Monday, December 31, 2018

Last Book Review of 2018!


Rating: 5 Stars

This book is both wonderful and deeply saddening, but I am glad that I ended the year with this one. I loved looking at so many photos of a president who, not without flaws of his own, always tried to do the best for everyone - not only those who supported him. President Obama and his family are a perfect picture of the American Dream, what you can accomplish if you work hard enough and go after what you want. Through the highs and lows of his presidency, Obama was working for everyone.

I was happy to see some of my favorite photos included, and some that I had never seen before. Souza is a fantastic photographer, and we are very lucky to have such thorough documentation of a historic presidency.

  • Moments Before the Inauguration (page 13)
  • Hair Like Mine (pages 38-39).
  • Playing in the snow with Malia and Sasha during the snow storms that shut down Washington (pages 78-79)
  • Working to get the Affordable Care Act passed (pages 82-83)
  • Meeting an Army Ranger - Again (pages 86-87)
  • Coaching one of Sasha's basketball games (pages 118-119)
  • The Osama Bin Laden Raid (pages 130-135)
  • The Worst Day of His Presidency - the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School (pages 200-203)
  • President and First Lady crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7th, 2015 on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma (page 254)
  • The White House lit up in colors of the rainbow to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. It took longer than I would have liked for him to come around to fully supporting it, but we got it! (page 269)
  • Dream Big Dreams (page 298-299)

The Final Days section was the hardest to get through, because it was the end of something great and beautiful and hopeful. Even then, Souza captured so many compelling images that made me sad and hopeful at the same time. Photos in this section included President Obama awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his BFF Joe Biden (page 338), President Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time as president on the morning of January 20th, 2017, then the final image of President Obama on Executive One, flying away from the White House after the inauguration (pages 346-347).

This is an absolutely stunning piece of work by Pete Souza and a beautiful testament to a president who did what he could, with what he was given to work with - all while maintaining the dignity both of himself and the office, compassion, and his composure. Highly recommended.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Most Fave, Best-Loved Books of 2018

I read A LOT of books this year and this post is an ode to those I loved so much, that I bestowed five stars on them. I talked to anyone and everyone about them for days, weeks, months even. It is hard to list them in any particular order. However, books in the #1 and #2 positions truly earned those spots. The books are on the list for me having read them this year, not that they were necessarily published in 2018.

As I was putting the finishing touching on this post, I was tagged in a year-end book meme that I thought was a really neat idea. Esther from Bite Into Books created Your Year in Books last year and it is a fun way to share the stats you've accumulated. Here are mine:

I read a total of 63,601 pages across 290 books Img bookstack 360

The average book length I read was 219 pages.
Img ruler

The shortest book I read was 20 pages - My Heart is a House by Stacey Rawlings. My Heart is a House by Stacey      Rawlings

Perfect Murder Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller The longest book was Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller at 838 pages.

The most popular book I read was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, with 1,788,692 total readers. 

22557272 Img temp desktop 2x My Heart is a House by Stacey      Rawlings

The least popular was My Heart is a House by Stacey Rawlings, with only one other reader (seriously, spread the word about this sweet story. Such a great way to help little ones understand why preparing our hearts for God is so important).

My average rating for the year was 3.4 stars.

The highest rated book that I read and reviewed was My Heart is a House, with 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My first review of 2018 was Long Road to Hard TruthLong Road to Hard Truth by Robert L.  Wilkins

My last review of 2018 was Obama: An Intimate Portrait


Now, onto the books I loved this year!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Each week a bookish topic is provided and everyone is invited to share their lists related to that topic.

Originally this was going to be my top ten books, but as I looked through my Goodreads list, I found roughly 30 books I gave five stars to. A few I have left off of this list were chapter books that I read with Eleanor, which were great. However, seeing as the primary focus of my blog is adult books, I selected just a few of the many books Eleanor read together all year.

(Links go to my review. Some will have no link if the review is not up yet.)

#1 Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz

Here are the rest, in no particular order.

Die Hard: An Oral History by Brian Abrams

Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum by Edward T. O'Donnell

Eddie and the Cruisers by P.F. Kluge

Firebird by Misty Copeland

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt

The Day Sonny Died by M. Simone Boyd and Onnie I. Kirk, Jr.

Spirit of the Cage: True Accounts of Living in a Haunted Medieval Prison by Richard Estep and Vanessa Mitchell

The Last Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenburger and Justin Taylor (You will see this book every year; I read it the week leading up to Easter)

The Mercy Prayer by Robert Gelinas

Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muńoz Ryan

Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams

The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras by Brantley Hargrove

No Justice: One White Police Office, One Black Family, and How One Bullet Ripped Us Apart by Robbie Tolan

Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur

Obama: An Oral History by Brian Abrams

My Heart is a House by Stacey and Monterio Rawlings

Fear: Trumplethinskin in the White House by Bob Woodward

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Saved by the Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11 by Julie Gassman

No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt

And last but not least, a Christmas treasure that I finished up this afternoon, and my final book review of the year:


There you have it, lovelies. Have you read any of the books on my list - if so, which one(s)? If you have created your own "top books of 2018" list, leave a link in the comments and I will take a look.

Here's to a new year full of new books, just waiting to be discovered.

Happy Reading!

2018 Year-End Wrap-Up

Here we are, the end of 2018, and it is time to look back on the bookish year I had and see how I failed or succeeded with the goals I set. My original post can be found HERE, if you are really that interested in reading the long version. The rest of you, come with me.

1. 2017/2018 Presidential Reading Goal - You can check out my progress HERE. I was so sure of myself in 2018, thinking I would finish this and be done with it. No such luck. I think I just got incredibly burned out on politics because of the utter shit show we have going on right now. I am putting this post together as we are in the midst of a government shut down that trumplethinskin said he would be proud of (yet of course is actually trying to pass the blame to the Democrats, because he is a giant bag of shit and no one is surprised). A second child has died in US custody, which of course no one will take responsibility for (are we seriously not providing even basic medical treatment, health checks, anything to these refugees?) FFS, the majority of these people are fleeing their homes due to the ravages of war, only to start seeing their babies die in US custody. On Christmas, no less. So yes, it is easy to see why I might be a little put-off anything government-related right now, because I am furious. This goal will get accomplished, but it is no longer a priority to have done in 2019.

2. Goodreads Challenge: 150 Books - Despite my claim that I would do less reading and more writing of my own book this year, I just could not stop at 150. I learned that I truly have some kind of biological stamp on my DNA that requires me to read at least an hour or two per day or I get anxious. Legit, it happened. I don't sleep as well and I am crankier on days I don't get to read. I upped my challenge a few times over the course of the year and finally settled on 275, which I reached around December 20th or so, not sure exactly when. As of Sunday evening (Dec 30th), I am actually at 289 books on the year. So, I am spending the remainder of the year reading (and/or raging at) some cozy mysteries while playing catch-up on all the reviews I STILL HAVE NOT WRITTEN. As I am putting the finishing touches on this post here on December 30th, that number of books needing to be reviewed is going to fluctuate.

3. Give NetGalley Attention! - Thanks to the lovely Evelina at Avalinah's Books, I really got my butt in gear with her State of the ARC meme and these ARCs from NetGalley. Up until three days ago, I had only three ARCs I was reading. That was it! No reviews due, just reading. Then I went on NetGalley because I am auto-approved by Llewellyn and I love checking in to see what paranormal books they have. Then I was also offered another book by Thistle Publishing and now I am at eight ARCs. It's a sickness, I can't help it, and I won't apologize. However, I think eight is far better than the dozens I had to start 2018, so let's call this a win.

4. Write a Damn Book Already - Still working on it. There is so much to tell, but time and again I run into the problem of lacking certain key resources. I have been very lucky in getting log-ins and IDs from friends who let me use them in order to access their university's library system (and my friend in the UK who gave me his library card # so I can log into a source recommended to me by my BFF Dan Jones), but there are some I simply don't have access to. OR, I do, but I can't read Latin. I want so badly to get this work done and published, and this will be the year it is finished. 

5. Buy Less, Read More - Being a poor teacher really puts the kibosh on too many book-buying sprees, but I am also finally accepting the fact that I am an adult (took me until 35 to figure it out, whatever, don't judge). As an adult, with a child, I realized a few months ago that I do not have the luxury of perusing BookBub, the gateway drug to Amazon, for those $.99 cent steals. Because those add up quickly. Too quickly. So, I have been really good about not buying many books at all, physical or digital. Yay me, in the most depressing way possible.

***EXTRA GOAL - Being home for Christmas Break, I stopped in at the library here in town and managed to walk out with 13 books from the New Releases section. Seeing as how Eleanor and I have to leave on the 3rd, it has been a mad dash to get those books read before we go. I don't think I will make it, but it has damn sure been fun.

So, I would say that 2018 was not too shabby. I was completely successful in three of my five goals. I made the least progress for goal #1, but made good progress for goal #4. Not too shabby at all.

What kinds of goals did you set for yourself this year?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President


Rating: 1 Star

It's exactly as awful as you think it would be.

For the life of me, I can not understand for a single moment how this book became a national bestseller...a Wall Street Journal bestseller...USA Today bestseller...

Because seriously, can trumplethinskin supporters even read?

And with the likes of Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, plus trumplethinskin himself saying how great the book is, you know it is a trash fire inside a barrel fire inside a dumpster fire.

It's fucking trash, and written at about a fourth grade comprehension level.

The book summary also claims that "No job is more of a pressure cooker than being a White House press secretary...especially in this White House."

Really? I'm pretty sure that's not actually true. It just so happens that Sean Spicer is a horrible person who lies, lies, lies to further a bullshit agenda from a joke of a 'president'. So, to say his job is tough, when he (and his successor) choose to make it tough by lying constantly, that's on him.

I won't spend too much more time on this trash book, but to share a few 'highlights'. This guy is an even bigger line-towing idiot than we all thought. Who knew that was even possible?

About the Emmy Awards:
"All of them said kind things about my willingness to poke fun at myself. I was actually shocked. I assumed our conversations would be contentious considering their stereotypical politic leanings" (page 249).

So because Spicy and his idiot boss couldn't feign cordiality, no one can?

"It was also a pleasure to see Sarah take the podium. She is very adept at recognizing what works and what doesn't, the needs of the press corps, and the needs of the president. She hit the ground running because she is such a keen observer and a quick learner" (page 245).


"Many people think that Air Force One is always the same plane, Air Force One is the official military designation for whichever aircraft is flying the president" (page 237).

No one thinks that. Everyone knows that Air Force One is a designation because we've all seen the movie "Air Force One".

"Many in the media were creating an environment that felt like the opposition party, less interested in reporting facts than in contesting our positions and trying to undermine and embarrass the administration at every turn" (page 218).

First of all, that's what happens when you straight up LIE. You get corrected, time and again. Alternative facts are not a thing. Alternative facts are not the truth. Secondly, this joke of an administration deserves to be undermined at every turn so we can minimize the damage done by this clown and his minions. Perhaps if Spicer would not have behaved like a petulant child at the briefings, the environment would not have become what it did.

One of my favorite sections was when Spicer addressed the whole meme about him hiding in the bushes from reporters so he would not have to answer more questions about Comey's firing. He explains it much differently, of course, just like he always does, with those alternative facts of his. And he's butt-hurt about being a meme. Big surprise. As such, he also takes a few sentences to lecture us on memes and how they are not nice.


They can make us laugh, and we all share them. However, the  longer I was behind the podium, the more convinced I became that there is something deeply dysfunctional in the way our culture  uses memes to elevate tiny details into national moments of outrage or ridicule that push aside any deeper consideration about policy and simply fairness" (page 203).

"The irony of Johnson's report was that I could've completed the first round of interviews, walked back into the White House, and called it a night. But I knew the press was frustrated and wanted more, and I was intent on answering the questions of reporters who had stayed late. My reward for trying to be helpful to the press was Jenna Johnson inventing a whole-cloth untruth of me hiding in the bushes" (page 211).

Come on now, bruh. You hid in the bushes.

Then we have my personal fave, the Holocaust Centers. Naturally, his explanation makes no sense and it just a bunch of bullshit excuses for being an idiot and terrible human being.

"And the number one rule I gave every Republican was don't ever, ever talk about rape or compare anything or anyone to Hitler or the Holocaust.

Ever" (page 195).

"By this point I was feeling flustered, still not fully understanding what had just happened. My remarks were not quite right, and I had the alarming sense that I was digging myself into a deeper hole with each word.

This may have been the lowest moment I had in the White House. I alone had fumbled; no one else had made me do it" (page 198).

His explanation makes no sense. He says he forgot the key phrase "on the battlefield", when he was talking about Hitler not using chemical weapons. But he continued to talk about Hitler using gas on his own people, which is actually exactly what Assad did. Of course, Hitler used the Holocaust Centers to kill people, while Assad just dropped it in the middle of town. Reporters gave him chances, it was even painful to watch. They repeatedly ask for clarification because I think they realized this would be a huge thing. But he maintains he simply forgot the 'key phrase' of "on the battlefield" when addressing Hitler NOT using chemical weapons.

"Donald Trump may not quote Scripture like an evangelical, but I know he is a man of Christian instincts and feeling. I saw this in his desire to share communion with me" (page 192).


BTW, trumplethinskin could not understand why Spicer wouldn't go to church with him and the others. Apparently 'Mass' is a hard concept to wrap his mind around.

There is one thing about his book that I want to address, the only thing Spicer and I will ever agree on, and that is the idea of confronting these idiots in public, especially when their children are present.

"Rebecca and I could not go out to dinner without being mobbed - and often being told off or getting the finger, even in front of our young children" (page 246).

This is not cool at all and needs to stop. It is 100% NOT okay to accost someone out with their kids in tow. Not at all. I don't mean that it is okay to do so if the kids aren't around, but come the fuck on. Have some common sense.

I will say though, there is a huge difference between screaming at someone and cussing them out in front of their children, and asking them to leave your restaurant. Sorry SarahSandersHuckabeeSandersSmokeyEyeWhatever, you can't go wherever you want, because you are also a lying liar who lies.

As you might have guessed, this book is trash and a total waste of time. I read it only because I just had to see how trash-tastic it was. If I were rating the book by number of trash cans, it would be a five, no contest. But since I am not, this book stinks and I absolutely do not recommend it, unless you need a good laugh.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Six Down, Seven To Go

This will make sense if you read THIS.

Five Down, Eight To Go

This will make sense if you read THIS.

Four Down, Nine To Go

This will make sense if you read THIS.

State of the ARC #11

State of the ARC is a monthly feature hosted by Avalinah's Books. I am so glad I stumbled upon it, because it is really helping me with my 2018 Reading Goals (also find a related Top Ten Tuesday HERE). Links go to Goodreads, unless I have finished the review, in which case it goes to that. All ARCs are from NetGalley or Edelweiss, unless otherwise noted.


This is the final State of the ARC of 2018 (obviously) and I am really proud of the progress I've made. Now, I was nearly done with all my ARCs, then I went on NetGalley to look for some paranormal goodies, and BOOM! my numbers went back up a little. But still, not anywhere near what I had to start 2018 back in January when I first began participating in this meme. To show off my progress, I am including my very first State of the ARC so you can see what I mean.

Pending Approval/Denial = Five
1. The Secret Poisoner, 3-22-16

4. In the Enemy's House, 2-10-18

5. The Black Prince, 5-1-18

Not Started = Six

Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln, 4-15-16 (Received three days after publication)

Failure, 7-1-16 (Received three months after publication)

The Poison Plot, 5-15-18

Educated, 2-2-18

Started = Twelve

Whose Promised Land (8%), 10-15-15 (Received four months after publication)

The Witch of Lime Street (12%), 10-6-15 (Received three months after publication)

Queens of the Conquest (4%), 9-26-17

The First Congress (12%), 2-9-16 (Received one month after publication)

American Gothic (22%), 10-4-16

Scars of Independence (8%), 5-9-17

Muslims, Christians, and Jesus (4%), 11-7-17 (Received two months after publication)

1932 (32%), 10-1-15

Lincoln Reconsidered (20%), 3-22-16 (Received one week before publication)

Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers (9%), 5-8-15 (Received 15 months after publication)

Finished, Review To Come = Two

No Justice, 1-9-18 (Received a week after publication)


Now, for my last stats of the year, here is what I've got left.

Pending = None

Not Started = None

Started = Eight
Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, 9-17-18 (received two days after publication, author request/digital from publisher)

The Invisible Emperor, 10-9-18 (hard copy from publisher)

The White Headhunter, 1-24-19 (gift from publisher)

DNF = None

Finished/Review to Come = None

Review or Feedback Sent = Two

How is your list looking this month? Leave a link and let me know.

Happy Reading!

Three Down, Ten To Go

This will make sense if you read THIS.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

One Down, Twelve To Go!

This will make sense if you read THIS.

There Are Worse Addictions...

Beautiful, no?

Eleanor and I have been home in Minnesota since Saturday, and now have a little over a week left for our Christmas Break. I went to the library this afternoon ONLY to see what books were for sale that had been withdrawn from the library's collection.

Then I saw all of these lovelies...

So, I basically have a week to read thirteen books.

Game On.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake


Rating: 4 Stars

This was an incredibly compelling read about an earthquake that I never knew even happened. It was such an engrossing read, I could hardly put it down. This was not just an old earthquake either, so the fact that I went this long without hearing about it is kind of alarming. It was a 7.5 quake that killed 28 (possibly 29) people and injured scores of others. Most of the victims never stood a chance, the moment the mountainside gave way and sent an avalanche down onto several campsites in the area. The force of the wind was so strong, it literally ripped clothing off victims and survivors alike. In the aftermath a lake was created by this quake, named Earthquake Lake, which still exists today. With the quake came the threat of the dam in the Madison River Canyon bursting, which would have potentially killed another 200 people trapped there. Only adding to the chaos and confusion was that this occurred near midnight on August 17th, so survivors were forced to search for friends and family in the dark.

The narrative moves back and forth, following various friends and families out on summer excursions, enjoying their vacations. Interspersed throughout were photos taken before, during, and after. I did not mind this way of storytelling at all, as I feel like it helped create kind of a sense of chaos, which is exactly what the survivors would have been feeling. I could see the scenes playing out in my head, much like you would see on a show or in a movie, with the angles jumping back and forth from one story to another.

I appreciate when photos are used to maximize their value, instead of being all lumped together either in the middle of a book, or at the end. I think it does a disservice to the story, and lucky this text suffered no such problem.

For as much as I complain about technology ruining our lives (ironic, right, as I type this on my laptop about a book I read on my Kindle), situations like this make me appreciate what we do have. I can not even imagine the fear that gripped those who knew their loved ones were camping in the area and had no idea if they were safe or not, once word got out that the massive earthquake had occurred.

When tragedy like this occurs, we often see the very best and worst of humanity. Luckily, I feel like here we only saw the best. Complete strangers banded together to help in any way they could, sometimes while injured themselves. Pockets of survivors worked together, knowing it might take a while for help to reach them.

In addition to the plethora of photos from the period, the author also relies on eyewitness accounts, news paper articles, and official records that detailed the event. I can never say it enough, contemporary sources are KEY.

Fast-paced story telling that keeps you interested the whole way through. Highly recommended.

Review Bomb: Christian History

I am especially fond of books that detail Biblical figures, their time periods, and those involved in the Reformation. I love when we are able to take a look at figures from the Bible, and then place them in their proper context. These three books fit the bill perfectly.

34020185 4 Stars

I absolutely adored this book and found so many women of interest, some who I did not even know were part of the Bible. Through their in-depth stories, we see how each of these women were chosen by God to play a role in the story He is creating. I appreciated that the authors listed all Bible-mentions of each woman in her chapter, as well as her biography and role in the Bible. There is also a 'By the Numbers" section detailing some details about how many children the woman had, and such. I found value especially in the section where the authors asked questions they wondered about, which were not answered in the text. It was interesting to see that others had questions similar to mine over the years, but also that others had questions I have never considered before.

I feel like this could be a great book to use as a Bible study, or a youth group for teen girls. These women all face difficulties in their lives, but overcome those difficulties by faith, trusting God to provide. There are so many great role models to choose from, that this would be very useful in youth ministry. However, I found so much value in it, just reading it for myself. It is not necessary for a group-read, but you might find it interesting to explore further questions together, as everyone brings a different perspective to each story.

Some readers might be just as surprised by the women left out as the ones who are included. We all know the stories of Eve, Sarah, Tamar, Esther, Ruth and so on, but there are women included here that we do not even have a name for - the widow of Nain, the woman sinner, the bleeding woman, and several others. I had no set list of women in mind when I started reading, so I suppose I was not nearly as bothered by some of the exclusions as other readers might be. Here you will not find Rachel, Leah, or Miriam.

The authors do a wonderful job of bringing these women to life. Each woman has her own story, not only who she is in relation to her husband, father, or son. Throughout history, God has used women to further His message. Some of these women were not what would have been considered 'desirable' - a prostitute, an unclean (ill) woman, even those of other backgrounds - Moabites, Canaanites, etc. It is refreshing to see these women given their due in shaping The Story.

16234271 4 Stars

Books like this are among my most favorite. I love Biblical history and archaeology, and these kinds of books that put Jesus in the context of the period. Learning about various aspects of life in that period will never stop be interesting to me and books like this are such wonderful supplements to Bible study.

I have questions. Lots of them. I am texting my pastor constantly asking why this happened, or what those actions meant. He is always patient in his answers - and of course loans me so many books, and points me in the direction of further reading material if he doesn't have a copy himself.

One of the most intriguing periods in history to me is that 400 year period between Malachi and Matthew. Until I returned to church and found my faith again a few years ago, this was something I had never thought about in years prior to college when I was still involved in my church at home. But I really started thinking about this as I returned to reading my Bible more and more, and based on sermons over the last couple years. I was excited to find this text, and share it with my pastor. Naturally I have even more questions, but that's to be expected, right?

This text is absolutely great, and I learned so much about this period that was supposedly so quiet. In truth, it was anything but.

Based on was seems to be sound scholarship, the author presents these 'missing' years. We follow the journey of the Jewish people as they leave captivity in Babylon, along the entire path that leads us right up to the ministry of Jesus. Even though, the story continued further as the author details Jewish history up to the destruction of the  I feel like this really added so much to my Bible knowledge, as I was able to see God still working among His people, even when things looked as though the end of the line had come for the Israelites. We know that God will not let that happen, though their enemies did not. Time and again the Jewish people survived - from the Babylonians to the Romans, and everyone in between.

I appreciated the materials covered in this book for a number of reasons. Now, there are not really any questions I am too embarrassed to ask my pastors. They have the patience of saints and kind of expect this kind of thing from me; I question Every.Thing. (What's the difference between the Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees? What makes a Zealot? Why did the Jews dislike the Samaritans so much? How were Pilate and Herod placed within the hierarchy of the Roman government?) But this book was able to answer a lot of those questions, and I will definitely be looking for a hard copy to keep in my collection. Each chapter also includes really thought-provoking questions - right up my alley!

This is not just a reference book though, it is so much more and certainly deserves a place next to your Bible. Understanding not only what God was doing at that time, but what the world looked like, really helped me to better understand what Jesus was up against, so to speak. The world was rapidly changing and wars were being fought culturally, physically, and spiritually. Given the historical components here, I do think those interested in ancient history would still find value in the book, even if they do not subscribe to any brand of Christianity. It is also written in a very accessible way, even while dealing with such a scholarly subject. There is plenty of background provided on Alexander the Great and the Maccabees, and how they fit into the narrative. We learned about the Hasmonean dynasty, and quite a bit about Herod and his family.

The only real complaint I have is not much of a complaint at all. I wish there would have been some graphics. Chronologies would have been helpful, family lines (at least when dealing with all the Herods) and such. Maps also would have added a layer of depth. Even so, highly recommended.

33254881 5 Stars

I was on the fence as soon as I started this one and was greeted with these words:

"Henry's Roman Catholic daughter Mary dragged the country back into medieval Roman Catholicism, executing so many Protestants that she is known as Bloody Mary" (1%). 

Ugh. Why does everyone forget the executions carried out in Elizabeth's reign, hmmm?


This was one of the many books I picked up in my spree of Luther-related anniversary books. As the 500th approached last year, I was looking for something related to women of the Reformation, and this was perfect. Despite my Lutheran upbringing, there are so few figures I know about from this period, and those I do know about are male.

The author has taken what was originally a series of articles that were compiled by James I. Good in 1901. He titled his work "Famous Women of the Reformed Church". VanDoodewaard took Good's content and revised and expanded where she could, and also corrected previous inaccuracies that might have existed. As the author sought to include lesser-known women of the age, she removed chapters on Katharina von Bora and Jane Grey. She succeeded quite nicely in reaching her goal, as I was unfamiliar with nearly every women in the book as it is today. There is a plethora of information included here overall, though as to be expected there is some information lacking in some cases. While it would be lovely to know entire life stories, it simply is not possible from this period, especially when talking about women, no matter how important they were to the Reformation.

These women survived some truly devastating events, and continued not only to keep strong in their faith, but worked to deepen it and even spread the idea of the Reformation when it was dangerous to do so. These women were writers, teachers, and  caregivers in addition to being sisters, wives, and mothers. Even as they performed their domestic duties, they served God faithfully while dealing with triumph and loss. Many women lost husbands and/or sons, either to war, persecution, or even forced removal of their children from the home to be placed with Catholic families instead. Combine that with the normal devastations of the time -sickness - and life was doubly hard. Even so, the women continued with their purpose. This is a lovely collection of stories about women who deserve to be as well-known as their male counterparts. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 24, 2018

No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine


Rating: 5 Stars

I was a junior in high school when Columbine happened. For the rest of the school year we dealt with fake bomb threats by kids who thought it would be funny to capitalize on a horrible tragedy. On a day that, for a brief moment, would be called the worst school shooting in US history, so many questions were left unanswered. There are several books out about Columbine, and this is one of the most important, along with the book written by Sue Klebold. These are two of the people who knew Dylan best, and were more than acquainted with Eric. Brooks Brown was friends with the murderers, and for a time was a suspected accomplish. Brown had been best friends with Dylan Klebold since elementary school, and got to know Eric Harris later when he and his family moved to Littleton. In his account, Brown details his version of the story, which could come across as self-serving, as some have accused. But doesn't he have the right to defend himself and clear his name? For months the incompetent police tarnished Brown's name and if I were him, I would be furious about it too. Brown makes it clear that there is so much more to the story, that it wasn't music or video games to blame. There were warning signs long in advance, going back over a year, that the boys was escalating in their behavior. This was a completely preventable tragedy and there are many to blame.

An especially troubling aspect of this whole situation was the threats that Harris had made against Brown in their junior year of high school. Harris had a website that, had anyone in an authority position bothered to peruse, would have been enough to maybe have him locked up in a psych ward, because he was very clearly a sociopath. The threats to Brown's life were reported to the police, who - big surprise - did nothing. There was documentation, and yet...nothing. Even with said documentation, Brown was still targeted by the police. While he and Harris eventually became friendly-ish again after junior year, they never had the kind of friendship that Brown and Klebold did. Yet it was Harris who crossed paths with Brown that fateful morning. Harris told him, "Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home."

The aspect of bullying plays heavily in Brown's recollection. As a teacher myself, I absolutely see this as critical. For those who have never been bullied, it is easy to dismiss this notion as kids just being kids. No, this is not kids being kids. It is kids being assholes and needing to be held accountable for their words and actions. This is no way absolves Klebold and Harris of their crimes, they are murderers through and through. But we must recognize the fact that bullying most certainly did play a role in molding them into the killers they became. And it was not just Brown who contends that there was severe bullying, there are other students from Columbine that attest to that culture festering.

I read this book around the same time as I read Dave Cullen's Columbine and Sue Klebold's A Mother's Reckoning. I think all three are important to read together, because none are perfect and each has perspectives to consider. I see a lot of reviews decrying Cullen's work as wrong, or biased, etc. I found his work to still be of interest, despite the errors I noticed. I think  both books are still needed. Cullen is an impartial writer who could look at the whole picture as an outsider; Brown's perspective from the inside is also valid. We are given perspectives that are not competing all the time, but also complimentary. There is a whole area here to explore, in comparing and contrasting the two, but I would rather not do so and am trying to steer this back toward Brown's book, as I will be posing my review of Cullen's book later. Still, sometimes the comparisons are hard to avoid.

Besides Brown addressing the issue of bullying, another topic addressed is that of the police and the general incompetence, not only before the murderers, but both during and after. As already seen, the police had evidence of Harris' psychopathic tendencies long before April 20th, 1999. They did nothing with the information, and even tried to cover up the fact that they had anything on Harris. The sheriff's office repeatedly denied ever getting any reports on Harris' threats or violent behavior, until it was finally revealed that a warrant was issued to search the Harris home based on the reports. Yet, the warrant was never served. Right there, in that moment, this could have been prevented. No explanation has ever been given for why the warrant was not carried out. The incompetence continued, however, on that day. Not only the police, but SWAT as well. When the killers left the library, and students came rushing out, SWAT still did not go in. It took them another three hours, long after other students who escaped reported that Klebold and Harris had returned to the library, killed more students, then turned their guns on themselves. How many children could have been saved? And Dave Sanders bled to death, despite the best efforts of the students around him. He died mere minutes before SWAT went in - again, long after Klebold and Harris had killed themselves.

There was an opportunity Brown could have taken to try and lay blame everywhere else. He knows better, however, and while the bullying and the police were components, he knows that the ultimate responsibility is on Klebold and Harris. They chose to plan this, they chose to carry it out. They are murderers and Brown has no problem labeling them as such, despite his long friendship with Klebold. I feel like he tries to humanize Klebold a bit, perhaps to show the world that the friend he once knew was not born a killer, but became one. Brown definitely has more sympathy for Klebold than Harris, and this is understandable despite the tragedy they brought on everyone they knew. Even so, he does not shy away from the word murderer.

If you are interested in delving into the tangled mess that is Columbine, I highly recommend this one. I have read several books on the subject and this is one of the best.