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Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life's Storms

Tim Tebow, with A. J. Gregory. Waterbrook, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7352-8986-4

"God's got it" is the life-affirming slogan of Heisman Trophy–winner Tebow, the football player remembered by many for his impassioned speeches, hybrid talents, and commitment to his faith—he once stirred up controversy by writing Bible verses in his eye black. "Have faith," "trust God," "it's not so much who you are as whose you are," and "God has a plan" are among the encouragements that run through every chapter of this uplifting memoir. There's a lot to like here, including personal details that football fans and Christians alike will savor, as well as inspiring stories of ill and disabled children whom Tebow has helped through missions and his own charitable foundation. Critics might say it's easy for such a famous and successful person to have powerful confidence, but Tebow reminds readers that no one is immune to disappointment and doubt, and that success can bring its own burdens. Some may take issue with Tebow's simplistic affirmations of faith (including seeing God in coincidence); others will see them as the book's greatest strength. All readers will be won over by Tebow's dedication and perseverance, and admire him for staying true to service-oriented Christianity through a quite unconventional life. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Kierkegaard

Stephen Backhouse. Zondervan, $22.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-310-52088-7

Backhouse (The Compact Guide to Christian History) summarizes Kierkegaard's life and thought for the lay reader in a work that can be "read on holiday." The first part of the book is biography; the second provides synopses of Kierkegaard's works. Backhouse's strategy of splitting life from work creates a problem: Kierkegaard, at least in Backhouse's telling (though he does find some who praise and defend his subject), is a self-absorbed, insensitive, and annoying subject. By the time readers arrive at deeply sympathetic sections—the effects of Kierkegaard's twisted spine, the cruelty he was subjected to by his rivals—they may already loathe him. The book never attempts to understand how such a repugnant personality could produce such stunning, faith-based thought. That said, this primer on the life and career of Kierkegaard will be a fine introduction to those who know little about the controversial philosopher. Though the accounts of Kierkegaard the person seem only to disparage, the sections that discuss his writings and posthumous influence are worth the price of the book. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Also Life

Barbara Crafton. Morehouse, $12 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8192-3289-2

In this fine book, Crafton (Jesus Wept) creates an "extended meditation" about life after death—not the afterlife, but the "also life." She covers human longing, sorrow, and hope, considering where those profound feelings "meet and become the energy of God." To do this, she focuses on two separate types of time: chronos (earthly duration—the timeline of history class) and kairos (God's time). To Crafton, time after death amends life, rather than punishing or rewarding. Crafton backs up her thinking with science, poetry, fiction, and mysticism; she mines her own experience as an Episcopal priest and as a mother mourning the loss of a prematurely born child. She quotes the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dorothee Soelle, the Westboro Baptist Church, and Albert Einstein; points out the artistry of Bernini and Caraciollo; poses sterling analogies; and asks leading questions. Crafton imagines conversations and jaws with her reader in a friendly fashion, intent on making accessible those thoughts that can seem too deep for words. This is a short but enduring work. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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She Believes: Embracing the Life You Were Created to Live

Debbie Lindell with Susy Flory. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2442-9

Lindell, a pastor's wife, speaker, and founder of the Designed for Life Women's Conference, offers a simple message to her female audience: God designed you and he loves you. Lindell's text covers the gamut of scenarios and situations where many women struggle to feel competent, accepted, and cherished. She implores Christ followers to understand that they were designed on purpose and that believing changes the heart, affects the mind and spirit, and makes companionship even better. Lindell shares her own lifelong feelings of inadequacy with tender transparency, then rallies to share her experiences cheerleading other women to biblically sound self-esteem. She describes common pitfalls women face as they attempt to prove their value to others and steers women directly back to God's word. Lindell's message is full of hope and positivity, which women will find timely no matter what season of life they are in. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times

David P. Gushee. Westminster John Knox, $15 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-664-26268-6

In a book that's not likely to make any of his Christian friends less anxious or more hopeful, Mercer University professor Gushee (Kingdom Ethics) reflects on ways that Christians might assess, understand, and engage with a number of social issues confronting their faith. Gushee discusses race, sex, guns, money, education, and war, among other topics. For example, he argues passionately against the premises of American gun culture—"the most dangerous of these is that having 300 million guns in civilian hands makes us safer"—and concludes with a plea: "Christians, let's end this gun culture as soon as we can." After a helpful survey of the range of Christian positions on war, he unhelpfully writes simply that neither life nor death should motivate Christians, since they are committed to following Jesus the best way they can in a sinful world. Gushee certainly excels at pointing out the challenges Christians face, but he falls short at offering any comfort or wisdom about the ways to face them. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft

W. Scott Poole. Soft Skull, $17.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-59376-647-4

Historian Poole (Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror) turns his scholarly attention to H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) in this highly readable, informal biography, which also surveys the iconic horror writer's place in today's popular culture. Acknowledging the work done on Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi and other critics in recent decades, Poole takes pains to point out where his views differ from theirs. In particular, Poole stresses the importance of the women in Lovecraft's life, notably his mother, Sarah, and his wife, Sonia, to whom he was effectively married for only two years. Sarah may have had a detrimental psychological influence on her son, Poole concedes, but "at every opportunity, she let his imagination run in its wildest directions," encouraging his pursuit of such hobbies as chemistry and astronomy. In addition to putting in a good word for Sonia, Poole cites an anecdote that will be unfamiliar even to those steeped in Lovecraft lore: a document among Sonia's papers at the John Hay Library in Providence, R.I., suggests that Lovecraft enjoyed watching his wife dance to a recording of "Danse Macabre," the Camille Saint-Saëns tone poem. For Lovecraft neophytes wanting to learn more about the man and his work, this is a fine starting point. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Once a Pulp Man: The Secret Life of Judson P. Philips as Hugh Pentecost

Audrey Parente. Bold Venture, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-523863-69-3

Only fans of Judson S. Philips (1903–1989), the author of crafty fair-play whodunits featuring New York City hotel manager Pierre Chambrun, will have much interest in Parente's uneven, sometimes repetitive biography, which doesn't attempt to be an objective treatment of its subject. MWA Grand Master Philips wrote hundreds of short stories, novellas, and serialized stories for pulp magazines such as Argosy and Black Mask, as well as radio scripts both under his own name and as Pentecost, although he kept that alias a secret for more than a decade. Parente (Pulp Noir), who worked for Philips as an assistant when he ran a summer stock theater in Connecticut, views him as a "creative, prolific, humorous, cheerful, cynical, flirtatious dynamo." She interviewed him extensively and used his recollections, supplemented by her own memories and other interviews, to recreate his life story. Readers should be prepared for some awkward prose ("When I got to Judson Philips' home, I stood only 5-foot-2, my hair was long and blonde"). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program

Shirley Babashoff, with Chris Epting. Santa Monica, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5958-0087-9

In light of the recent Russian doping scandal, Babashoff, a former Olympic medal–winning swimmer, reveals in her timely memoir how the East German government turned their female swimmers into elite athletes with an experimental drug program. Her narrative deftly recounts her humble California beginnings, with her strict parents pushing her to triumph in a series of amateur meets and Olympic trials. Babashoff, assisted by veteran writer Epting, covers some painful terrain about her father molesting her for years, a crime he was eventually arrested for after similarly assaulting several neighborhood girls. Once the acclaimed swimmer gets on the big Olympic stage in 1972 and 1976, she witnesses the horror of the Munich massacre, the glory of gold medal–winner Mark Spitz, and the evolution of the muscular East German female swimmers, who were groomed in the lab to smash world records. "It's like swimming against aliens," Babashoff tells skeptical reporters, who doubt that the women's new Charles Atlas bodies are the result of doping. Unforgettable and brave, Babashoff's whistle-blowing memoir poses a host of disturbing questions about Olympic regulations, performance-enhancing drugs, anti-doping agencies, media arrogance, winning cleanly, and life after competition. (July)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ted Strong Jr.: The Untold Story of an Original Globetrotter and Negro League All-Star

Sherman L. Jenkins. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4422-6727-5

Jenkins, president of a digital media company, provides an accessible telling of the fascinating life of Ted Strong Jr., who in the 1930s played with the Kansas City Monarchs in baseball's Negro Leagues and then with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team of the 1940s. His father also played in the Negro Leagues, as did one of his younger brothers. The narrative focuses on the physical attributes that allowed Strong to dominate and touches on the obstacles that kept him from greater heights, including not being selected to join his contemporaries Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Buck O'Neil in integrating major-league baseball. Strong joined the Globetrotters in its infancy and helped create the showmanship known as "shadow-ball" that carries on today. Jenkins gives a wide-angle view instead of using a microscopic lens; he does little to highlight Strong's unsettled personal life or his extraordinary numbers or achievements. Most of the story comes from interviews with members of Strong's family, providing a solid look at a pioneering black athlete. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Experience of Beauty: Seven Essays and a Dialogue

Harry Underwood. McGill%E2%80%93Queen's University Press, $29.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-7735-4801-5

In this essay collection, Underwood aims to define beauty as a functional experience that shapes people's daily lives, as well as a philosophical concept with meaning that can enrich human development. He believes that subjectivity muddles beauty as an experience, rendering it hard for people to know it when they see it. "Our sense of beauty," he writes, "reflects what we have already managed to make of ourselves... and it will in turn contribute to shaping us." Throughout these essays, Underwood ruminates over art as an expression of beauty. He also examines how Nietzsche and Plato, despite their differences across time and thought, both contended that beauty transcended mere pleasure because it facilitated self-transformation. He finishes his study with a review of beauty as expressed by Marcel Proust, followed by a discussion of the idea of inner beauty. "Beauty enhances life not as an ornament but as an inspiration," he notes, summing up the theme of his book. Underwood's writing is clear, even whimsical at times, and despite the somewhat esoteric subject matter, this book should appeal to sophisticated readers with an interest in philosophy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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