Jan 16, 2016

Non-Fiction Saturday: Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

As part of our Non-Fiction Saturday feature, Emerson Clauss is sharing his thoughts on another intriguing book. This New York Times best-selling author has written what some would call an unexpected and surprising book as unorthodox as she is. 

Review by Emerson Clauss

ACCIDENTAL SAINTS by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a most interesting book.   It is an easy read; it will pull you in and tweak every emotion you might have, some you weren’t even aware of.
Nadia, at first glance, the least likely (looking) pastor, shares some of her background, stories starting and maintaining a most unconventional church, her strange collection of misfit congregation and will make you laugh as you take it all in.  And this is not a book for just the religious or the disenfranchised; although that seems to be the origin and strength of her church, aptly called:  “House for All Sinners and Saints”.  The stories are human stories, ones that everyone can appreciate.
Without preaching here, Nadia’s book is brash, funny, sometimes vulgar… but always riveting.  I found myself wanting to help her at each turn, as part of this weird church.  You begin to feel like a part of her congregation, setting up tables and chairs for a night of meaningful discussion, some laughs and some plain old “shootin the shit”….
And, as you start reading this, and after looking at her picture on the book jacket; you can only imagine when she approached the church hierarchy to be commissioned her own church, how the heads were spinning, at first.  When she speaks of that same process and of her followers, you begin to understand where Nadia gets her strength and her faith to be doing what she does, with the congregation she collects along the way.   It’s downright inspiring.
I will admit, before reading this book, I had heard her interviewed on a radio show.  She was funny, irreverent and irresistible.  That sent me right out to find and read this book; a small part of her story.  
During the course of reading, I really felt inspired by her outreach and her brutal honesty about that work; her first instincts (which are sometimes not what a pastor would say or do), and the fact she is not perfect and lets us inside her world to see how she copes and which little voices she listens to and acts upon.
Refreshing is what I would call Nadia, her story, her work and her followers.  I found myself wishing I lived closer to her church and could attend; although she probably would lump me with those “straight people” she is not sure what to do with.
We could all learn a few things from this story and Nadia’s work; important lessons about grace, forgiveness and shedding prejudices we all have, to some degree.   To start with, go ahead and read this most enlightening and entertaining book.

To contact Emerson Clauss about this or other reviews email him at: ejclauss@gmail.com
ACCIDENTAL SAINTS: Finding God in all the Wrong People (Hardcover)
Author: Nadia Bolz-Weber
Publisher: Convergent Books
Publshed: September 2015
Length: 224 pp
Source: Purchased

Jan 5, 2016

The View From Prince Street by Mary Ellen Taylor (Alexandria Series #2)

THE VIEW FROM PRINCE STREET is the second book in Mary Ellen Taylor's Alexandria Series that's full of history and family secrets, some dating back to the 1700's and others not nearly as old.  This is the continuing story of three families; the Shires, the McDonald's and the Smyth's, and how their pasts have forever linked them to each other. The first book, AT THE CORNER OF KING STREET, was more about the Shire family and it's history, especially how the women of that family tended to suffer from a curse that we now acknowledge as mental illness. In this new book, the story centers mainly around the McDonald and Smyth families, the the Shires are in the story as well. 

Rae McDonald has a reputation as being a cold, unemotional woman. Not unfriendly, just reserved and very private. She has a successful career but is not married and has no family left. She lives on what's left of the McDonald land that dates back over 300 years, but she struggles with her family's history and what legacy she will leave behind, if any. The discovery of a 'witch bottle' on her property in the previous book raised questions about the first known McDonald's and their journey from Scotland to the Virginia Colonies in the mid 1700's, along with Faith Shire, a woman thought to have been a witch. 

Lisa Smyth has returned to her hometown of Alexandria after getting word that her Aunt Amelia's health is failing and the Dementia she suffers from is invading more and more of her mind. Her plan is to sell the historic home Amelia's family has owned for many generations to pay for the cost of nursing facility Amelia now calls home. Being back in Alexandria means Lisa has to face her demons from seventeen years ago while at the same time hang on to her twelve years of sobriety.  

When Rae McDonald asks Margret McRae, the local historian to look into her family's past, she has no idea what secrets will be revealed but it's something she has to do even if her own secret is brought to light. Many secrets and painful memories for both Lisa and Rae are revealed and both women are forced to confront them head on. 


Since I really enjoyed the first book of the series, I've been looking forward to finding out where the story would go this time around. Alexandria is such an old, interesting city and Mary Ellen Taylor successfully incorporates that history and nostalgia into these books.  As a history buff, I appreciated that aspect.  Like the first book, old letters written by one of Rae's ancestors were used to tell the historical part of the story. The letters were short but very relevant to the more current storyline without being a distraction. 

There are quite a few characters and at first it was a little difficult to keep everyone's connections
straight, but that very quickly resolved itself and wasn't a problem. The cast is developing nicely without being overwhelming. MET has even brought characters from her Union Street Bakery Series into this story. All of the players are in some way relative to one another. I haven't read the USB series, but the way they are introduced here, it doesn't matter. They are all very genuine characters with flaws and quirks that make them very believable. One of my favorite characters is Margaret, the historian. I love her open and funny personality and the way she effortlessly makes everyone feel at ease whenever she is around.

I feel this is a solid second installment with so many good relationships to build on in the future. There's a lot of substance to these stories that deal with serious topics such as alcoholism, mental illness, and adoption to name a few. MET writes about these sensitive subjects with the perfect amount of finesse that they require. I look forward to finding out what direction she will go in with the next book and I will definitely keep reading.  As a bonus,  along with some of the characters from the Union Street Bakery series, she has included a couple of cookie recipes at the end of the book that were featured in this story. One in particular, the Lemon Polenta cookie, I plan on making myself very soon. I'll let you know how they turn out!

Series: Alexandria Series, Book 2
Author: Mary Ellen Taylor (@METbooks)
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: January 5, 2016
Length: 352 pp (Paperback)
Source: NetGalley