Category Archives: @ashertopia

Best American Comics 2010

Coming in late September is the most recent edition of the Best American Comics series, this time guest edited by Neil Gaiman, writer extraordinaire of such excellent reads as Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett,) and the historic The Sandman comic, among others. The Best American Comics series is a long running series that showcases the editor’s picks for the most notable comics of the year, be they short stories, graphic novels, periodical so-called funnies. This year’s edition is notoriously eclectic.

The Best American Comics 2010
Edited by Neil Gaiman, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
2010

Readers should be warned that if they are expecting a collection of complete works they will be disappointed. This collection showcases writers and artists by whetting the appetite through short stories and short to mid-length excerpts Most of the excerpts are available for purchase in their entirety if the reader is interested in completing the story.

The Good: The Lagoon excerpt was inexplicable and completely enthralling and enjoyable. The Alcoholic, a story about coming to terms after 9/11, was troubling and touching. Asterios Polyp was excellent, the art style and frequently jumping story left me wanting more. Lobster Run, an anime influenced relationship comic is too short! Norman Eight’s Left Arm is visually striking and the dialogue was unexpectedly fun. The excerpt from Scott Pilgrim v the Universe is noteworthy in that the source material looks so unlike (read “superior,”) the recently released movie.

The Bad: The shortness and randomness of the excerpts. The excerpt from Omega the Unknown, for instance, is only chapter 7 and as such I found myself completely at a loss for what was going on or why I should care. It was a poor decision by the editors, in my opinion, to lead off the book with that comic (and possibly with chapter 7.) If I were previewing this book at a local store I doubt I would have gone further. Cest N’est Pas Una Comic while admittedly a retrospective seemed dated and done before. Ditto The War on Fornication. American Elf (also dated, literally, as November 2007,) was uninteresting and unfunny. ACME Novelty Library looked great but some of the frames and text are so small that it is nearly impossible to read. Also, many of the indie comics reflected a completely liberal bias. In a collection of the so-called best American comics why were there no conservative-leaning artists? I don’t mind the liberal bent, but a more well rounded collection would have felt more representative of the “best.”

The only struggle I have with recommending this book to readers is in deciding who to recommend it to. It seems to me that true fans of indie comics will already be familiar with many if not most of these writers and artists so this book isn’t necessarily for them except as a part of their Best American Comics collection. I’m also not sure if this book is for those who enjoy mainstream comics either as there aren’t superheroes and the expected world saving scenarios and those readers may find themselves bored with the mundane art styles and story lines. In the end, I find myself recommending this book to only those who are interested but not familiar with indie comics but aren’t interested in paying for several collections that they may find that they do not enjoy. This is a perfect preview of what the indie comics world has to offer.

If you are that person, then I recommend this book wholeheartedly. If you are not, you may well find yourself scratching your head and wondering why you just spent $23.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Originally Published at BuddyHollywood.com

Start Here by Alex and Brett Harris

In their first book, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, twin authors Alex and Brett Harris set out to prove to teens (and the world) that being exceptional doesn’t have an age requirement. The book called teens to a life of high expectations NOW. Too often, they say, teens are not expected to do anything or be anything and they live down to those expectations. The book is revolutionary and timely. In this follow-up, the Ross twins – younger brothers of Joshua Harris of Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters
fame – provide real world examples of how to do those hard things, providing testimonials and giving ideas on how each teen reader – really, any reader – can find their God given purpose. It is exceptional that these two brothers have not only become best selling authors, but also speakers through their Rebelution tours, which serve to set out the high expectation cry for teens and their parents and ministry leaders everywhere. As I wrote that sentence I had to fight to not show my bias proving that I too have low expectations for teens and am therefor part of the problem. Why shouldn’t teens be authors and speakers? Is it really more beneficial for a teen to read a book written by older people? (The same people that admit that they don’t understand teens?) Is it odd that teens who have a message should share that message with other teens? Women’s ministers are generally women, right? Married Couple counselors are generally married successfully. Low expectations for teens abound.

As such, I cannot recommend this book (and their previous book) more highly. The church must find a way to break the cycle of low expectations – ministers and parents and teens. The book is easy to read, full of interesting stories and more importantly, full of information on how to do hard things. This book is the first step to a life of significance.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Voice New Testament

Storytellers get listened to, preachers get ignored. That’s the way it is – especially with non-believers. This essential truth is changing the landscape of Christianity by addressing the needs of unbelievers to understand first prior to believing.

Consider Jesus and Paul. One thing we sometimes forget about Paul is that, in his letters, he is always speaking to already-believing Christians and since we have only his letters we only know Paul by his straight forward doctrinal teaching so we too easily assume that he only taught that way. But when the Bible talks about Paul preaching he uses the same method Jesus did: stories. “I notice you’ve got a statue to an unknown god. Let me tell you who that is…” Jesus taught in stories. He took the Old Testament and made it fresh for his audience. That’s what the Voice is trying to do.

The writers of the Voice have added (in italics) explaining phrases to existing passages to help readers understand what the Bible is saying. This has been done before with the Amplified Bible, and with interpretations like the Message. What I liked most about the Voice, and how I believe it stands out, is that it took great pains to make the story come alive. (The book of John is by far the best example with inserted commentary by a fictional John in the first person.) It is important to point out that the Voice doesn’t shy away from hot topics (Roman’s prohibition on homosexuality is very clear, for instance.)

This is a clear, easy to read and understand interpretation and translation of the Bible. One that I liked so much I gave to a non-believer friend of mine to study. Highly recommended.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

When Heaven Comes Down by Che Ahn

What drew me to this book was the promise of accounts of “firsthand experience of revival around the world.” By nature a skeptic, I want to believe more than anything! I want to see God’s face. One of my favorite verses in scripture is Mark 9:24, when a boy says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” I sometimes feel overburdened with knowledge about God and lacking (and craving) intimacy with God but not always knowing how to get that. Che Ahn does provide personal stories about encounters with God, but ultimately, I think he misses the mark by focusing – I think – wrongly on what he calls the Glory of God.

Ahn’s thesis is that we can invite God’s Glory (yes, capitalized) and in so doing invite supernatural healing, interaction, and intimacy. I found, however, that his evidence was anecdotal at best. On pages 62 – 68 he gives several stories of healing and even raising someone from the dead. But in none of these instances is there any detailed proof or evidence other than Che Ahn’s word. It isn’t that I think he is lying, but if this book was written to those who do not already agree with him – those like me who are seeking intimacy – then he failed as those who do not already agree with him are too skeptical to change their minds based upon the word of an author they don’t personally know. In fact, in one situation that really stuck with me was where he prayed for a person injured and looking dead from a car accident. Ahn admits that the man was not dead but does nothing to dissuade onlookers from thinking that when the man moved he was raised from the dead! It is that kind of trickery that I am disillusioned with.

Overall, an interesting look through the eyes of a very charismatic preacher into the world as he sees it, but not anything that brought me closer to intimacy with God. Ultimately, I believe the book failed to live up to its promise to show me how I could experience the Glory of God.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Closer by Jim and Cathy Burns

Like many couples, my wife and I have read through – or at least started – many devotionals. Some are simple one-pagers that don’t bring much more than a kind of mini-sermon, while others like Closer give much more. Each of the 52 devotions has Bible reading, a quick story illustration, and then poignant questions that prompt discussion.

I found that working through the devotions with my wife that the book was really just a jumping off point. We spent much more time on the discussion questions. In this way, Closer was very successful in drawing me and my wife together.

The one part of the book that didn’t make a lot of sense to me was in only doing 52 devotions, one per week. If you are like me, even if you are busy, you probably want to do a devotion daily. I found that my wife and I would go through a new so-called weekly devotion each day. I understand that the authors did this so that they wouldn’t burden those of us with limited time, but I felt that a simpler 30 or 60 devotion span would have been easier for users who wanted to do devotions daily or over a period of time. And let’s face it – most of us don’t do this every day anyway.

Overall a good devotional. Not too heavy and not too light. Something that you can do every day or once a week. Above all, though, it is a great jumping off point for conversation – which is what really draws couples closer.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Love & War by John and Stasi Eldredge

All too often in our society we conform to the lie that marriage will inevitably fail as, after all, all good things come to an end. But that isn’t how it’s supposed to be. It is supposed to last a lifetime. The vows are supposed to mean what the words do, not what we pour into the words. In John and Stasi Eldredge’s book I found a message that transcends the societal pressures, and lives up to its message that the best things in life, like marriage, are hard work but not only worth it but exciting and rewarding.

Drawing generously on their previous works, the Eldredge’s offer an honest look at marriage from the perspective that they share that we humans are made male and female on purpose with unique needs and desires. This isn’t Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – we aren’t talking about language barriers and differences that separate. We are talking about the way that the sexes compliment each other when understood correctly. What I liked most about this book was the honest and open peek inside this marriage that most likely assumed was always and would always be perfect. After all, they literally wrote the book(s) on the sexes! But what I found was a marriage that in many ways mirrored mine. The early struggles, the tough choices, coming to the edge of choosing to quit. The Eldredges opened themselves up to the reader and I can’t see a relationship that wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

For Valentines day, this year or any, you could give flowers or material goods or you could give a book like this one that says to your spouse that you are in it for life. Highly recommended.

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Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Tea With Hezbollah by Ted Dekker

Ted Dekker along with Carl Medearis, his guide, and Samir, their man with the contacts, travel from Egypt to Syria and many points in between in an effort to sit with many of the ideologues of the Muslim world. The authors state that the goal is to find out what the important Muslims at each of the stops, be them Hamas or Hezbollah or unaffiliated (officially) think about Jesus’ teaching on loving our neighbors as ourselves. Dekker calls the book a travelogue and it is a fitting description as the book documents their travels in the Middle East, more than actually deals with the issue at hand, which is to say that the question of how important Muslim thinkers and influencers think Jesus’ teaching fits with their agenda and actions. Each of the conversations that Dekker has with each of the Muslim leaders is shared verbatim in transcript form so that there can be no issue of out of context quotes or agenda driven choices of quotes.

There are parts of this book that are absolutely fascinating. The history and perspectives were, in many cases, completely new to me even though I consider myself well read on current issues. On occasion, Dekker would go into depth on the history of a specific area and how the temples to such and such god were taken over by the Jews, then the Christians, then the Muslims. I also found the transcripts to be fascinating in that I gained insight into the background and character of those being interviewed. Unfortunately, I found that the book didn’t actually answer the question posed in the introduction.

I found most of Dekker’s worrying about going into the dangerous areas to be whiny. I get that he was scared, but he went for a book so I found that I didn’t connect emotionally with his plight. If he had gone for a more altruistic reason I may have cared more. I also found the story of Nicole to be distracting. Sure it was an interesting aside, but I read this book to hear from the leaders of the Muslim world about the idea that we are called to love our enemies and I just didn’t get that. In fact, the biggest let down in the book were the interviews. Dekker had an opportunity to discuss non-violence and love with very influential Muslims and he spent most of the interview asking inane questions like, “What is a joke that makes you laugh?” and “What kind of car do you drive?” The important questions came only at the end and little or no follow-up was made to them. I understand that Dekker is trying to humanize our so-called enemies so that we can do a better job in loving them, but I felt at times that humanizing them with the shallow questions did less to answer our concerns than to fill the pages of a book. An interesting read that ultimately fails to deliver on its promise.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Joshua Harris takes the well known, but not well understood, parable of the builder (who builds his home on the sand vs the builder who builds his home on the rock under the sand) and applies it in a rich and insightful way to our understanding of Christian doctrine and theology. Dug Down Deep calls the reader to a deeper understanding of Christianity; to the why not just the what of our belief. It is a call to a firm foundation that will lead to a revived love for and appreciation of God. Each of the chapters in the book, after the first couple which serve to introduce us to the topic, go into greater depth on a specific orthodox theology, explaining why it matters and how we apply that knowledge to our walk with Christ.

In reading this book I found a balance between head knowledge and its affect on heart. Too many times I have seen someone go to the extreme on either side. I’ve seen people go too far to knowledge side where they know so much about God but they may not actually know God, and I’ve seen the opposite where people experience God but have no idea what their experiences mean. This book is a great resource for those in your life (including yourself) that fit into one of those categories.

Highly recommended.

John Ankerberg and Jimmy DeYoung come together to create “Israel Under Fire: The Prophetic Chain of Events That Threatens the Middle East,” a book that promises to explain the Biblical predictions concerning the current events in Israel, how what happens in Israel affects the rest of the world, and answers the age old question, “Will there ever be peace in the Middle East.” To come to these answers Ankerberg and DeYoung interview – on location in Israel and the Middle East – many of the policy makers and experts who would be close to the situation, such as, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel and Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of the Knesset in Israel.

Ankerberg and DeYoung are less authors than interviewers for much of the book (and interviewees, as I will explain.) The authors claim that the book will answer questions and give a Biblical basis for the current events in Israel. To accomplish these goals the authors provide a brief history how the modern state of Israel came to be and what exactly is currently happening in Israel. On these points, I found that the authors were successful. Unfortunately, this was only one part of the book.

In the second part of the book, the authors interview current world leaders and here is where I feel the book goes awry. I had two issues here. First, the authors advertise on the back cover that they interview Adnan Husseini, Yasser Arafat’s cousin and Palestinian Authority spokesman. While, it is true, it is a little misleading as he is one of three world leaders advertised yet he appears in only one very short section with only a couple of questions, while the others leaders, Jewish pundits exclusively, are interviewed extensively. This is far from balanced coverage.

Second, the authors didn’t just interview pundits they agreed with – they also interviewed each other. I understand that the authors may be experts in a field but their opinions should be bolstered by other expert’s opinions, statistics, reports and the like. Author’s opinions should not be proved by their own opinions. The issue of lack of documentation and proof isn’t just relegated to their opinions in interviews. Unfortunately, the authors take comments and opinions from pundits they agree with for granted, moving right past controversial quotes that cry out for data that reinforces the opinion. The only reference in the book to an outside source (other than the Bible) is on page 156 (of 174).

In the third section of the book, the authors attempt to tie current events with Biblical prophecy. I would expect that anyone, after reading this book, even someone who has no experience with Biblical prophecy or current events, would be able to walk away understanding the “prophetic chain of events that threaten the Middle East.” What I found in this section, though, was confusion. To explain a complicated book like Revelation, I would expect we would start at the beginning and work our way through the (purported) time line from start to finish. I would expect that current events would be tied in to the timeline to show how the events fit into the puzzle. I would expect that the authors would show how these events work together to fulfill prophecy. Unfortunately, Ankerberg and DeYoung did not make a convincing connection for me.

While I did find the first section of the book interesting, this book left me unsatisfied in my search for connections between current events and Biblical prophecy. Revelation itself is already difficult to understand and I found the authors didn’t accomplish their goal of making it accessible and understood by the reader.

As much as I would have liked to, I cannot recommend this book to anyone but Bible prophecy buffs.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhahn

Like Shaunti Feldhahn’s previous works, the Male Factor is commentary based on surveys. I was introduced to Feldhahn’s work through For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women, which I found to be very helpful in understanding my wife and her needs. And though I am a man interested in women, I also read For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men to see how accurate I found the survey information to be. I found that Feldhahn was spot on and the surveys incredibly insightful. Now with this book, we get the same insightful information but based on surveys focused on the work environment instead of the home.

As a man in the business world I found that the survey was right inline with how I see the workplace and / or how I know that my male peers do. I imagine that if a woman was to read this book and implement some of the suggestions that they would immediately find their male peers much easier to work with and her job much more enjoyable. (In the same way, I look forward to the upcoming partner book, which will focus on how males can function better at work with females.) Interestingly, this book also sheds light on some of the weaknesses in the way that men function, and while reading I found that I could benefit from changing my worldview as well.

Another solid book that I recommend to all business people, male or female.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Rose Conspiracy by Craig Parshall

J.D. Blackstone is perfect. Well, except that he can’t sleep. He has multiple degrees, knows everything, is in great shape, rich, a professor and lawyer. He drives a Maserati convertible. He has an attractive partner at the law firm and soon after the start of the book he has an attractive and very interested defendant. If this book was somehow filmed in black and white J.D. couldn’t have been more stereotyped.

The damsel in distress. The forgetful professor of religion (he forgets when he dropped off his dry cleaning. Really?) The tough P.I. who can get any information you need with just a few calls to his contacts. Everyone in this book is a stereotype! And yet, I found that I enjoyed the book.

This crime drama is fast paced, detailed and fun. The Booth diary and the Freemasons make for a fun setting for this mystery. Are we ever very surprised? Not really. But that’s something we can say of nearly every crime / courtroom show on TV yet we watch those.

The Rose Conspiracy is an enjoyable diversion that keeps the reader interested throughout.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.