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The Secrets of My Life

Caitlyn Jenner, with Buzz Bissinger. Grand Central, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9675-1

Athlete and reality TV star Jenner (Finding the Champion Within) teams up with Bissinger (Friday Night Lights) for a sincere though uneven tell-all autobiography. Jenner jumps back and forth among her childhood, her iconic Olympic decathlon win, and her subsequent fame, while keeping the central focus on her former secret: gender dysphoria and the steps she took to alleviate it, in and out of the public eye. Jenner attempts to explain transgender identification, but despite her candor and vulnerability, a lack of clarity may render her message difficult to grasp; for example, she says she has “always been female” while also describing herself pretransition as “a man who wears a dress.” Though she says she loves her trans community, this isn’t a book for her trans critics, whose attitude she feels is “hostile and exclusionary” (she writes, “we are all in this together, or at least we should be”). Jenner appeals to the reader’s sympathies: self-deprecating humor abounds, and she shares frank, relatable anecdotes about depression and suicidal ideation. Readers will find her insight on O.J. Simpson fascinating (“he was the most narcissistic, egocentric, neediest asshole in the world of sports”), and fans of the Kardashian clan will take an interest in how Jenner describes her marriage to Kris Kardashian (“I am the product and Kris the agent and manager and negotiator”). While she won’t win over her critics, her fans will appreciate this candid look into her life. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Witches and Wizards: The Real-Life Stories Behind the Occult’s Greatest Legends

Lucy Cavendish. Rockpool, $18.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-925017-44-1

Cavendish (Spellbound) mixes together history, biography, and the religion of magick, under which umbrella the author includes wizardry, witchcraft, and the occult. Early on, Cavendish gives an excellent historical overview of famous figures who practiced magick, such as Merlin. The reader also learns how those who practiced witchcraft, and those accused of such practices, were treated unjustly. Through historical accounts, readers learn how accused witches were horrendously tortured by burning, hanging, and decapitation. In addition to stories of legendary witches and wizards, Cavendish also provides accounts of the lives of famous occultists, such as the flamboyant Aleister Crowley. Surprises abound as Cavendish delves into the influence of these legends over later figures, including the importance of Crowley to famous artists such as John Lennon. Cavendish’s work is an important reminder of the contributions to society by those who have made practicing the religion of magick a personal endeavor. (May)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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We Stood upon Stars: Finding God in Lost Places

Roger W. Thompson. WaterBrook, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-6014-2959-9

Combining humor, a sense of adventure, and a need to discover who he is, Thompson takes readers on an earnest journey as he recounts a number of trips exploring America’s beauty. He finds insights into life in cherished memories and moments of clarity. Hand-drawn maps of Glacier National Park, Yosemite, Big Sur, and other locations accompany Thompson’s memories (in no particular order) of his grandfather and father as well as camping trips with family and friends throughout his life. Along the way, though he’s sometimes reluctant to embrace maturity, he learns what it is to be a husband, a father, and a friend, often coming to moments of understanding as he appreciates nature. He senses power in a storm, his place in the world during silence, courage in braving a river’s rapids, and humility in not being able to provide answers about life’s hurts for his boys (like when the family dog must be put down). Some chapters—such as the one describing the author being “attacked” by a crab while surfing in California—offer more laughs than insight. Faith elements, though present, are never overbearing, as humor is the highlight of this candid memoir. (May)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Revive Your Heart: Putting Life in Perspective

Norman Ali Khan. Kube, $29.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-8477-4107-3

In this approachable work of tafsir (exegesis of the Qur’an), Khan (Divine Speech) wields his mastery of the Arabic language to teach about Islam on a practical, everyday level. Khan’s essays are charming and simple in their prose, and simultaneously deep in substance. Throughout, he attempts to help readers grasp a grander spiritual outlook on heaven, earth, and eternal life that also assists them in adopting a quotidian Islamic faith and practice. Addressing topics as diverse as leadership, prayer, finances, terrorism, and music, Khan deftly guides readers to reconsider their thoughts, words, and deeds in light of passages from the Qur’an, which he dissects according to context and the deeper meaning of Arabic expressions. His profound explanations of disarmingly simple words and phrases is by far the book’s greatest strength, as it opens up the world of the Qur’an in a way few other sermonic texts do. This book will no doubt prove popular as a devotional work for the faithful Muslim reader, and it might also benefit those who want to understand what it means to be Muslim beyond the headlines and in the midst of modern life. (May)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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(Re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners

Bruxy Cavey. Herald, $21.99 (232p) ISBN 978-1-5138-0139-1

In accessible prose laced with catchy subtitles (“The Tactic of Enemy Love”), humor, and a touch of irreverence, Cavey (The End of Religion), teaching pastor of the Meeting House, one of Canada’s largest Anabaptist churches, issues readers an enthusiastic, direct invitation to become Christ-followers. Acknowledging that “angry gospel preaching” has hurt, insulted, and offended many people in the name of Jesus, Cavey apologizes, claiming that “the gospel is joyful news, happy-making news.” In separate chapters, Cavey presents this good news in one word (“Jesus”), three words (“Jesus is Lord”) and thirty words (“Jesus is God with us, come to show us God’s love, save us from sin, set up God’s kingdom and shut down religion, so we can share in God’s life”), accompanied by graphics. Cavey illustrates his arguments with relatable, personal stories, which will likely entertain, if not convince, readers; for example, he compares sin inherited from Adam to “corporate solidarity,” similar to when his error of scoring a touchdown for the opposing team became a team, not individual, loss. While Cavey’s theology will not satisfy all readers, his evident goodwill, passion, and intriguing arguments will appeal to the Anabaptist community and those interested in reconsidering their relationship to Christ. (May)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God

Courtney Reissig. Crossway Books, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-4335-5267-0

In this thoughtful, practical ode to the quotidian, Reissig (Accidental Feminist) glorifies ordinary household work: cooking and cleaning and changing diapers. Our work, she repeats often, “is a means of loving God by loving our neighbor.” “Neighbor,” to Reissig, includes social and faith communities, husbands, and children. The first of the eight chapters in this little book, all with Biblical passages threaded through, explores the shift from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mom.” Reissig acknowledges how disillusioning work can be, asserts that it does take a village, and declares that women have got to ask for help and receive it graciously as God-given. She also convincingly distinguishes between women’s godly guilt and worldly grief. Reissig ends each chapter with a vignette of how a woman she knows (including her own mother) handled the issue addressed in the chapter, and adds a series of questions for the reader, whom she addresses familiarly throughout. Her style—repetitive, with overlong quotations and bumptious transitions—assumes an earnest research-paper tone from a fundamentalist viewpoint. Though the message is at times delivered severely, the sentiment of respect for the ordinary is well-conveyed and necessary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God

Eugene H. Peterson. WaterBrook, $24.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-60142-967-4

Unlike many sermons that barely make it out of the pulpit, Peterson’s soar out and draw in throughout this fantastic book. His words, written for speaking, are sure, intimate, and trustworthy. Peterson (The Message) admits that preaching is a “corporate act” that requires a congregation in common worship. For 29 years, he preached at the church he founded, Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Md., and this anthology of sermons welcomes readers to join that company. He intends these 49 sermons, undated but for one, to be used in conjunction with communion. Following his gracefully instructive introductions to each chapter, Peterson preaches “in the company” of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John of Patmos. What he says about Paul applies to him, too: he’s “totally at ease in this richly expansive narrative of God’s Word.” Peterson mixes storytelling with exegeses, the rare sermon (on Psalm 110) with the annual, history with geography, language lessons with a skosh of mathematics, and wisdom with wit—all in tuneful, God-fed language. (May)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selections from His Poems, Letters, Journals, and Spiritual Writings

Edited by Margaret R. Ellsberg. Plough, $18 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-0-87486-822-7

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), who became a Jesuit priest after converting to Roman Catholicism at the age of 22, is one of the most frequently reprinted poets in English, but he left behind an oeuvre that’s exceptionally small. In this concise but thorough collection, Ellsberg (Created to Praise) offers accessible yet scholarly introductions to his poems alongside thoughtfully arranged selections from the poet’s other writings, including his sermons. The volume is tastefully illustrated with reproductions of pages from his journal and sketchbooks. Both the commentary and the primary material make clear that Hopkins’s faith was integral to his vision of nature and therefore of his poetic art. His letters and journals provide a look into the religious longings of this intense man, who denied himself the outlet of poetry during the early years of his conversion. These other writings are replete with descriptions of the natural world that employ the unusual perception and expression of a gifted poet. Ellsberg illuminates idiosyncratic expressions and concepts that appear in the prose and inform the poetry. Journal notes on Hopkins’s moods reveals a man who was sometimes deeply unhappy and yet persisted in faith. This is a useful volume for teachers, students, and lovers of poetry, and will also be of interest to writers, those curious about the creative process and imagination, and spiritual pilgrims of many stripes. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Change the Story of Your Health: Using Shamanic and Jungian Techniques for Healing

Carl Greer. Findhorn, $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-84409-716-6

Greer (Change Your Story, Change Your Life) shares his knowledge of shamanic and Jungian healing techniques in straightforward terms that relate to being connected with spiritual and natural energy fields. Throughout the book, Greer encourages readers to write their own health stories in order to address elements of their lives that hinder a healthy lifestyle and impede transformation. He provides many exercises for connecting with energy fields and raising spiritual awareness, as well as stories of people he’s worked with who have undergone common and uncommon transformations. In addition to meticulously delineating the contexts and origins of various patient ailments, Greer discusses the benefits he says are provided by Jungian and shamanic healing. This book is not a quick read, nor is it intended to be; in order for one’s health story to be improved, the shamanic and Jungian techniques learned by reading this book are intended to be used together, which can take some time. Greer is an encouraging guide, instructing readers to refrain from rushing and only continue through the exercises when ready. For those willing to listen, an abundance of help can be found here. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Essential Step-by-Step Guide to Acupressure with Aromatherapy

Karin Parramore. Robert Rose (Firefly, dist.), $24.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0546-5

In this informative guide, Parramore, an aromatherapist and instructor at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore., provides a brief overview of Chinese medicine and its approaches to health and healing. The book explains that acupressure acts on the same points on the body as acupuncture, but practitioners use their fingers rather than fine needles to stimulate “the body’s natural ability to heal.” Aromatherapy complements acupressure, Parramore explains, because essential oils easily enter the body through the skin and “act as an antenna” as acupuncture needles do, to help access the qi, “a vital force that flows through the body.” The book includes diagrams for 64 pressure points and describes acupressure and aromatherapy treatments for 64 conditions, listed alphabetically from addiction to viral infections, as well as a glossary and index. Parramore acknowledges that conventional medical treatments are the appropriate choice in some instances, such as a traumatic accident, but writes that alternative treatments may be better in other situations, such as alleviating day-to-day symptoms. Although the diagrams are well drawn and explained, it may still be difficult for inexperienced readers to accurately find the correct pressure point without additional guidance. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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