My Review of Robert W Merry’s President McKinley: The Art of Stealthy Leadership

Robert W Merry has done justice to the 25th President of the United States with his new work President McKinley: The Art of Stealthy Leadership (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

William McKinley, a Union Civil War veteran, US Congressman, and Ohio Govenor, is often ranked in the top 20 of Presidents, generally ahead of his predecessor Grover Cleveland, but in the shadow of his second Vice-President the energetic and highly regarded, Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the Presidency on September 14 1901 following McKinley’s assassination.

Merry seeks to at least move Teddy Roosevelt’s shadow aside (if one could move TR’s shadow aside!) for a least several hundred pages and bring to light a President who oversaw (and perhaps was swallowed up by, at times) a United States emerging out of the Civil War/Reconstruction era and into the twentieth-century. This reviewer believes that he accomplishes that task and reveals a President who knew how to use executive power in ways that allowed him to accomplish his goals. And the book’s subtitle, The Art of Stealthy Leadership, reveals how McKinley does that – through a stealthy approach – in which personal influence and relationship account for a great deal.

In this approach, this reviewer believes that Merry does for McKinley’s presidency what Karl Rove did for McKinley the Presidential Candidate and Campaigner in his The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters. They reveal a man whose exterior, plain to some, dull to others, hid a methodical mind that allowing him to move the levers of power and influence to accomplish his task.

I liked this book because it is a wonderful introduction to the 25th President to a new generation of readers and students of history and politics. Merry is able to describe the complex issues and events over which McKinley governed in simple and clean prose. He is sympathetic to McKinley but points out his slow and deliberate way of working often got him in difficulties or forced him to act before he was perhaps ready to act.

I believe that this book will be a wonderful book for undergraduate and graduate programs in history and political science classe, book clubs, and like this reviewer, for those interested in Presidential biographies and autobiographies.

I gave this book a five star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received an electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.


My Review of Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant

Cassie Bowden, a flight attendant known for her drinking binges and blackouts, awakes from another drunken stupor in a Dubai hotel room and finds herself next to a man who has been brutally murdered.

“Did I do it?” she struggles to remember. Believing that she did not from what she could recall of the night before, Cassie struggles to put herself together, get back to her hotel room, and return to America where she eventually reveals all to an attorney…and on to an incredible ending that well…I’ll just leave it at that.

But in between her gruesome discovery and the “where did that come from?” ending, the story of Cassie Bowden, entering middle age, unfolds as she struggles to deal with her uncontrolled drinking, her life as a single person, and her dysfunctional past.

This is my first Bohjalian novel and it won’t be my last.

What strikes me about The Flight Attendant are the characters who are neither over the top nor wooden. They are credible, they are everyday. I felt sorry for Cassie at times and then at other times, when her implusiveness gets the best of her, I felt frustration tinged with concern. Then there was the mysterious “Miranda” whose own second guessing (that will become clear as one reads the book) chips away at her refined and deadly image. And the rest of cast? Sorry, no teasers from this reviewer. You will have to read the book!

Additionally, the tense plot line, which left this reader/reviewer on edge, is an edgy one. One that kept me wondering when Cassie would finally be arrested…or die…or live…in spite of herself.

I really enjoyed this novel and it kept me reading, and waiting, and expecting… well the worst…what I got was…one of the best novels I have read in a while!

I gave this novel a five-star review on Goodreads.

Note: I recieved an Kindle ARC from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.



My Review of Dick Schwirian’s Taking Lady Gilbraltar

Dick Schwirian, who argues in his introduction that “Vicksburg was much more of a victory for Ulysses S Grant than Gettysburg was for George Gordon Meade,” offers an entertaining and somewhat lighthearted look at the battle for Vicksburg Mississippi during the American Civil War, in his historical fiction piece Taking Lady Gibraltar: Grant’s Convoluted Tour de Force in the West (Sunbury Press, 2016).

Based on both Schwirian’s interest in Grant and a variety of historical books, Taking Lady Gibratar is a very human look at war and those who fight in it. Schwirian takes the historical dust, if you will, off of Grant and Sherman, and gives them a very human look in the midst of death and great frustrations as Grant sought the capture of Vicksburg that sat alongside the Mississippi River and foiled Union efforts to control the entire Mississippi waterway.

I liked this book as it gave a fresh view to two major American generals and a very human portrait of war especially the American Civil War where households were often split up with family members choosing the opposing side for which to fight. At times however, it seemed a bit pedantic and drawn out in parts of the narrative. But it was a fun book to read.

I rated it 3 Stars on Goodreads

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Bier and Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament

Later this month, I am planning to preach a sermon titled “Is it Okay to Complain to God?” I think that it is and, in my own faith journey, learning how to complain, lament, mourn is something that I am learning to properly (biblically, perhaps?) to do.

I am preaching this sermon in part due to the circumstances of my family life and of the loss and grief within members lives of the congregation I serve and…because I have recently read Miriam J Bier and Tim Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament  (Pickwick Publications: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014)

A selection of essays edited by Bier,  who is a Lecturer in Old Testament at London School of Theology and Bulkeley, who is a Freelance Biblical Scholar teaching at Laidlaw Graduate School and Colombo Theological Seminary,  Spiritual Complaint is the result of presentations given during a “colloquium at (then) Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School” in the aftermath of the Christchurch New Zealand earthquake in 2011.

Divided into four sections: foundations, reflections, explorations, and refraction, Spiritual Complaint first addresses “new contributions to scholarship on Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job; and ongoing discussion of the discussion of the relationship between lament and penitential prayer in the Old Testament.”

Then in the second and third sections the book “offers a bridge between the foundations of biblical scholarship, and the contexts in which lament might be used and framed in contemporary society.” The final section, “Refraction,” features Yael Klangwisan’s autobiographical lament “in the land of Israel/Palestine.”

Wide ranging and yet focused in the pursuit of understanding and appropriately engaging in lament, this reviewer found some of the chapters very informative as to the practice of lament from the view of and in the practice a local church pastor.

For example, Bier’s study of Lamentations 4 and its relationship to the rest of the book, provided this reviewer with some new perspectives on the context of both the chapter and the book as she suggests that Lamentations 4 has a “unique position in the book of Lamentations as a transitional movement between the individual (yet representative) speaking voices of… Lam 1, 2, and 3; and the explicitly communal speaking voice of Lam 5.”

Robin Parry, Editor at Cascade Books and Pickwick publications for Wipf and Stock Publishers in the UK, cogently argues in a chapter titled,  “Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship,” that “…Christians would be well advised to listen closely to the historic Jewish interpretations. Gentile believers in Jesus need to appreciate afresh that this is a book, in the first instance, addressing the sufferings of Israel.”

I appreciated this book and was glad to read it as it gave me  a perspective of other Christian scholars from another part of the world who wrestle with the implications of the Biblical text regarding the difficult and tragic times in life and how Holy Scripture speaks to us in those moments. It was challenging and a refreshing read and has given this reviewer much to consider.

Spiritual Complaint would be a great read in courses at least the seminary and graduate school level and perhaps in upper-level undergraduate courses in religion and biblical studies.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher at my request in exchange for an honest review.


My Danny Cahill’s Review of Aging Disgracefully

Danny Cahill was a top producing corporate recruiter who eventually bought the company he worked for and made it into a top performing company in its industry. But as he did, his personal life slid downhill to the point a personal training injury forced him to both look at and deal with his life and make some hard choices.

Aging Disgracefully (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2017) chronicles Cahill’s fast rise to the bottom even as he stood at the top of his company and field.

This book is 21st century living in America – ego driving, drug and alcohol fueled, and fear driven – that while celebrating success on the outside, often fails to deal with the inner failure and pain on the inside until it is too late (overdose or suicide) or the pain forces a crisis (physical as in Cahill’s case) that is emotional, spiritual, or existential.

This is a story of excess – excess wealth, consumption, power, ego, and control. It is also a story of coming into reality, ( dare we also say “sobriety and sanity?”) as the book concludes with Cahill’s desire to “make a friend” through the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter as he moves away from his past and begins to rebuild his life.

Again Disgracefully is a candid work and the author notes in the introduction that “while all events are portrayed to the best of my memory, they are my memories.” It is also a work that I give a mature rating to because of language and subject matter.

This “work of creative nonfiction” is a great read for literature classes and I think business ethics classes given the relationship dynamic with one of his employees. I also think that classes for clergy would benefit from reading this book as Cahill’s story is an unfortunate common story in today’s culture and affects people who seek out clergy for help.

I liked this book and believe it to be a good read but it tells an all too familiar story, unfortunately, that we read of or see happening in life today. For that reason I gave it a three- star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an e-book copy from Smith Publicity via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast

“My job is being a father. My profession is drawing comics. I write for fun.”

Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast (TarcherPerigree, 2017) is a delightful and wonderful piece about the joys of fatherhood no matter if you are the father of daughters (as he is) or sons…or both!

Developed, from what this reviewer understands, from his Facebook posts, Bussola takes us on an inside look of fatherhood, and life, as he helps his three young daughters navigate life and the wider work in which they lived.

Organized into the four seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall, Bussola chronicles the daily tasks of being a dad, a husband, and an adult as he unpacks insightful nuggets of wisdom from his daughters’ questions; reflects on the fleeting time he has with his daughters; and addresses contemporary issues such as racism and ageism.

Several stories I marked as my favorite and while I will not share their content, I list a few of them here:

Kids’ Party – A hilarious look at two dad’s (one of them being Bussola) at a kid’s birthday party.

Eyes like Andy Garcia – Probably my favorite of them all.  A reminder of many things, including that children have a way of bringing you down to earth with a sudden thud!

Pockets Full of Stones – A wonderful bittersweet reflection looking at the long term aspect of fatherhood that changes as children grow older.

Daughter to Go – A humorous look at what happens when you turn the tables on a telemarketer with your “dad card.”

This book is a wonderful gift for dads and dads-to-be.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book from the Amazon Vine reviewer program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.


My Review of Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls

Kate Moore has written a gritty, gut wrenching and gut retching, story about a group of young women that ninety years ago fought both for their lives, the lives of their equally young and promising co-workers, and for safety in the workplace. They had so much to look forward to – life, love, and all that is part of them. But, they, as did many others, succumbed to the hideous effects of a radioactive substance called Radium.

Known by the moniker, The Radium Girls, these women who lived in two disparate towns, urban Orange New Jersey and the Illinois prairie town of Ottawa, Illinois, have their names made known by Moore alongside their tragic story in her book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebooks, 2017)

The fascination with the nature of radium in the second and third decades of the 1900’s included its use in paint that was applied on watch dials and then added to toothpaste, make-up, and other consumer products. But when young vibrant women such as Katherine Schaub, who began working for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in 1917, began developing serious and incurable health issues – dental decay and loss, tumors, hip and leg issues, the truth about the radioactivity of radium and its devastating and deadly effects on the human body began to be seen and eventually investigated.

Divided into three sections – Part One: Knowledge; Part Two: Power; Part Three: Justice – Moore does what she sets out to do as noted in her introduction – to tell the stories of the individual women behind the moniker “The Radium Girls.” She does it well.

The Radium Girls is not an easy read at times.  It is graphic as Moore describes the facial decay of some of the women whose teeth and jaws disintegrate because they are trained to ‘lip’ their fine brushes in their mouths, then ‘dip’ their brush in the paint, and then ‘paint’ their dials.  “lip…dip…paint.”

But The Radium Girls is also essential reading. It is a story with profound implications for workplace safety, consumer protections, and corporate responsibilities. It is a history of American labor and business practices and law. It is a story about responsibility. It is a story about the delicate balance between jobs and profits against responsibility and worker safety.

The Radium Girls will be an excellent addition to classes in undergraduate and graduate courses in history, sociology,  business, and in even law and medical school classes.

I gave this this book a 4-Star review on Goodreads

Note: I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.