Book Rec: The Presidents Club

61iyNBdczoLI’ve been reading through the biographies of our presidents and so far have been enjoying getting to know them. It’s interesting to learn about their accomplishments, what drove them toward their failures, and how history has decided to label them.

But there’s one thing that their biographies tend to overlook.

We may learn about each man’s upbringing, his habits, his fierce run for the top job, what made him tick, etc. But even the most in-depth biography touches very little on the behind the scenes story of how each president interacted with one another before and after their arduous campaign battles against one another.

The Presidents Club by Nany Gibbs and Michael Duffy undertakes this task, with every post-WWII president (beginning with Truman and Hoover).

The wonder of this book is in the telling of how unlikely friendships – and rivalries – formed because of stark differences of ideology and running the White House.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is toward the end when we learn about the unforeseen friendship between Clinton and both Bushes, the iconic polar opposites in the political arena.

A colleague of mine a few years back became one of my very good friends, even though we had completely different political views – he a Carter supporter, and me a Bush man. Thing is, we never had a fight or argument. We explained our views and we listened to the other with respect and understanding – understanding that we each want what’s best for our families and the country. But, as he often said, we just have different ways of getting there.

Here is an eye-opening excerpt from The Presidents Club that I think every American can learn from.

“…George W. Bush did me one of the great favors of my life,” Clinton [said]. “He asked me not once, but twice, to work with his father. We took 7 trips together. This man who’d I’d always liked and respected and run against … I literally came to love … and I realize all over again how much energy we waste fighting with each other over things that don’t matter … He can virtually do no wrong in my eyes …” 

The Bush family paid Clinton back at this particular gathering, “conferring on him the highest possible honor: a family nickname … Laura Bush asked all twenty-seven Bushes in attendance to gather for a family picture … Clinton [was] standing quietly off to the side backstage, watching the big family take its places for a photographer when the call came from Neil Bush rang out: “Bill, Bill! Brother of Another Mother! Get in here!” 

And so he did, taking his place in the back row, near some grandchildren. “Yeah,” Clinton mused, recalling the moment a few months later, “the family’s black sheep. Every family’s got one.”

Even in this party-split nation we can still live as one country, in unity and love for one another.

US-POLITICS-PRESIDENTS

Movies as Good as Pixar Movies

It doesn’t take much browsing on my blog to figure out that I’m a devout Pixar enthusiast (Disney included). But there are some movies made by competitors that come awfully close, if not hit right on target, to Pixar’s standards of excellence. Here are my favorite non-Pixar/Disney animated movies that you’re sure to have a good time with.

Shrek-2-card-2004-12Shrek 2 (Dreamworks)

I love the second installment of the Shrek movies. It’s hip, it’s fun, and the soundtrack is awesome. It’s a fairytale within a fairytale, and it doesn’t bash all the other fairytales like its predecessor does. And the pouty Prince Charming is just hilarious.

surfs_up_620x348_0Surf’s Up (Sony Pictures Animation/Columbia)

This one didn’t sit too well with critics and audiences far as I know, and I can’t understand why. It’s a very original animated flick told in the style of a documentary. Sarabeth says you’ve got to have a love for the beach and surfing to enjoy this movie, so she might be right. At any rate, I’ve always said it’s as good as a Pixar movie, if for anything, its originality.

1_0_2008_07_09_05_16_25_65625Horton Hears a Who (Blue Sky Studios/Fox)

This is a fun little movie based off of the Dr. Seuss classic storybook, which I hadn’t read before seeing it. It’s not as sophisticated as other movies, but it’s big, bright, and colorful. Definitely pulls out the child in me, and it’s no chore to sit down and watch it on a rainy weekend.

despicable-me-2-22543-1280x800Despicable Me (Illumination Entertainment/Universal)

There’s nothing truly awe-inspiring about this movie, but it’s fun – just flat-out fun, with a few quotable moments throughout. Another good one for rainy weekends. I think what draws me in so much is the adoption theme. That’ll get me every time.

81AjuXCw9UL._SL1500_How to Train Your Dragon (Dreamworks)

This one probably comes the closest to being on par with Pixar standards. It’s got everything you need to make an animated movie go from really good to exceptional – fast action, witty dialogue, no potty humor, emotional content, and the protagonists lose something dear in the end. I haven’t seen the sequel yet, but I’m sure excited to whenever we get around to it.

What are your favorite non-Pixar/Disney animated movies? 

A Call to Resurgence

1037I find many contemporary Christian books lacking in either sound theology or cunning intrigue. When it comes to Christian books I tend to stick with the classics like R.C. Sproul and C.S. Lewis.

A friend of mine suggested I read Mark Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence, and he asks the question: “Will Christianity have a funeral or a future?”

I’m not going to lie. I like Driscoll. I agree with about 97% of his teachings about the Chruch, the Bible, God, and the people of God. And I believe he’s got a good handle on what’s in store for Christianity in the very near future.

As citizens of the 21st century are drowning in the rapid currents of the new “tolerance” movement, Driscoll makes the point that we Christians need to know where we stand on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and basic theological truths that many of us may have forgotten.

I loved this book. Not only because I agree with most of his statements and predictions, but because he explains this “brave new world” we’re living in crystal clear, and reminds Christians that we can no longer sit on our butts and watch the world spiral out of control.

We’ve got to join in the chaos, because, really, it’s not chaos at all. The world is heading in the direction God has planned – bad as it may seem now.

We just have to know how to live in it and stand strong.

The Man in the Box, Chapter 6

I just turned in the final edits for my revised edition of The Man in the Box. Enjoy this sample chapter while we await the rerelease date. And don’t forget to like The Man in the Box on Facebook for updates!

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 (pt 1), 5 (pt 2)

Check out the trailer here!

6

Both kids had managed to push Rosalynn close to her breaking point. Between Jeremy getting sent home from school early because of a fight he had gotten into over stolen crackers at lunch and Taylor refusing to get off of her iPhone to help with the packing, Rosalynn was ready to just call a babysitter and leave the kids at home while she and Robbie enjoyed Hawaii all to themselves. But she had to keep reminding herself that they were the reason they were going in the first place. Maybe she and Robbie could at least upgrade to first class while they left the kids in coach.

She had texted this suggestion to Robbie earlier, but she hadn’t heard back from him. In fact, she had called him when he was due home an hour ago. It was unlike him to be late, but she figured he was probably swamped with last-minute stuff to do before vacation. That was understandable; she just wished he would let her know he’s all right and tell her he’d be late coming home.

“Mom, Caitlin wants me to spend the night since I won’t see her tomorrow or for the next week,” announced Taylor, from halfway down the stairs with her iPhone clutched to her hand.

“Doesn’t she have school tomorrow? Her mom wouldn’t allow that,” replied Rosalynn as she fished through the cupboards for pasta shells.

“She already told her mom and she’s okay with it.” Taylor was standing at the edge of the kitchen now, dressed to go out. “I’ve already got my stuff thrown together. And I was thinking maybe you could let me drive since she’s just a couple blocks away.”

“You packed for a sleepover that was just planned, but you can’t manage to pack for Hawaii anytime in the last four months?” asked Rosalynn. “No, I’m not letting you go over there. You’ve got to pack, and I don’t want to have to drive back over first thing in the morning just to pick you up.”

“Can you guys shut up?” yelled Jeremy from the living room. “I’m trying to watch my show.”

“Don’t say that word,” Rosalynn responded. “Next time you say that to me, the TV goes off.”

“So can I go?” asked Taylor.

“No. No, you can’t go,” said Roslaynn pulling out the dish pan and gathering the cheese and the grater. “I’m not letting you go to Caitlin’s so you can keep her up all night on a school night, and you’ll end up sleeping all day tomorrow when you’re supposed to be packing; she’ll probably fall asleep in class. No. But if you want to go to school tomorrow, I can take you and you can see Caitlin there. How does that sound?”

“Sure,” said Taylor, “that’s fine by me. I’d rather go to school than stay here anyway. No offence, but I really don’t want to go to Hawaii anyway.”

“You’re bringing this up now?” asked Rosalynn, though she didn’t know why she was so surprised.

“Me, either!” yelled Jeremy. “I hate fish. I’d rather stay here and eat chicken.”

“Seriously, can’t he stay out of any of my conversations?” asked Taylor. “For a kid with ADD, he sure knows how to tune in.”

“Well I’m sorry, but we’ve already got your tickets paid for, and I know it’s rough being away from all of your friends for a week, but it’ll go by fast; I promise. Now, can you please leave me alone so I can have dinner ready before your dad gets home?”

“Where is he anyway?” asked Taylor. “He’s never this late.”

“He’s got a lot to finish before his day off tomorrow, that’s all. He’ll be home soon,” Rosalynn said.

Taylor glanced down at her iphone when it chirped at her, then looked back up to Rosalynn. “So, no?”

“No. Go upstairs and pack.”

Taylor huffed as she walked off, saying, “I’m not even going to start packing until tomorrow anyway.”

“That’s fine. You can get a head start on all your procrastinating tonight,” said Rosalynn, rolling her eyes and unwrapping the mozzarella. Cooking was solitary for Rosalynn. She felt comfortable and in her element in the kitchen. It’s where everyone else in the family was too afraid to go, and she secretly preferred it that way. If Rosalynn needed time to herself, she would cook, because she knew that at least there, no one would bother her.

Robbie had come up with a code for the kids to warn them that she was in cooking mode— “Chef Snappy’s in the house.” Snappy, because of the way she tended to snap at people if they got in her way in the kitchen. She didn’t do it purposefully or out of spite—she just put her all into whatever she was preparing; cooking was her zone. She realized a few years too late that that’s why Taylor hardly knew how to boil an egg, because she never took the time to teach her how to cook. She pitied her future husband and would be sure to apologize to him once they were married.

She felt she did right by her children in every other sense. She always helped them with their homework, made sure they were properly groomed for school, minded their manners at the table, put her foot down on what they were or were not allowed to watch and how much (often fighting Robbie every step of the way on that one). Where Robbie was parentally weak, she was strong. But Robbie was much better at dealing with discipline if they ever defied her—one of the few things he wouldn’t stand for, and he usually had good discernment when it came to how much arguing amongst siblings was too much—which was a wonder since Robbie was an only child. Rosalynn felt like she and Robbie were a good team when it came to the kids, but tonight, she really could have used his help.

She called him once more only to be taken straight to his voicemail again. His office had closed two hours ago.

Is Divergent as Good as Hunger Games?

divergentThis is a spoiler-free review.

I just read Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Apparently she wrote it while she was in college and two other books completes her trilogy.

Like Hunger Games, it is set in a dystopian world, and also like Hunger Games, it is written in that awesome first-person present tense style that really seems to be catching on.

You should know that my wife and I are pretty obsessed when it comes to Hunger Games, and I’m sure Roth doesn’t appreciate her story being compared to something so superior.

However, one can hardly divorce the two.

Divergent lacks the big-picture suspense story that carries Hunger Games, as it’s sometimes hard to see where Roth is taking her readers. There’s little setup from the start, explaining her dystopian Chicago, which could have served as great suspense marks.

But at the same time, it’s not such a bad thing to learn about things as the protagonist does.

When I finished Divergent, Sarabeth asked me the same question everyone else is wondering: “Is it better than Hunger Games?

My answer was no.

“If you hadn’t read Hunger Games, would you have liked it more?”

My answer again, was no.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoyed the book. But unlike Hunger Games, my criticisms kept building up.

My biggest hangup with the book was the love story.

Now, I realize this is a teen book centered around an adolescent girl, but I just kept rolling my eyes each time the love interests came together for yet more snogging and oohing and awing.

To be honest, it’s the most I’ve wanted to throw up due to such over-the-top sentiments.

Maybe I wouldn’t’ve felt that way if it wasn’t so forced and manufactured. Really, it was just very difficult to buy into.

As for the rest of the book?

I actually enjoyed the author’s world where society is broken up into separate factions based off of different virtues. It is a very well thought-out world, and many scenes were quite heart-stopping as you had no idea what the sadist villain was going to come up with next (don’t you just love a terribly wicked bad guy?).

Would I recommend it? Sure thing. A good fiction is hard to find these days, and I would qualify this as good enough. I’ll certainly be reading the next two books when they’re available in paperback.

However, I will say this. I’d much sooner allow my kids to read Hunger Games long before I hand Divergent over to them. It’s not as sexual, Katniss isn’t all googly-eyed and wounded by Cupid, and the lines of good vs. evil aren’t so blurred.

What are your thoughts on the book? Which series do you like better? Share your thoughts below.

From a Mermaid to an Ice Queen: Is Frozen Better Than Beauty?

Frozen-Wallpaper-disney-frozen-35897178-1920-1200These days Sarabeth and I go to the movies about three times a year. Once in the summer to catch the newest Pixar movie, and twice in December for the latest Hunger Games and Hobbit installments. Since there will not be a Pixar movie released this year (insert ultra-sad face here), I insisted we catch Frozen because of all the hype (thanks to many of your comments).

We all remember the glory days of Disney when they repeatedly put out hits such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. There were some other good ones that followed, but none that held a candle to the greatness… flawlessness… no, majesty of the Phenomenal Four. Somehow that majesty just couldn’t be recaptured, though Disney filmmakers searched far and wide for it: from the age of dinosaurs, into the depths of space, on the Hawaiian islands, down to the depths of the lost city of Atlantis.

Disney, it seemed, just couldn’t quite recapture that African sunrise, or convince audiences that carpets can fly.

It seemed that the great entertainment empire had thrown in the towel when it released the horrendous Home on the Range, an embarrassing cartoon not even worth a slot on TV (Sarabeth and I turned it off after ten minutes – but the soundtrack is surprisingly good, to Disney’s credit).

And then Disney, apart from Pixar, debuted its first CGI movie, Chicken Little. This was a far cry from the best, but it was a step in the right direction, set in a town where Mickey and the gang could very well live. Suddenly it seemed the Mouse wasn’t out of the game just yet.

Then came Meet the Robinsons – the first of Disney movies to open with Mickey Mouse Steamboat-willieat the helm of Steamboat Willy, which communicated one thing loud and clear: The Mouse is back. Still a far cry from the majesty of the great fairytales of 90s, it touched a soft spot in audiences, and especially in me, since the theme is based on adoption. It’s a movie I cannot get through the end of without crying.

The Princess and the Frog came hopping into theaters with even louder drums and cymbals (and a great soundtrack, to boot!). Not only was the Mouse back, but the enchanting fairytale world Disney had created was expanding.

And man, was there ever a greater uproar than when Tangled hit silver screens across the world less than a year later, screaming Disney is back for good! That magic, that music, that humor, everything old Walt himself would have approved of a thousand times over!

And now, Frozen.

Wow.

Paperman-shortFirst off, let me just say that the short before the film was the most inventive cartoon since Roger Rabbit! (It’s not as emotionally-charged as Wreck-It Ralph’s “Paperman”, but it certainly was a fun treat.) It was so nice to see Mickey Mouse on the big screen for once.

Frozen, without a doubt, will breed a whole new generation of Disney enthusiasts. Frozen makes you believe in happiness and magic and music all over again. Frozen, I am pleased to say, has recaptured that long-lost majesty. 

It will be a long time before we see another movie as good as Frozen. 

Is it as good as Beauty and the Beast? It’s too soon to tell. It certainly had its share of flaws that Beauty lacks, but I can say without reservation that Frozen has earned its place on the same shelf as the mermaid, the Beast, the street rat, and the king of Pride Rock. 

Welcome, Ice Queen, to the most prestigious Disney family in history.

And may that family continue to grow for our children’s children to enjoy all their lives.

Christmas Wish List Part 4

santas_christmas_list

Looking for some last minute Christmas gifts for the book lovers in your life? I’ve compiled a list of the best books I’ve read this year. (See below for last year’s lists for more recommendations.)

FOR FICTION READERS

Life as We Know it (Susan Beth Pfeffer) – Sarabeth and I read the whole series this year, and despite the political agenda (which eases up with each book), we thoroughly enjoyed them. They’re teen books, but who wouldn’t be interested in reading a dystopian tale about an asteroid knocking the moon closer to earth, throwing everything out of whack, and devastating every survivor on the planet? I’m not sure how there isn’t a movie out about this yet.

The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) – Disclaimer: Do not read this book while driving, or in public, for that matter. Best to be read by yourself, locked in a room miles from anyone, so that no one can hear you wailing and weeping when you read the final pages.

Life of Pi (Yann Martel) – If you saw the movie and wasn’t that impressed, pick the book up. You’ll be much more impressed.

The Man in the Box (Andrew Toy) – Having never really been impressed with many suspense/adventure books, I’m not sure I can recommend this one enough. It’s about an average family man who discovers an exciting world inside a cardboard box. The more he goes back to it, the more addicted to it he becomes. After all, wouldn’t any man rather be fighting off monsters and running from titanic panthers rather than enduring yet another argument with his wife or kids? This book is often referred to as a darker Narnia.

Biography/History Readers

Elizabeth the Queen (Sally Bedell Smith) – For anyone interested in learning more about the monarchy, this is the book to go to. (Also recommended: The King’s Speech by Mark Logue.)

Close to Shore (Michael Capuzzo) – The coolest shark book you’ll ever read. Even better than Benchley’s Jaws. 

Rawhide Down (Del Quinten Wilbur) – If you love minute-by-minute retellings of little-known incidents in history, this book will tell you all you need to know about the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce (John Piper)- God, and Christianity has never been a proponent of slavery. Not during Pharaoh’s rule, not during colonial times, and certainly not during the 18th century in Great Britain. Charles Colson raised Wilberforce up as one of his greatest heroes.

Charles Dickens: A Life (Claire Tomalin) – I’m in the middle of this book, and I already know I’ll be returning to it for a second visit very shortly. This is an especially great gift for struggling authors.

My Ideal Bookshelf (Jane Mount and Thessaly La Force) – Can’t decide on a particular book? Then buy 100 bookshelves! This book has book recommendations from well-known actors, poets, artists, authors and more. 

Check out last year’s book recommendations:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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