Original RBL Reviews

A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms

Lisa M. Hendey. Ave Maria Press, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-59471-273-9

Queen of CatholicMom.com Hendey (The Handbook for Catholic Moms) adds to her line with this collection of easy-to-read daily devotionals, providing insights on 52 “companions for your heart, mind, body, and soul” that range from the Virgin Mary to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Guided by the saints--those who are official and in process, as Blessed Teresa is--Hendey provides a short history for each “spiritual mentor;” her own engaging “lesson;” cultural traditions associated with each; prayers; and “saint-inspired activities” for moms and kids. The familiar faces are here—Monica, Benedict, Clare of Assisi—but, refreshingly, so is Katharine Drexel, known for “fostering a spirit of tolerance” and Josephine Bakhita, dedicated to “freedom from enslavement and an end to human trafficking.” Each section also includes a week’s worth of scripture readings and reflection prompts. Hendey’s invitation to pray the rosary, tend to saints’ shrines, and remember sodalities will appeal to Catholics yearning for an earlier kind of church, yet Vatican II Catholics also will find encouragement in her contemporary family values and willingness to address modern struggles. All parents will appreciate the kid-friendly activities, such as an art show in honor of St. Catherine of Bologna, which are both fun and foundational for forming a new generation in faith. (Oct.)

Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy

Greg Paul. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-4002-0300-0

Weaving earthy realism about topics like addiction, divorce, and death with lyrical meditations about God’s profound wish for closeness with human beings seems like a high-risk approach to Christian spirituality, but Paul (The Twenty-Piece Shuffle) makes it work. A pastor in the Toronto-based Sanctuary community, he has spent decades working among the homeless and doesn’t shrink from drawing narratives from his experiences to illustrate his perspective on God’s love. He sees it revealing itself in dire circumstances–addicts who gather around a dying friend, a mother who shows a gritty bravery at a memorial service for her son, the writer’s long estrangement from his own family over church-related conflict. Rich in stories of family and friends, the book moves from the beginning of the scriptural story of creation, through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and expulsion from Eden, to redemption and consummation, assuring readers that in every circumstance, no matter how terrible, they are still part of a divine mosaic and purpose. (Oct.)

The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood

Sara Anson Vaux. Wm. B. Eerdmans, $24 (261p) ISBN 978-0-8028-6295-2

How is it possible that the guy who played Dirty Harry in all those violent films has such a keen ethical vision? While Eastwood gained fame in front of the camera as an actor, it is his behind-the-camera work that Vaux (Finding Meaning at the Movies), a professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, addresses in wonderfully knowledgeable and insightful ways. Her analysis of Eastwood’s films is thorough, but never muddled by burdensome technical language. She deals with the more well known films, such as Unforgiven and Mystic River, but she also delves into such lesser known but equally compelling works as Changeling and Bird. Vaux approaches these films by drawing out the universal spiritual themes of life, death, redemption, and reconciliation, and illustrates how Eastwood adroitly addresses them with more subtlety than some of the blunt characters he’s played. She wisely observes that Eastwood the director has an uncanny sense of human nature and the myriad ways people are joined together in love and divided by fear. Vaux has built new bridges between religion and film that will stand for years to come. (Oct.)

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Tullian Tchividjian. Crossway, $18.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4435-0778-6

What begins as a personal account of efforts by dissatisfied parishioners to remove him as pastor of Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church quickly shifts to a meaty Bible study and the lessons Tchividjian (Surprised by Grace), the grandson of Billy Graham, learned about relying totally on God during those trying times. His close examination of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians suggests that the equation of trying to satisfy yearnings for “everything” with the “nothing” of self and idolatry can be solved only by adding Jesus as a factor. Tchividjian challenges the reader to focus on salvation through Jesus and not to view faith through a lens distorted by behavior or focus on self. He offers quotes from esteemed writers, analysis of other biblical passages, and passages from Colossians to offer liberating truths for defining spiritual maturity for individuals and for the church community. Those new to evangelical Christian faith might feel a little overwhelmed by the detailed nature of the study, but main points are repeated often and should be clear. (Oct. 31)

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking FaithDavid Kinnaman. Baker Books, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8010-1314-0

In this insightful and engaging work, Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, presents findings from interviews with young adults, aged 18 through 29, who have left Christianity. Focusing on this age group, typically the least religious demographic, Kinnaman investigates what young adults say about their religiosity or lack of it, in order to help churches retain young adult membership. Kinnaman’s research is thorough and his results are fascinating; after examining traits of what he calls the “Mosaic Generation,” he classifies religiously inactive young adults into three types—nomads, prodigals, and exiles—and then lists, in detail, the most common reasons for young adults to lapse in their religious

exclusivity. Kinnaman is unafraid to criticize in the name of reform, and he bolsters his research arguments with concrete suggestions for improvement. This practical problem-solving approach, along with his repeated assertion that “every story matters” and his occasional touches of the personal--whether his own opinions and sympathies or excerpts from interviews--make the work a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of Christianity. (Oct.)

Iroquois Supernatural: Talking Animals and Medicine People

Michael Bastine and Mason Winfield. Bear & Co., $20 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-59143-127-5

This collection co-authored by Algonquin healer Bastine and historian and entrepreneur Winfield (Supernatural Saratoga) recounts the rich folklore and medicine practices of the Iroquois. From tales of sorcery and charms to a tour of New York state’s earthworks and power spaces, there is no lack of spooky and strange phenomena to explore. Most thrilling are tales of mythic creatures such as giant flying heads with a taste for human flesh, vampire corpses, changelings, and tiny forest people. Many stories involve Mad Bear Anderson, a medicine man with whom author Bastine studied. While the subject matter is fascinating, the writing is disorganized and suffers from abrupt changes in point of view and time period. Many tales ramble without finding a satisfying close, and references to Bigfoot and UFOs add to the confusion. The writing is folksy and casual, which sometimes suits the material, but jokes and political asides casually tossed in make the tone chaotically chatty at times. This unfocused and under-edited collection of tales, seemingly arranged at random, will not satisfy Native-American scholars or newcomers to the subject. (Oct.)

Sneak Peeks: Religion Book Reviews Coming in PW October 10

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-547-63635-1

In this concise book packed with ideas, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Toward a True Kinship of Faiths) continues his case for a universal ethics rooted in compassion. He argues that religion with its diversity can never provide an ethics for everyone in today’s interconnected global society, and he then makes a strong statement for adopting a “secular ethics.” Identifying the primary societal problem as “giving too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values,” His Holiness locates the initial responsibility for change in the individual; the book’s second half includes practical approaches for “ethical mindfulness” based on Buddhist mind training, such as counteracting destructive emotions, cultivating positive virtues, and meditation. Continuing his longstanding interest in the empirical bases for Buddhist findings, the Dalai Lama supports some of his observations through science. The book’s impressive scope in a short span also includes discussions of human nature, interdependence, justice, forgiveness, philanthropy, and the challenges society faces today. This wise, humane book, an original work rather than a collection of talks, is an incisive statement of His Holiness’s thinking on ways to bring peace to a suffering world. (Dec. 6)

Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith

Don Mackenzie, Ted Falcon, and Jamal Rahman. SkyLight Paths, $18.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-59473- 317-8

A pastor (Mackenzie), rabbi (Falcon), and imam (Rahman) team up again, building on techniques described in their first book (Getting to the Heart of Interfaith). Here, they move beyond the now clichéd post-9/11 discussions of tolerance and toward real critique. The authors seek to eliminate the violent, exclusivist, sexist, and homophobic aspects of their own religions, and then use interfaith dialogue to heal those hurt by such negativity. The book is most intriguing when the authors stop blaming extremism and admit to faults inherent in their traditions. Writing honestly about their personal struggles and misconceptions, they humanize the issues and make them impossible to ignore (what do you do when scripture commands killing?). Some readers may find it difficult to abandon their theological and political beliefs, and therefore may not be able to swallow some of the authors’ more progressive ideas (e.g., discarding sexist scriptures). The authors also fail to address how a religion can remain unique in a nonexclusivist, pluralistic environment. Yet the book offers a tangible use for interfaith dialogue: it can encourage much-needed healing for readers of all faith backgrounds. (Nov.)

A First Look at the Stars: Starred Reviews Coming in PW October 10

Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse
Jay Rubenstein. Basic, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-465-01929-8
The years 1096-1099 marked a major turning point in the history of the Western world as Christian crusaders began their march toward Jerusalem in a quest to regain the holy city from the Muslim invaders. Eight more crusades would follow, but this first effort left an indelible imprint on the historical record. Rubenstein, associate professor of medieval history at the University of Tennessee and a MacArthur Fellow “genius,” insists that students of the period miss its real essence when they apply the accepted historical method of stripping away the myths and focusing on empirically provable facts. The author instead gives us a rich harvest of legends and writings from the period, often apocalyptic in nature, that give us a keener insight into the minds of those who lived these tumultuous years. Rubenstein offers up a heady mix of soldiers and prophets, militants and supplicants, weaving it all into a wonderfully readable account that puts flesh on the story. A satisfying and highly recommended read in every respect. (Nov.)

Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul

Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Sounds True, $27.95 (376p) ISBN 978-1-60407-635-6

In the first work by poet and psychoanalyst Estés (Women Who Run with Wolves) in a decade, this brilliant treatment is much larger than the sum of its parts. Estés’s understanding of Our Holy Lady (“she wears a thousand names”) is disturbing and enlightening; she presents a figure who reflects and elevates the essential and inherent qualities of humanity. Through sacred traditions, personal stories, prayers, and images, Estés makes visible the ancient and modern fiercely loving force of the Divine feminine—the Compassionate Mother. “The ultimate Mother Who Gave Birth to Love... bends to tend to the needful soul,” Estés writes. Like the traditional prayer Memorare, through the technology of mind and heart, this book calls readers to awaken with full consciousness “to Her within us: acting like, thinking like, loving like the Holy Mother does.” (Nov.)

Children’s Religion/Spirituality: Original RBL Reviews

Three Cups: A Lesson in Life and Money for Children

Tony Townsley and Mark St. Germain, illus. by April Willy. Thomas Nelson, $9.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4003-1749-3

Townsley’s and St. Germain’s text offers an irresistibly simple proposal in story form. On his fifth birthday, a boy receives the gift of three cups from his parents. One is for spending, one for saving, the third for giving. That’s where he is to keep his allowance; how much goes into each cup changes over time. At the book’s end, the cycle begins again, with a new generation. The text includes a parents’ guide. The book began its life as a self-published volume and has sold more than 30,000 copies through card stores and financial institutions. Willy’s warm-toned, ultra-realistic painterly illustrations are Norman Rockwellian; some will adore the nostalgia; others, maybe not so much. But the need for financial responsibility lessons is ageless, and this little course goes down easy. Ages 4-8. (Nov.)

Faking Faith

Josie Bloss. Flux, $9.95 paper (240p) 978-0-7387-2757-8

When 17-year-old Dylan Mahoney naively engages in “sexting,” she becomes an Internet phenomenon and a social pariah. Isolated from her friends and family, she retreats into the blogosphere, where she happens upon an online community of home-schooled teenage girls who write about their conservative Christian faith and document the blissful domesticity of their lives. Against her better judgment, she joins this community under false pretenses and develops a special friendship with a blogger named Abigail. The extraordinary set of events that ensue are at once outlandish and absolutely believable, thanks to Bloss’s compelling, down-to-earth prose. Conservative Christian characters who could easily be caricatured are multi-dimensional and complicated, and the lessons Dylan learns through her experiences with them are equally nuanced. Bloss somehow manages utter frankness and great generosity in her portrayal not only of Christian separatists, but also of typical modern families such as Dylan’s. Rather than promoting or demonizing any lifestyle, the novel illustrates how profoundly teenagers who seem to have nothing in common can connect and support each other, even as they choose very different paths. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)

Precisely Terminated

Amanda L. Davis. AMG/Living Ink, $12.99 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-0-89957-896-5

This grandly imagined and ambitious kickoff to a dystopian series for young adults, written by a young adult author who is the daughter of fantasy novelist Bryan Davis, needs patience. Set 800 years in the future, the first of the three Cantral Chronicles introduces Monica. She is a noble child too young to have the computer chip that authorities implant to control the movements of all and eliminate the rebellious. Monica alone escapes the gassing of her home city of Cillineese and grows up disguised as a slave. Thanks to a paper she escaped with, she has the means to disable the computers that control everyone’s chips. Monica moves through a world of uncertain alliances as she comes to realize her responsibility. This is classic coming of age fare with a dystopian twist. Readers not only need to pay attention as the world is slowly constructed; they also need patience with the slow pace of events. Monica and others spend lots of time in tunnels. This book would have been livelier if shorter; it shows a young author with potential in need of a more exacting editor. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

On the Virtual Shelves: Web Exclusive Religion Book Reviews

Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards, and Paths to Conversion

Steven Carr Reuben and Jennifer S. Hanin (Rowman & Littlefield, Oct.)


God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue

Daniel Walker (IVP Press, Sept.)