it gets nasty. Then run. Run away very fast); or that text your spouse just sent so you don’t get in trouble (Unless you’re driving because that could cause trouble).

  1. Read because you can inform yourself and others.
  2. Read because it can be relaxing.
  3. Read to kids because you’ll teach them that reading is important. It’s also a great way to bond with them.
  4. Read because it improves your vocabulary
  5. Read because it’s your assignment for school and you want to pass the class

To celebrate Read Across America Day, try one of these ideas.

  • Read a book and tell someone a little about what you’re reading
  • Encourage someone to read
  • Help someone learn to read
  • Finish that book. Come on, you’re almost done
  • Tell us in the comments what you’re reading

It’s also the 116th birthday of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss gave us fun characters and some crazy worlds to visit. They lent themselves to memorization because, whether we noticed it as a kids, he was teaching us in a fun way about poetry.

Here’s a blog about books and reading from Why Not Books. The blogger includes a list of the Why Not 100 with links on his site for such lists as Harry Potter incantations; Beatles Songs as Book Titles; Books Written by Kids; Banned Books; Freaky Fictional Presidents, and more. Now those might make for some interesting reading.

The Why Not Books blog also includes a list of classic Dr. Seuss characters. How many Dr. Seuss characters can you name? What’s your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

In case you were wondering, I did become a rabid reader, just like my sister. She ended up recommending books to me as I grew. Her tastes ran to classics and she is six years older than me, so I was about thirteen years old when I read “Anna Karenina” at her suggestion. Thanks, Laura! What a ride it’s been.

Be a blessing to someone today. Read aloud to them, even if it’s talking through the clues and answers to your crossword puzzle.

“Fruit Flies in Our Faith” a Review

Fruit Flies in Our Faith by Annie Paden; Angel Faith Publishing; copyright 2018; 188 pp.

 Through a look at the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, Annie Paden teaches how to both nurture and share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Her premise is simple: we all need a close relationship with God to let the Spirit work in us to develop the fruit. We, however, will resist the teaching or experience trouble, which distracts us.

Through personal stories and opportunities to reflect on our lives, the author shows us how we can better see what God has in store for us as we grow in grace. The persistent and pesky “fruit flies” will submit to pest control when we submit to the leadings of the Spirit.

Each chapter describes the various aspects of one fruit, helping us to understand how God will use it and refine it in us. She starts with an anecdote related to, for instance, kindness. She leads us into “Nurturing Fruit,” with examples of ways to grow by applying what God is saying to us.

In the “Sharing Fruit” section of each chapter, Annie’s ideas for working with others describe ways to put feet on our faith. They’re simple ideas that anyone can carry out. In each section, she supports her ideas with scripture.

Finally, each chapter includes questions for reflection and study.

Fruit Flies in Our Faith is targeted to women and both new believers and mature believers can find support and maybe even new ideas for growth. I think she does a good job of encouraging women in a way that’s relatable. Used as a study guide, it could provide an opportunity for a group of women to honestly share the challenges, struggles, and joys of producing fruit.

4 of 5 stars

This review was requested by the author in exchange for a contributor copy.

Days With Frog and Toad: A Review

What a cool relationship Frog and Toad have. They remind me of an amphibious odd couple. Their personalities are different as well as their skins. Frog seems to be always upbeat and Toad seems to have a tentative attitude toward things. And then there’s the Toad-is-brown and Frog-is-green thing going on.

Kids learning to read will have fun with “Days With Frog and Toad” because Frog and Toad help each other, play together, relax together, and obviously care about one another.

Each of the five stories—“Tomorrow,” “The Kite,” “Shivers,” “The Hat,” and “Alone” are comical and sweet. Each contains a lesson that parents can discuss with their child. The stories are a fun way to learn about helping, being persistent, being responsible, and appreciating people.

The frog and toad stories remind me also of “The Wind in the Willows” because of the characters’ particular species. Arthur Lobel has done a fine job with the I Can Read Book, with engaging stories and simple illustrations to go with the simple sentence structure for beginning readers. The I Can Read series is explained as “a perfect bridge to chapter books” with “high-interest stories for developing readers.”

 

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

It’s a Jungle in Here: Book Review

It’s a Jungle in Here by Kristie Wilde; 22 pages; copyright 2018

Kristie Wilde, the author and illustrator of this title, has a real winner with another in the Joyful Creation Series. 

When I saw the cover of the book in my selection email from Bookcrash, I wondered if all the illustrations in this picture book would be as beautiful as the cover. (It doesn’t hurt that I really like elephants.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since children are drawn to the pictures in a book as much as the story, these watercolors do the job and then some.

The book is short, but I think that just means it’s a book kids request by asking, “Read it again,” and Mom or Dad won’t mind because it doesn’t take long to repeat. And I mean it, the paintings Kristie supplies are also fun. Check out the page with the frogs. Those little guys are so cute and it took me a bit to count them all. There are brightly colored butterflies and birds; big cats; and funny monkeys. She even includes chameleons, which tickled me, the owner of a crested gecko.

In the back, the author includes simple, but pretty cool, information about each animal group she presents. Her degree in forestry is probably one of the reasons she finds it a joy to educate kids while encouraging them and entertaining them with a good story.

All that and the message that God made each of the animals in the jungle unique and that he’s pleased with them. “It’s a Jungle in Here” reminds children that God is pleased with them too, no matter who they are.

If you want a copy of this beautifully illustrated book with a special message for your kids or grand kids, look for it at Barnes & Noble or Wilde Art Press, the publisher.

Bookcrash supplied me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for the review. (I’m going to gift it to a friend who has youngsters.)

 

Review: “The Proverbs Management Handbook”

The Proverbs Management Handbook: A Christian Manager’s Guide to Doing Business; By John A. Guderian; Published by Waterloo Publishing; copyright 2017, 262 pages

This is a great book with plenty…wait, make that numerous, biblical references for leaders. I was happy to see that someone had published a book of this type which is quite an easy read. In fact, a friend of mine said her husband was going into business for himself and asked another fellow in business what book he would suggest helping him to run it. The guy recommended the book of Proverbs. Wise move. The book of Proverbs was written to “attain wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight…” You get the idea.

And speaking of wisdom, this book includes references from one of the Bible’s wisdom books. It mostly includes proverbs written by King Solomon, but also uses some by other kings and notables. The author includes a variety of proverbs for a variety of situations. However, some references are repeated too often, in my opinion. While they may be appropriate for that topic, perhaps he could have found another suitable one.

It’s easy to read and would make a great reference for future use. One of its beauties is that its chapters don’t need to be read in order. Peruse the table of contents, find a topic you’re interested in as a leader, and read on. The author directs the content toward leaders of all types. One needn’t be in church leadership or corporate leadership. If you deal with people and have influence with them, you’re considered a leader.

I received the book as a pdf and it takes me longer to read that format. I doubt that I will refer to it much in the future for this reason. I prefer a solid book to hold in my hands. The Proverbs Management Handbook also contains a bibliography. That’s a feature I appreciate in a non-fiction book.

Since the author is a Christian, his advice is from that perspective. But the content is good for anyone to take heed of. A lot of wisdom from one of the wisest persons ever to be a king.

The book was made available to me through BookCrash for an honest review. The opinions expressed are mine.

The Rogue: A Review

The Rogue: Planets Shaken by Lee W. Brainard; 2017 by Soothkeep Press

The Rogue is the first volume of the Planets Shaken series about a dystopian future. It combines biblical prophecy, ancient history and government conspiracy in a story about scientists who have discovered a planet-sized comet on a collision course for Mars.

Astronomer Irina Kirlenko finds the comet but is stymied in her work in pursuing its path and imminent arrival. She believes those higher up who could investigate further and do something are hiding the discover to avoid panic when what the public needs is the truth. So, she sends her findings in coded language to her fellow astronomer, Ariele Serrafe. More people than this pair of women are in danger of being discovered with information the government will kill for.

Brainard writes the book with chapter openings as day/date/location entries. It’s an effective tool, creating that countdown feel which would probably happen if Earth was facing destruction and we knew how and when.

Brainard’s first installment is Christian fiction, but none of the characters is overtly religious. He’s only included a few references to their respective lives of faith. I found this refreshing since, although I’m a Christian, don’t read much inspirational fiction and don’t appreciate trite and obvious ploys to take me down an author’s path. The Author Himself, God, will draw me where He wants me to go; I prefer human authors be subtle in their approach, not leading me by the nose.

The characters in the book are either the kind you sympathize with or want to shake, and it’s easy to know which is which. Professor Goldblum is an opportunist, for instance, and out for glory. Other characters will seem selfless, but only the next volumes may tell if they truly are.

The story is peppered with acronyms I had to keep referring to and finally decided to pencil them in the back cover so that I wouldn’t have to search for the term again. I know what a planetarium is, and I understand constellations, but I had no idea what NEO meant. I do now. A glossary might have helped. I realize those are unusual for fiction, but I’ve seen it done and appreciated it when one was included. The book is enjoyable, and I might even be on the lookout for the next installation of the series. This was a fast read because the story itself moves fast. I wanted to know what was happening next to the characters (except for those meanies).

The cover is attractive as well and I’m one of those who pays attention to such things. This one is nice and clean; not all cluttered up. Be sure to read the qualifier written by the author on the copyright page regarding the novel being a work of fiction. I thought it was cleverly written.

The book is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

This review appears as a courtesy to Bookcrash and the author in exchange for an honest review and a copy of the book.