My Review of Ryan Coughlin’s Right Handed Lefty

Ellis Sayre has lived quite a life when we meet in him 1983 Wisconsin. At the age of twelve he has endured a failed adoption as well as facing the possibility that his current parents may be divorcing.

Of Native American descent, Ellis is a outsider in the southwestern town of Boscobel, Wisconsin and forms a relationship with George Stigerwald a local native of Norwegian descent, and Mason Neng, of Hmong descent in the midst of the teenage angst that seems to be deeper because of their outsider status.

As they struggle to survive, especially Mason and his family, they find themselves in the fight of their lives as they witness the murder of a man at the hands of a local crime boss, whose connection runs deep in the community and…law enforcement.

Ryan Coughlin has given us a collection of characters who can, and does, draw on the sympathy of the reader, as they struggle to prove that what they saw and heard was true, though they are not believed, especially by local law enforcement.

Right Hand Lefty is a novel about overcoming the challenges of growing up not just as a teen but as a teen who is considered an outsider whose word is doubted. It is also a novel about claiming one’s heritage and living in that heritage with dignity and pride.

I really enjoyed this novel. It has characters that reminds me of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders and the current TV hit series Stranger Things. 

This novel would be a great addition to High School and College contemporary literature courses.

I rated this novel four stars on Goodreads.

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


My Review of John C Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church

What is the purpose of the church?

It is a question that has been asked and is being asked in clergy offices, in denomination meetings, in seminaries, in homes around the dinner table, in small groups, and in the quiet of clergy minds on a daily basis.

It is a question that is being answered through many books, conferences, seminars, podcasts, scholarly society papers, and in sermons from pulpits in churches large and small.

Asking it generates considerable (and intense) discussion, anxiety, argument, writing, and, if we are honest, revenue.

What about this answer to the question, What is the purpose of the church?

“the church’s role is to be the better place that God has already made in this world…”

It is a response to the question, John C Nugent has made in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Cascade Books, 2016)

Laying out the case for what he calls, a “kingdom centered view” Nugent challenges what he considers the three major views of engagement in which the Christian Church operates today:

The Heaven-Centered View which focuses on going to a better place one day

The Human-Centered View which focuses on making this world a better place now

The World-Centered View which focuses on making this world a better place by working to make it so

and then lays out his view, The Kingdom-Centered view that is based on “two fundamental truths”

  • “Jesus has already made a better place in this world
  • The role of God’s people is to embrace, display, and proclaim this better place.”

To support his belief,  Nugent begins at the beginning of scripture and from there walks the reader through his argument of how God, ultimately through Christ, has already made a better place in the world. This journey takes up the second of three main sections of the book where he lays out an Ecclesiology rooted, this reviewer believes, in the Restorationist or Stone-Campbell movement of American Christianity.

In the third section of the book, A Better Place in Action, Nugent addresses the issue of discipleship, leadership, followership, vocation, missions, and the key issue of witnessing to the powers of society, as well as others,  as it relates to the Kingdom-Centered view. And a very helpful appendix, in which the numerous questions which come as you read are answered, is included.

This book was hard to engage at first for two reasons. First, it is a book that requires a slower read, because of the depth of writing which is essential in discussing the nature and mission of the church. Second, it has challenged many of my assumptions regarding the role and place of the church in relation to society.

But it turned out to be a very important read because in this day the Church is pressured to do and be many things. And such pressure, demands, even, wear on both members and clergy as they attempt to navigate their mission and ministry through competing claims and suggestions on how to do and be the church.

This book was a breath of fresh air to this reviewer, also a member of the clergy, as it gave me some very serious pause on how the Church is to be the Church in this day and age of programming hype, political activism, and cultural relevance.

It isn’t. It is to be the good news now, in the midst of society, as part of the Kingdom that is here and now and is to come.

I liked this book because it provided me with an in depth reflection of my own assumptions regarding the Church and its ministry. It would be a great addition to undergraduate, graduate, and seminary classes as well as for church leaders.

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

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Scott Eyman’s Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart

Scott Eyman has done us a favor with the writing of his book Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart (Simon Schuster, 2017).

First, he has chronicled through interviews with their family members and friends and archival sources, that two individuals, especially two well-known celebrities who hold well-defined and differening political perspectives, can be friends, work together, raise their families together, still care and support one another when one is riding the crest of success and the other is not, and do so over the course of fifty years!

Second, Eyman has given us a very human view of two public men who were celebrities in their hey-day and, for a while after, who were also very private men, troubled at times, and two men who, even though they were becoming leading men in the motion picture industry, entered military service and served America during World War 2.

What a gift for us is Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart! Thank you Scott Eyman!

Well researched and written from a sympathetic and yet honest point of view, Eyman chronicles the rise and the decline of Fonda and Stewart’s careers and lives in a manner which drew this reader/reviewer in. He goes behind the scenes of stardom and gets into the personal lives of both men, in an alterating narrative as the story develops.

And the stories told are priceless…

for they reveal two men who enjoyed one another’s company…

and who delighted in the everyday things of life…

This reviewer’s interest was caught and held by two things Fonda and Stewart loved: model planes and cats!

The story of the model Martin Bomber that they bought as a Christmas present for themselves in New York resonated with this reviewer who built model plans, plastic not balsa wood as theirs was, as a kid.  As did their love of cats, including a group of feral cats that grew to over 30 despite their best efforts to domesticate them. With their LA rental house AND yard becoming flea infested the two decided to get rid of the cats by digging a hole in the fence of their next-door neighbor…an actress named Greta Garbo, with disatrous results, (and who eventually moved).

And as Eyman tells their stories, he also speaks of their films, with the mind and persepective of the art and movie critic that he is, talking about their performances and which films were their best and which were not. (It reminded me of Carl Rollysons’ biography on Dana Andrews, Hollywood Engima, written several years ago.)

Hank and Jim.

It is great biography…and a fresh telling of Hollywood history in its golden years.

It is a great biography…of two well-known stars and their trials and successes on screen and in real life.

I rated this biography five stars on Goodreads.

Note: I recieved a 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.

(One last thing…my favorite films in which Fonda and Stewart starred both have airplanes in them… for Fonda it was Midway and for Stewart it was Strategic Air Command.)

My Review of Mohana Rajakumar’s Pearls of the Past

Over five years ago, I read my first Mohana Rajakumar novel entitled Love Comes Later  which introduced me to the world of contemporary Arab fiction and the two main characters of Rajakumar’s newest novel Pearls of the Past, Abdulla and his wife Sangita, who met while graduate students in London and fell in love, following the death of Abulla’s first wife and unborn child, much to the chagrin and frustration of his family with whom they now live among back in Abdulla’s home country.

Living in a constant state of tension with both the past and the future hanging over them in a cloud…and with a cloud of another kind about to cover them and their family, Pearls of the Past, is a tense and onrushing work of fiction about dreams and desires of the past still affecting the dreams and desire of the present and future in ways which unfold as the story unfolds…and which threatens to swallow all of them up in a very dark way.

Pearls of the Past, has several plot lines (which this reviewer thinks will be further explored in future novels). It is a novel about romantic love – strained, guided by traditions and customs; it is also a novel about family love – strained, challenged by the traditions of the past as they meet the realities of the present and larger world; it is also a novel about the love of work – increasingly in at least one character’s memory that is fast fading.

I like this novel for its complexity and its humanity. It is a story that is set in the east but those in the west will see themselves – hoping, yearning for love, dealing with expectations and traditions that make themselves known in a variety of ways.

There is more to this complex and interesting novel than I am telling in this review. However, I did enjoy this novel and will simply say that the title of the novel Pearls of the Past is very relevant to the unfolding story line…in more ways than one.

I gave this novel a four-star rating on Goodreads 

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.




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.