Book Review: The Dinner Diaries by Betsy Block

Feeding a family. Raising healthy eaters. Topics I’m passionate about. Even while I was still working on my degree, I knew that helping mothers feed their families and raise healthy eaters was what I wanted to do as a career. I made that the focus of my graduate work. After a stint in long term care, I moved to WIC, where I was able to live my dream (at least as far as career goes.)

Subtitled “Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World”, Betsy Block’s book should be right up my alley, right?


I should have known from the blurb on the back cover:

“A harried mother of two, Betsy Block is in pursuit of the perfect family meal: local, toxin-free, humane, and healthful.”

But the book was in a Dewey Decimal category I was trying to close and I figured “how bad can it be?”

Pretty bad.

Betsy Block’s The Dinner Diaries is basically a manual on how NOT to feed a family or raise healthy eaters. In order to save you the work of reading it, allow me to summarize the main points.

Tip 1: Start with all the wrong priorities

It’s no mistake that “healthful” is last on the list of Block’s priorities a la the back of the book. In reality, her definition of “healthful” is suspect enough that you might as well knock it off the list. Block is all about the local (which has very little impact on health), toxin-free (the American food supply, with the exception of methyl-mercury containing fish, is actually one of the safest in the world), and humane/sustainable (an ideological issue but not a health one.) Her couple of concessions to actually health practices include trying to eat less sugar and (at the very end of the book) attempting to eat more whole grains.

If you’d rather actually have some success at feeding a family or raising healthy eaters, I recommend starting with priorities that will actually help you achieve health. Try: increasing fruit and vegetable intake (no, it doesn’t have to be fresh – frozen or canned are fine), increasing variety (of protein sources, vegetables, starches, you name it – variety is good), sitting down together as a family to eat (even for snacks), having sweets around less frequently and subbing fruit instead, or experimenting with forms of cooking other than frying. I can give you more suggestions if you’d like, but those are some of the biggies.

Tip 2: Lecture your children about food

There’s nothing like a good guilt trip to help kids form a healthy attitude toward food, amiright?

Okay, no.

But Block seems to think it’s a great idea. She lectures about all those wrong priorities, lectures when kids won’t eat something, lectures when kids do eat something. She sets up learning opportunities for herself (like going to see a pig that she’s later going to eat) and leaves the children behind lest it be too tense for them – not that she won’t lecture them about it when she gets home. When her daughter asks to help cook, Betsy asks if that means her daughter will eat what they prepare. When her daughter says “probably not”, Betsy declines the offer of help.

If you’d like your children to actually develop a healthy attitude toward food, start by modeling healthy attitudes towards food yourself (by the way, Block’s obsessive interest in “perfect” food isn’t healthy.) Eat in moderation. Eat a variety. Don’t obsess over food (either in a “I must have sweets now” or in a “my diet must be absolutely healthy all the time” way).

If you’d like your children to develop a healthy attitude toward food, involve them in selecting and preparing food. Preschoolers will love searching for a red vegetable at the supermarket. Kids can learn to cook early on. Gardening or going to a farm to see how food is made is a great activity for kids. BUT…not as a way to coerce your kids into eating something. That’s Betsy’s mistake. She read that when kids cook with their families, they’re more likely to eat what they make – so she thought she could coerce her daughter into eating by letting her help cook. Letting your child cook isn’t a one-time magic bullet to healthy eating. Instead, it’s a process by which children develop positive associations with food, take ownership of food (in a healthy way), and learn skills that will help them eat well when they decide that they’re willing to try eating asparagus.

If you’d like your children to develop a healthy attitude toward food, move the conversation from nutrition to habits. Dina Rose’s excellent website It’s not about nutrition is a great resource for changing the way families talk about food. The gist of Rose’s message is to start talking about proportion, variety, and moderation (Check out this article for more info.) Changing the conversation makes a real difference, both in helping kids eat healthfully, but also in helping them think healthfully about food.

In the very first chapter of Betsy Block’s book, she writes of a nutritionist who refused to work with her because of her emphasis on organic foods. Block was shocked that organic foods were controversial. Except that to call the “health benefits” of organic controversial is putting it mildly. Despite many attempts to prove otherwise, there is no compelling evidence that organic foods are more nutrient-rich or more safe than conventionally grown ones. It’s fine for people to eat organic, but they’re fooling themselves if they think that organic = healthy. Block’s choice to focus on secondary issues instead of primary ones meant that her memoir is a recounting of an exercise in frustration, accomplishing next to nothing in terms of changing her children’s habits and attitudes regarding food.

The nutritionist who ended up working with Block (although we only hear about her in the first chapter) did a good job of trying to get Block to focus on some actually beneficial eating practices (unfortunately, she did not address the task of how to communicate with children about food) – but it was all for naught. Block would not be dissuaded from her ill-informed search for dietary perfection and from her agenda of changing her children’s eating patterns by coersion. I think the first nutritionist made a wise choice.

Please, people, don’t be Betsy.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Food memoir
Synopsis: Betsy Block tries to make over her family mealtimes.
Recommendation: Ugh. No.

Book Review: It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather B. Armstrong

Just to show how un-blog-savvy I am, I had no idea who Heather B. Armstrong was until I read a news article (by chance) about how famous people were leaving social media. Armstrong was cited as an example. Apparently, she was fired from a job for talking unfavorably about her workplace on her blog – and then became a wildly successful “mommy blogger.”

Even having read this article, I had completely forgotten who Armstrong was by the time I picked up her book (maybe a week later?) because it was in a Dewey Decimal section I was working my way through (306.8743 – mostly memoirs or sociological treatments of motherhood). It wasn’t until I saw “creator of” under her name that I remembered the article I’d read.

So I entered this memoir of motherhood with few preconceptions.

First impressions: Heather Armstrong is NOT A MORMON. This is the defining feature of her life. Every page of this memoir screams out her insistence that she is NOT A MORMON any longer. Even if her family is all Mormon and she lives in Utah and she went to BYU. She is NOT A MORMON any longer. Lest anyone start thinking she’s a Mormon mommy blogger and uncool, she must remind them that she drinks alcohol (NOT A MORMON!), listens to cool bands at cigarette-smoke-filled bars (where all the other people in Salt Lake City who are NOT A MORMON! are), curses like a sailor (NOT A MORMON!), and doesn’t wear holy underwear (NOT A MORMON!)

Hearing Armstrong declare (implicitly and explicitly) that she is NOT A MORMON! was exhausting. I wanted her to tell me something about who she was that would make me like her. Does she have interests, beliefs, passions, personality traits of her own? I couldn’t tell. It seemed like she only stood against, never for. Yes, plenty a memoirist drinks, goes to live concerts in bars, curses, and dresses immodestly – and sometimes I still manage to like them. But in order for me to like an alcohol-obsessed, rock-concert-going, cussing, immodest memoirist, they have to tell me something real about themselves – about who they ARE, not just who they AREN’T. I wasn’t a fan.

And then there was Armstrong’s tendency towards hyperbole. She just positively eats up her baby – slathers her with butter and jam and eats her up. And motherhood is absolutely the most awful thing ever and she throws things at her husband when he walks in the door from work because he’s done something other than try to entertain a baby all day and how dare he get her pregnant in the first place. Motherhood is awful, awful, awful, she says (and then goes off on eating her baby again.)

The thing is, nothing she was describing about her own situation sounded that awful to me. Her baby smiled at her at one month. Her baby slept through the night (12 hours!) at three months. My baby didn’t smile at me until three months and still hasn’t slept twelve hours. Armstrong complained about naptimes and how they have to be just right and blah-blah-blah-blah. My baby gave up napping the same time she started sleeping eight hours (about 3 weeks ago). But you don’t see me whining and complaining that it sucks and then I cried. Yes, I probably complain more than I ought – but I also recognize that this is how life with a baby goes, so sometimes I stop my whining and just do what needs to be done.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered somewhere around month six of Baby Armstrong’s life that Armstrong has actually been clinically depressed all this time and is now checking herself into a psychiatric hospital because she’s afraid her husband will leave her if she doesn’t get a grip on things!

What? She’s not just a whiner? Something is actually wrong with her? See, I assumed that all the awfulness of her really-not-very-awful experience caring for a new baby was hyperbole to balance out all that hyperbole about sweet-smelling baby whose smiles seem straight from heaven-that-I-don’t-believe-in and who I eat up every day with a side of caramel sauce.

Maybe that’s saying more about me than about her. But I think maybe it also says something about her writing. She couldn’t tell her story well enough that I could figure out that she was experiencing something more than just what every mother experiences?

So, yeah. I wasn’t a fan.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Memoir of motherhood
Synopsis: Armstrong is NOT A MORMON. Turns out, she’s not just a crazy hyperbolist who whines more than is necessary. She’s actually suffering from rather severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Bummer she couldn’t have somehow communicated that to the reader before she commits herself to a psychiatric hospital.
Recommendation: Nothing redeeming in this one. Skip it.

Book Review: Almost Green by James Glave

I found it amongst the library’s construction-related books, so I must have known, when I picked it up, that James Glave’s Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6th of a Billionth of the Planet was about building. But by the time I got around to reading it, I had forgotten.

By that time, I thought maybe it was a generic “how I learned to be green” book. Which I don’t mind – it’s always fun to see what other people do to be green (the more potentially ridiculous, the better – solar cookers, composting toilets, peeing on your garden…)

The prologue, in which the author waxes eloquent about how he hates that he drives an SUV (but still does it anyway), had a paragraph explaining what the book was actually going to be about – so I did get some warning. I also learned, by the end of the prologue, that I dislike the author.


Because in the prologue, the author reveals that

  • He cusses. I consider cussing to be a sign of lack of intelligence – and that cussing in writing, where you have time and opportunity to choose your words carefully, is a sign of lack of writing ability.
  • He is apocalyptic. He believes in anthropogenic global warming (I am skeptical about the “anthropogenic” part) – but I expected that. What I have a hard time tolerating (whether by environmentalists or by Christians) is apocalytic thinking: “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Glave writes: “You probably already know that global warming presents the single greatest threat to humanity in all of history and the most profound challenge we face as a civilization.” Let’s just say I don’t know that and I can think of much greater threats and much more profound challenges.
  • He’s an eco-consumer. He states he was predisposed against “Eco Chic” (buying cool new “green” things) – but then clearly buys into, well, buying things. My own brand of environmentalism is all about avoiding waste – and Glave already reveals that he’s drunk the consumer-mentality Koolaid.

The body of the book got a little more interesting (to me) because the author was talking about his building process, about building materials, about home positioning and insulation and window e-values. And since Daniel and I are in the process of building our own home, that sort of thing is interesting to me.

But even as the body of the book became more interesting, my dislike for Glave remained.


  • He makes excuses. He says that global warming presents “the single greatest threat to humanity in all of history”, but then he makes all sorts of excuses for why he can’t possibly do the things that he knows would be best for avoiding that threat (for instance, live in a smaller space.) Now, I know there are plenty of things I could do to be more green – and I’ve made choices that aren’t the greenest. But I don’t think the world is ending because of my choices. I’m not weighing “keeping my kids occupied with lots of plastic and electronics in a too-large house” versus “the end of humanity” and choosing keeping my kids occupied with lots of plastic and electronics in a too-large house.
  • He makes poor trade-offs. Okay, so Glave is committed to making his studio very eco-friendly – and that’s great. He knows that trade-offs will have to be made. Unfortunately, the trade-offs he makes are not pulling his weight with family finances (he was supposed to bring in a certain amount of business with his writing, but slacked on that as he became consumed with his building project) and spending money that he and his wife had budgeted for other things (telling his wife after the decision had already been made). In my opinion, a green studio isn’t worth that price. (But…but…we discover at the end that he has found himself! And surely, self-discovery is worth failing to provide for your family, going back on your word, and being silently deceptive with your wife. Surely!)
  • He’s a chronological snob. He claims that heritage-style homes (made with old-timey features) are the ruination of the earth, stating that “Victorians had different priorities” and implying that historical building is by nature non-green. But he obviously never bothered to study the history of architecture or why homes have been built the way they were in the past. Yes, olden-days homes didn’t have styrofoam insulation or double-pane argon-filled glass – but they were built with local (often sustainable) materials, were designed to maximize heat retention in the winter and coolness in the summer, and were generally designed on a much smaller scale than we build today. (Yes, we see the big houses that remain – but even those were often not as big as we think, especially once we calculate how many people were living in each of those big houses.)
  • He calls those of us who prefer to minimize waste (and avoid the consumer race) “sanctimonious” – as in, “the more sanctimonious greens love to crow about the energy and emissions that go into manufacturing a new vehicle.” And after he’s spent an entire book looking down on his neighbors, his father-in-law (who gave his family the SUV mentioned in the prologue), and pretty much everyone as being not as green as he is – that feels like a slap in the face.

No. I don’t recommend this book. I think the author is a jerk.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Green building Memoir
Synopsis: The author describes the process of building a “green” studio in his yard.
Recommendation: I don’t recommend this. The author is a jerk.

Book Review: Didn’t I Feed You Yesterday? by Laura Bennett

Laura Bennett is (apparently) best known as a contestant on “Project Runway” – I wouldn’t know since I’ve never seen that show and had never heard of Bennett until I started reading her book. But while Didn’t I Feed You Yesterday? does spend a chapter detailing Bennett’s “Project Runway” experience, the book is really about the adventures of raising six kids in New York City.

Now, if you started to think that this was a book of parenting tips from an experienced parent, you’d be absolutely wrong. Even if she had tried to give advice (which she thankfully doesn’t), you wouldn’t want to take it. Laura Bennett isn’t a professional mommy like New York is rumored to be teaming with (which is a mark in her favor). But neither is she a free-range mom or some other sensible variant. No, Laura’s parenting could be best described as… Well, come to think of it, I have no idea how to describe her parenting – except to maybe say that she doesn’t parent. At least, not in the way you or I think of parenting.

She doesn’t watch her kids, feed her kids, or clean up after her kids. Those tasks are relegated to the two nannies (a morning and an afternoon nanny), the (weekend) “manny”, and her husband’s housekeeper. She doesn’t intentionally teach or discipline her children. She apparently makes no rules for her children, exercises little decision making over their activities (apart from making sure that each child has an activity that they’re into and helping pay the bills for the accompanying classes, camps, etc.), and otherwise does little that I think of as motherly oversight. Well, she does attend their class plays and helps out with homework assignments that involve hot glue guns.

Maybe I’m too harsh on Bennett. Probably I’m too harsh on Bennett. The reality is that raising six kids in the city is very different than raising six kids in the suburbs. As Bennett points out, simply ferrying the kids to and from school and to activities (which are necessary because there’s no yard to send them into) is practically a full time job. And raising six kids in a loft appartment is very different than raising six kids in a suburban ranch. And raising six kids when you have a career is different than raising six kids as a full-time homemaker. This is true. Bennett’s reality is very different than the environment in which I was raised or the environment in which I am raising my own daughter.

But Bennett doesn’t try too hard to get me to identify with her, mentioning her Manolos again and again, complaining about cold or wet weather, or talking of the torture of three weeks with her children at home AND her M/nannies gone.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this recital of crazy anecdotes about her family, reading with the same fascination I’d feel towards monkeys gamboling about in the zoo. She thought she’d just burn the Christmas tree after Christmas! In their living room! Still in the stand! She taught her child that “bitch” was a feminine term and “bastard” a male – so he could correct the troublemaker who called him a “bitch”! She went with her (now) husband on a safari to Kenya as their second date!

She’s insane.

She’s also funny, if you can get past the crudeness.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Parenting memoir/humor
Synopsis: Bennett tells about her crazy life, raising six kids in New York City.
Recommendation: Probably not worth seeking out.

Book Review: Cut, Stapled, and Mended by Roanna Rosewood

The first chapter includes a sex scene, bodily possession, and a token reference to “a woman’s right to choose”. So I think it’s safe to say that Roanna Rosewood and I have very different philosophies of life.

The rest of this VBAC memoir confirmed that. From the beginning I was inclined to not like Rosewood very much. I felt somewhat heartened when she told the reader that though she’d been raised in the mystic spirituality of the hippy 60’s, she had considered it useless as an adult – but she quickly found that particular brand of spirituality again. Rosewood also has a antipathy towards doctors that transferred from her hippy heritage – one that I don’t share (I’m squarely in the Western medical establishment – I just believe that for the majority of cases, childbirth is not a medical event.) Furthermore, Rosewood has a complete lack of discernment regarding alternate practitioners.

The short of Rosewood’s story is that she intended to have a homebirth but didn’t prepare her body at all because childbirth is natural and why did she need to learn about it? Her waters broke to start labor, but then labor piddled around for days until her midwife insisted that she did indeed need to go to the hospital. There, she received a c-section. She felt great failure, didn’t bond with her baby, etc. etc. I felt like she set herself up for what she got.

Determined to have a home VBAC, Rosewood threw herself into physical preparation and childbirth education. She learned the stats and became one of those annoying VBAC proponents (yes, I say this with tongue in cheek). She actually learned about the stages of labor and management techniques this time around. She walked like her midwife encouraged her to so she could have some strength and stamina when labor rolled around. And she engaged in every quack therapy you can think of (and some you can’t think of).

Her second labor followed the first’s example, and she ended up with a second c-section. This one was better, because she knew what to expect and had done some things to prepare. She had skin to skin, got started breastfeeding more quickly, etc. But it was still failure.

She didn’t plan to get pregnant the third time, it was an accident born of “goddess sex”. And she didn’t plan on keeping the baby, she just kept putting off taking the Plan B her doctor had prescribed. What she did plan was a home birth, acting expressly against the policy of the OB she was also seeing, in case she needed to deliver in the hospital. This pregnancy actually seemed more medically risky – she bled clots early on and had various other scary signs – but this time she did some inner work in addition to the physical stuff. She discovered that she was a bitter woman who pushed other women away, that she had never learned how to relax and just be, etc. So she went on a voyage of emotional and relational discovery (including a “goddess week” in Hawaii). Then she had a successful home birth when her inner goddess pushed for her.

I don’t recommend this story. Rosewood is a flake. Both her methods and her beliefs are highly suspect.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a takeaway. The truth is, childbirth isn’t simply a physical thing. A woman’s mind and emotions do impact the progression of labor – and it’s important to not ignore that. Relationship with your labor support is important. Having a goal beyond “not failing again” is important.

That said, there are many differences between Rosewood’s sections and mine. I do not feel my c-section was a failure. It was not forced on me, I chose it. While Rosewood experienced a very difficult labor after premature rupture of membranes, I never went into labor. Rosewood’s initial experience of premature rupture of membranes followed by stop and go labor was repeated in each of her pregnancies. At present, I have never gone through labor and have no reason to expect that my labor should not proceed normally.

I will be preparing for my first labor and delivery, which just happens to be after a c-section. Rosewood was trying to correct what she’d done wrong in her first labor and delivery in order to avoid the undesirable outcome she had. It’s a very different experience – and one that causes us to have very different mindsets from the outset.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Childbirth memoir
Synopsis: Rosewood tries for a home VBAC twice – and learns that childbirth isn’t just physical.
Recommendation: I don’t recommend it.

Book Review: Vaginal Birth after Cesarean by Elizabeth Kaufmann

What would you do if you had a cesarean with your first child and just happened to get pregnant with your second child when a national push to lower cesarean rates was forefront in everyone’s mind? Your doctor says you’re a good candidate for vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), your HMO wants to pay less money (and is therefore rooting for vaginal birth), and societal pressure pushes you toward VBAC.

In Elizabeth Kaufmann’s case, she reluctantly agreed to a trial of labor with certain stipulations. The VBAC was successful, but the baby was delivered with forceps and Kaufmann experienced significant tearing.

Then, she wrote Vaginal Birth after Cesarean: The Smart Woman’s Guide to VBAC to keep other women from experiencing the horror of vaginal delivery.

Or at least that’s how this book seems. While Kaufmann does share some potentially useful information regarding cesarean sections, VBACs, and repeat cesareans, every page is infused with her experience and subsequent antipathy toward anyone suggesting that a woman who is a good candidate for VBAC should indeed go through a trial of labor.

Who does Congress, who does the HMO, who does the doctor think they are to tell a woman how she should give birth? Since when should medical standards or money be a factor?

But those are political topics that I won’t go into here.

The part that makes Kaufmann’s book most unhelpful to the modern-day mama who wants information about VBAC isn’t her obvious bias, though. It’s that the world Kaufmann is raging against doesn’t exist.

In 1996, when this book was written, VBAC was supported by medical policy and by insurance companies – and doctors were employing the same active management to VBAC as they were (and still are) to other vaginal deliveries. Women were being induced with Cytotec, Cervidil, and pitocin. Labors that weren’t progressing according to Friedman’s curve (an antiquated description of the labor process based on a significantly different population than today’s moms and describing labor under significantly different circumstances than either normal or currently managed labors) were augmented with Pitocin. Surprisingly (can you hear the sarcasm?), these women whose VBAC attempts were managed thus ended up with increased labor and delivery complications.

And, of course, the good people who write policies decided that meant VBAC wasn’t quite as good an idea as they’d originally thought, so they set new policies in place to make it hard to try a VBAC, much less to succeed at it.

And that’s where we’re at now.

Few women are being coerced by doctors or insurance plans into having unwanted vaginal deliveries. Instead, many women who would love to deliver normally and who have a good chance at being able to, were the natural processes allowed to unfold naturally, are being denied the possibility of VBAC.

So Kaufmann’s book is simply unhelpful. It is written to try to give women who were feeling coerced into VBAC an out – but women aren’t being coerced into VBAC these days. The situation is quite the opposite.

For those who are interested in the history of VBAC, the Well-Rounded Mama has an excellent overview

Rating: 1 star
Category: Medical/childbirth
Synopsis: Kaufmann has a chip on her should and rages against VBAC policies that no longer exist.
Recommendation: Singularly unhelpful for the modern woman interested in learning about VBAC.

Book Review: The Post-Pregnancy Handbook by Sylvia Brown and Mary Dowd Struck

Theoretically, having a book about the after-effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body, mind, emotions, and relationships is a great idea. The authors are right that pregnancy books and childbirth courses spend little time on the topic, and that women might be likely to feel that as soon as they deliver focus shifts to the baby and they get “left behind” to pick up the pieces of themselves without support.

So the idea behind The Post-Pregnancy Handbook is a great one. Unfortunately, the execution was only ho-hum.

When I started reading, I was shocked by the abrupt nature of the first chapter, detailing a variety of complementary and alternative medical approaches without so much as a paragraph of introduction. It was only after I’d started in what looked to be the second chapter that I realized that first section was meant to be a foreword of sorts.

The first non-chapter was a harbinger of what was to come. While there was a fair bit of science in the explanations of what happens to a woman’s body after birth, the proposed solution was often a method with only the most tenuous scientific grounds. When the book addressed emotional or relational topics, it generally couched them in Freudian terms that this reader, at least, found off-putting.

Additionally, with over 300 pages, this book just never ended. And recognize – this is coming from a woman who loves to read and loves to learn about the minute details of the human body. I took human anatomy in college for fun. So my guess is that the average reader would find this book overwhelmingly onerous.

And…to pile on complaints: the authors assume the mother who delivered vaginally will have a episiotomy. They are eternally ambiguous about the appropriate length of breastfeeding, sometimes seeming to encourage a year, other times three months. Their breastfeeding advice was only halfway correct and some of it rather inclined to sabotage successful breastfeeding. They encourage women to wait way too long to begin an exercise program following delivery. And, there is no concluding chapter (I rather like books to have a beginning, a middle, and an end – this had only middle.)

So, this book was a good idea poorly executed. I don’t recommend it.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Health
Synopsis: The authors explain what happens to a woman after pregnancy and how to manage common physical, mental, emotional, and relational difficulties.
Recommendation: A good idea poorly executed

Book Review: “The Diary of Pelly D” by L.J. Adlington

Toni V is just another teen on the demolition crew, working his jackhammer. Day after day he tears up the ruins of City 5 to make way for the new city the general promises.

The rules and regulations say that everything that is found has to be reported. But when Toni V finds a water can with a diary inside, he defies the rules and regulations. He keeps and reads it: The Diary of Pelly D.

Pelly D lives in luxury in City 5. She’s rich, she’s pretty, and she leads the pack at school. Oh–and she has a holographic pool, which is pretty cool.

Pelly D is completely unconcerned about school work or about politics, or really about anything but her own pleasure and popularity–well, except for the little niggling doubts she has about the new gene stamping.

It’s an Atsumisi thing, this “Heritage Clan” thing. According to them, the world is divided into three groups: the haves and the have nots. The haves (Atsumisi and Mazzini) have the gene (even if it’s only turned “on” in the Atsumisi)–the have nots (the Galrezi) don’t.

It starts out innocently, people getting tattoos on their wrists to identify which gene clan they come from. But before long, Pelly D wonders if there might be discrimination on the planet (despite the colonials resolve to not even have a word for discrimination since they were so determined not to let any exist on their new planet.)

I’m not sure what to say about this book. The diary reads a little like Bridget Jones’ Diary (in other words, it’s awful). Reading Pelly D’s self-absorbed rants is painful. It’s a mercy that the author flashes back to Toni V every so often–he’s a breath of fresh air from the drama queen Pelly D.

At the same time, there’s something compelling about this novel. I can see how young adults might enjoy it. And–as far as young adult novels go, it’s relatively clean. There’s some allusions to making out and one not too descriptive sex scene. There’s a divorce that takes second stage to the real storyline. There’s some bullying, some definite rudeness. But it’s not like it’s celebrating deviant behavior.

And the ending. Oh, the ending.

I had to verbally process the entire plot with my little sister after I was done. It was that disturbing.

It was a good disturbing.

The kind that makes you think. The kind that makes you recall history, real events on Earth that resemble the events in the book. The kind that makes you question political correctness and what the world calls peace. The kind that makes you wonder how the evil in the heart of man can be eliminated.

The Diary of Pelly D is bad in that the diary itself is just the sort of thing you’d expect from a self-absorbed queen-of-the-brat-pack teen. The Diary of Pelly D is good in that the story sucks you in and gets you thinking (without you knowing that you’re thinking until you get to the awful, awful end.) It’s good in that the ideas it brings up stick with you, forcing you to grapple with reality.

I’m glad I read it. I’m not quite sure if I recommend it.

Rating:1 Star/5 Stars
Category:YA Dystopian Fiction
Synopsis:Toni V, a postapocalyptic teen, finds the diary of Pelly D–written before the war that ended the world as she knew it.
Recommendation: Decide for yourself. You can see how I had an awfully hard time even giving it stars–the one star is for the painfully insipid Pelly D’s diary writings, the five stars is for the completed effect of the novel.

Book Review: “A is for Adam” by Ken and Mally Ham

I pulled the books off the shelf willy-nilly, eager for some Bible story action from the Dewey Decimal 222s. Like usual, I didn’t stop to look at titles or authors on any of them. After all, I’m going to read every book in that library eventually, right?

When I got home to discover that I had Ken and Mally Ham’s A is for Adam: The Gospel from Genesis in my stack (and saw how big the book was–a whomping 118 pages for a picture book!), my heart sunk a bit.

You see, I’m an adamant creationist–but a creationist of a different breed than the Hams. Most of my encounters with the Ham version of creation has involved bashing those of my opinion–accusing us of compromising Biblical authority, maligning God’s character, and undermining the gospel. Not exactly something that predisposes me to enjoying what he’s written.

What I found left me one part pleasantly surprised and one part frankly disappointed.

I found that the children’s picture book section of the volume focused primarily on the events of Genesis and saved its ire for evolution (rather than picking up the Old Earth-New Earth debate.) I appreciated this show of restraint in focusing on the less disputable matters in Genesis. While there were certainly some elements of the story that read into Scripture what Scripture may not actually be saying, the overall story reflected Orthodox Christian belief regarding creation with little to dispute. I found this pleasantly surprising.

What I did not find pleasant was the clunky grammar and contrived rhyme found throughout the story. I was ready to forgive “B is for Bible, a book God did give” as an awkward attempt to maintain meter. What I can’t forgive is “Like all of the animals, no man did they fear”, “To sleep God did put him, and when he awoke”, “H is for how very sly he did sound”, and so forth. The overuse of the emphatic “did”, generally in an inverted sentence, is deplorable. It is aesthetically awful, a rape of the English language. In this, the book was unequivocally disappointing.

I alluded a bit earlier to “the children’s picture book section” of this book. That’s because this volume is a multipurpose, 3-in-1 extravaganza. First, it contains a children’s picture book with the aforementioned despicable writing accompanied by full color cartoon-like illustrations. The second section consists of commentary and “student exercises” for each of the 26 rhymes found within the children’s picture book. Finally, the book is repeated with the illustrations offered in outline so that children can color the book.

The second section of the book showed little of the restraint that characterized the first. Among other things, the commentary asserts that we can confidently date both the creation of the world and the flood of Noah from the genealogies of Scripture, that Noah’s flood must have been a global flood, that animal death was necessarily a consequence of the fall, and that dinosaurs unequivocally coexisted with humans.

I’d have liked to have liked this picture book, with its mostly indisputable story of creation and its clear emphasis on the gospel as being God’s plan from the beginning. Unfortunately, the combination of bad writing in the picture book portion and the presentation of young earth perspectives as the only Biblically faithful way to interpret Scripture leaves me unable to recommend this book, even in part.

Rating:1 Star
Category:Nonfiction picture book
Synopsis: An A-B-C book detailing the events of creation as interpreted by Young Earth creationist Ham.
Recommendation: Great idea (for the picture book part). Awful writing. Wooden interpretation of Scripture. I don’t recommend it.

If it hadn’t have been too long, I would have subtitled this post “In which I come out of the closet.” I realize that many of my readers likely hold different views than I regarding creation. Please realize that my review of this book as an Old-Earth creationist is not, in any way, meant to be a criticism of New-Earth creationism as such. Rather, my criticism is for the refusal to accept alternate interpretations of the creation account (such as the Day-Age view, to which I subscribe) as orthodox. In other words, I understand and appreciate that others hold to a different interpretation of the events of creation than I do. I do not appreciate the tendency to make the age of the earth a point of doctrinal orthodoxy or to accuse those of a differing viewpoint of not caring about Scriptural faithfulness or gospel truth.

Book Review: “Christianity: A Short Introduction” by Keith Ward

**I’m going on another book review kick, this time sparked by having to return another section of books. Which means I have to get them all reviewed before I forget them!**

Keith Ward’s Christianity: A Short Introduction travels through a collection of Christian doctrines and thought from creation to the nature of the soul to the incarnation to the trinity to the role of art. Each chapter is divided into three sections, in which each section seeks to portray one Christian perspective on the topic at hand.

In general, the three perspectives given are as follows: one perspective is the majority position of historical Christianity (that is, Christianity as reflected by Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Reformation Protestantism), a second perspective represents a minority position among historical Christianity, and a third perspective represents liberal Christianity. (Not that the author makes this distinction. He simply refers to the positions as being “different Christian positions.”)

An example of this trichotomy (except that I’m not sure which of the two historical positions is the majority position) is Ward’s three views on the Bible. The first view is the view of the Bible as inerrant (such that every detail of the Bible is correct). The second view is the view of the Bible as infallible (such that the Bible communicates every “pertinent” detail correctly.) The third view (the liberal view) is that the Bible is an accurate representation of what followers of God believed about God in their own times.

Of course, in suggesting that Ward follows this format of majority historical/minority historical/liberal, I leave out at least two important chapters that DO NOT follow this schema.

For instance, the chapter on the Incarnation presents two liberal views:

  1. Jesus was just a man, but one who the early Christians saw as an “icon” of the Messiah–one who died, but who appeared (in visions given to early Christians) to be raised
  2. Jesus was just a man, but one who was specially gifted by the Holy Spirit such that he “represented” God on earth.

Not having had much exposure to liberal Christianity, I had no idea of the mental gyrations liberal theologians perform in an attempt to still merit the term “Christian”.

It is here, in the theology of the Incarnation, that liberalism completely separates itself from Christianity. It is notable that only one of the three views given on this topic is that of historic Christianity–and the reason is simple.

Christians throughout the ages have united to affirm the Incarnation of Christ as true God and true man–and to condemn all other views as heretical–from ancient times (especially the Council of Chalcedon in 451) onward.

This doctrine of Incarnation is fundamental to the Christian faith–and any faith that calls itself Christian without affirming the doctrine of Incarnation deceives itself.

While the author points out that he doesn’t want the reader to know his position on any of the issues in this book, the mere inclusion of such liberal theology in a book purporting to be an introduction to Christianity indicates that this author has no firm attachment to the historic Christian faith (such as is articulated in the three ecumenical creeds: the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.)

Furthermore, the author’s continuing statements that “some Christians still believe…”, as though Christian thought that is not continually changing is inappropriate, also indicates his derision for the historic Christian faith.

A better title for this book might have been “Religions Calling Themselves Christian: A Short Introduction”–except that, sadly, this author and many others in liberal “Christianity” have deluded themselves into thinking that they are Christians, when in truth they are no such thing.

Rating: 1 star
Category:“Christian” Thought
Synopsis:The author attempts to introduce the reader to Christianity–but ends up doing something less than that since the author’s personal brand of Christianity is not, in fact, Christianity.
Recommendation: As an aspiring theology geek, I enjoyed sharpening my mind on the (often heretical) views of the author–but, as an introduction to Christianity? This is not a good choice.

**Oh, in case any of you were wondering, the second chapter which definitely did not follow the “majority historical/minority historical/liberal (heretical)” format was the chapter on the Trinity. Once again, this is because historical Christianity has always united to affirm the Trinity. (And no matter how hard Ward tries to argue that Modalism is compatible with the historic Christian understanding of the Trinity, he epically fails.)