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Unexpected Journeys: My Search for Adventure, Love & Redemption on the Other Side of the World

Paul Perkins. Whitaker House, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62911-699-0

Perkins, a former White House staffer for President George W. Bush, gives a messy, jumbled account of his emotions while traveling to Indonesia, Thailand, and India in an attempt to reconcile his evangelical past with his spiritual present. He frames the journey within the context of his own beliefs, but many of his observations and takeaways come off as degrading and ad hominem despite his "to each their own" rationalizations. Perkins feels "dirty, soiled" for looking at a sex worker's naked body, but tries to assuage his guilt by claiming, "If anything, she took advantage of me." After being propositioned by a different sex worker, Perkins feels sympathy for her but narrates turning her down as a heroic act of chastity and adulthood. At time he attempts humility, but his sense of heroism punctuates the story as he quotes a driver who calls him "adventurous," "amazing," and "brave," and, without a trace of irony, likens himself to a "ruthless hunter" and a "hawk" as he kills mosquitos in a beach hut. Perkins attempts a typical evangelical redemption narrative, but as he wanders Southeast Asia reflecting on God, forgiveness, sex, his family, and life's meaning, among other things, his self-serious attitude can be off-putting, and the overly brief hints he drops about turmoil in his past are more frustrating than intriguing. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Overload

Joyce Meyer. FaithWords, $22 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5983-1

Bible teacher, speaker, and bestselling author Meyer (The Mind Connection) uses personal anecdotes, observations, research, and scripture to guide readers through deconstructing the causes of stress and learning how to release oneself from external and internal stressors. The book's 15 chapters cover such topics as "Choice Overload," "Laugh, Laugh, and Laugh Some More," "The Stress of Comparison," and "All Is Well with My Soul." Each chapter includes bullet points and checklists with helpful tips on dealing with various types of stress. Meyer also ends each chapter with an interesting factoid about stress and a summary of major points from the chapter. She approaches dealing with stress in an understanding, empathetic manner, sharing her experiences and encouraging readers to give themselves some grace when life becomes too overwhelming. Written in a calming, sympathetic tone, the book will help readers who feel overburdened, overwhelmed, or overloaded and will undoubtedly resonate with a broad demographic. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Make a Break for It: Unleashing the Power of Personal and Spiritual Growth

Bill Purvis. Zondervan, $21.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-310-34353-0

Purvis, who started his international television ministry as the pastor of Cascade Hills Church in Columbus, Ga., has grown a 32-person congregation to more than 8,000 regular members. In this inspiring text, Purvis begins by recounting being stabbed several times during an altercation when he was only 17, leaving him so badly injured that doctors didn't expect him to survive. Lying in agony on the verge of death, Purvis cried out to Jesus to save him and in that moment found a transcendence that set his life on a new course. Purvis shares numerous real-life accounts of individuals who have endured desperate times and found that God became their personal redeemer as well as the redeemer of their past mistakes. He shares inspirational stories organized by topic, including breaking free from a deadly past, learning to envision a powerful future, finding strength from within, carefully choosing the right mentors, and effectively handling critics. Purvis's story is amazing not simply because of what he has endured but how he has chosen to overcome obstacles with faith, courage, and a sense of purpose that drives him even through the darkest hours. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting

Danya Ruttenberg. Flatiron, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06494-3

Ruttenberg (Surprised by God) takes up the ancient quandary of how to situate spiritual practice alongside effective parenting and considers the question: "What if parenting were considered a spiritual practice in its own right?" The book searches the depths of Judaism and other religious traditions for what each can teach parents, but also reverses the question to ask what parents can bring to religious and spiritual traditions. Eschewing easy answers and prescriptive diagnosis, Ruttenberg encourages homing in on the wonder of the universe, the creator, and the "wow" that parents and children can engage in together. A standout chapter exploring the depths of parental fears and issues of control will have readers contemplating ways to embrace the unknown in their spiritual and personal lives: "As much power as we have over our children's lives, as much as we are able to control who they are and how they will be in the world in some respects, there are certain important things that we can't control. Ever." Ruttenberg's personal struggle makes the book relatable to practitioners of all faiths. This is great gift for parents-to-be or new parents who are wrestling with how to stay grounded and maintain their spirituality in the hectic early years of raising a family. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

James K.A. Smith. Brazos, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-58743-380-1

Smith (Desiring the Kingdom), philosophy professor at Calvin College, offers a thought-provoking analysis of present-day American culture's secular liturgies, which he defines as "rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we're for," and argues persuasively for the need "to intentionally recalibrate the unconscious" in order to worship faithfully. Making an intriguing exploration of the shopping mall as a modern-day temple with a "consumer gospel," Smith invites readers to take a "liturgical audit" of other secular temples that provide formative, not innocuous, experiences. Unpacking the dramatic narrative of worship, including confession, sacraments, and weddings, Smith lifts up the power of story and "the historic practices of the faith," maintaining that faithful worship is "embodied, tangible, and visceral." He asserts that repetitive spiritual practices, at home and in church, have the power to shape moral character: "We become what we worship because what we worship is what we love." Examples from Smith's personal life as well as references to literature, philosophy, film, and art make this compelling and inspiring contribution to the study of spiritual disciplines both accessible and engaging. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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200 Best Smoothie Bowl Recipes

Alison Lewis. Robert Rose (Firefly, dist.), $24.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0533-5

Lewis's third cookbook (after 400 Best Sandwich Recipes) is dedicated entirely to the trendy smoothie bowl—thick smoothies that can be eaten with a spoon and topped with various solid foods. Lewis explains that they provide "the convenience, flavor and texture of a smoothie, but even more nutrition… thanks to the addition of toppings such as fresh and dried fruits, seeds and nuts." Her helpful introduction also includes information on types of blenders, steps for building the perfect smoothie bowl, the health benefits of various ingredients, suitable ingredient substitutions, and how to troubleshoot a few common smoothie bowl issues. The recipes range from undeniably healthy detox creations to unabashedly sumptuous dessert bowls. All are easy to throw together in relatively little time. Lewis also includes a number of recipes for toppings to make in advance and a few nut butter recipes for inclusion in the blended portion. While readers might wish for a little more variety in terms of flavors (a few savory recipes, perhaps), Lewis's book delivers what it promises and will surely inspire those interested in upping their smoothie game. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Epiphany: A Christian's Change of Heart & Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage

Michael Coren. McClelland & Stewart/Signal, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7710-2411-5

For many years, Coren (Hatred: Islam's War on Christianity), a conservative Catholic media commentator, was perhaps Canada's most vociferous opponent of marriage equality. This book is his mea culpa. It articulately explains why and how he became a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage and equal rights for LGBTQ people and why this process strengthened his faith. "My interest as a Christian, and particularly one who got things so wrong for so long, is truth, love, compassion, and justice," Coren writes, a position he now sees as incompatible with inequality for LGBTQ people. His change of stance was incremental and involved much soul-searching over how to reconcile being a proponent of Jesus's love while singling out a whole group of people for social and spiritual marginalization. He recounts how the Ugandan government's criminalization of homosexuality opened his eyes to the real hatred that fuels so much opposition to LGBTQ rights. In addition to chronicling his own journey, Coren, who left the Roman Catholic Church in 2013 and became an Anglican, also discusses the scriptural reasons for supporting marriage equality. Anyone with even a passing interest in LGBTQ rights and Christianity should read this book. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Boy Erased

Garrard Conley. Riverhead, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59463-301-0

In this exceptionally well-written memoir, Conley recounts his brief but harrowing time attending Love in Action, an ex-gay ministry. After the man who raped him in college outs him to his Missionary Baptist parents, Conley enters a tailspin that results in seeking conversion therapy to both placate his parents and find his own peace. He nicely weaves the account of his two weeks at Love in Action with stories from his earlier life to present a moving picture of the struggle to be gay—or stop being gay—in a conservative, southern Christian community. Particularly effective is the representation of his parents, who sincerely believe this is best for their son, and his recounting of this world slowly losing its grip on him. Other memoirs of ex-gay therapy survivors recount longer and more involved encounters with the process, but Conley offers enough for readers to understand the main concepts and methods of such groups. This timely addition to the debate on conversion therapy will build sympathy for both children and parents who avail themselves of it while still showing how damaging it can be. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of the New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist

Michael Maslin. Regan Arts (S&S, dist.), $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-942872-61-0

New Yorker cartoonist Maslin pays homage to artist Peter Arno (1904–1968) whose witty drawings created a style that's been synonymous with the New Yorker since its launch in 1925. Maslin's riveting biography is—surprisingly—the first on the rakish genius, who arguably shaped the look of the weekly magazine. Beginning with Arno's posh education at Hotchkiss and Yale, Maslin depicts the young, defiant artist (born Curtis Arnoux Peters) determined to become a cartoonist despite the strong objections of his father, a New York state supreme court judge from whom he became estranged. His first piece appeared in the 18th issue of the magazine under his pseudonym, possibly in an effort to sever ties with his father, suggests Maslin. Readers of the New Yorker in the 1920s embraced Arno's work, especially after the debut of the Whoops Sisters series, featuring two feisty old ladies who used language laced in double entendre. From 1925 to his death in 1968, with a short hiatus during WWII, the New Yorker published hundreds of Arno's drawings, many of which are reproduced in the book. Maslin fills the book with insights into the cartoonist's life and art, noting that the world he depicted on paper as well as in his messy private life reflected "the implication that something unsavory was about to take place." (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Walker Evans: Labor Anonymous

Edited by Thomas Zander. D.A.P./Koenig, $50 (170p) ISBN 978-1-938922-94-7

This short book comprises three essays (which appear side by side in German and English) about American photographer Walker Evans (1903–1975), illustrated by the subject's photographs, most of which were taken for a 1946 Fortune article about laborers in the city of Detroit. Evans shot the assignment from a single downtown street corner, with boarded-up storefronts serving as the background of the resulting 150 portraits of unsuspecting people on the go. The book begins with an essay by photographer Jerry Thompson, a student of Walker's, who provides a detailed account of this work, including notes and memorabilia from the archives, as well as other facts about the photographer, who played a vital role in determining the course of photography in the 20th century. The second essay, by Heinz Liesbrock (Walker Evans: Depth of Field), focuses on Evans as an artist working to produce what Evans himself described as "a visual study of American civilization." The final essay, by photographer and curator David Campany (Walker Evans: The Magazine Work), discusses photographers who influenced Evan's work and those he later influenced. The photos themselves pale in comparison to Walker's other work; the real interest lies in the artistic moment in which they were created, which all three essays thoughtfully convey. Illus. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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