Monday, September 18, 2017

Tokyo Street Style - Zoé de las Cases

This third coloring book featuring fashion sketches, botanical drawings and Toyko scenes is absolutely charming, with enough variety among the three categories to keep things interesting. The artist, as usual, does not include full faces in her drawings, so the focus is on fashion. It has been my impression that Japanese young women like girlish fashion, sometimes bordering on the juvenile, and this is reflected in this book where clothes and accessories often feature kittens. Some of the clothing includes traditional Japanese touches, such as kimonos and obi belts. Everything is drawn with an emphasis on whimsy. The paper is heavy, and the bright pink cover features drawings in a bright yellow. The yellow ribbon bookmark can help you keep your place, and the pink elastic band originating on the back cover can hold the book shut, protecting the heavy, but not hard, cover. I love the work of Zoé de las Cases and hope she will continue to feature major cities and their fashion. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Truth Doesn’t Have a Side by Dr. Bennet Omalu

Having seen Concussion and having seen and read League of Denial, I was eager to read Bennet Omalu’s personal account of discovering Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and the price the National Football League made him pay. For the most part, his account did not disappoint, although a time or two, there were a few too many personal details. If you don’t know about CTE, this book is a good starting place, as it starts at the beginning, with Omalu’s biography, providing the basis of understanding why he was exactly the right, or wrong, scientist, depending on your viewpoint. His background also explains why he had an open mind, which he thinks is a large part of the reason he was the one to discover CTE. The one aspect of Omalu’s life not covered by other sources is his walk with God. His own book gives a clear narration of his belief that God led him each step of the way, at times providing miracles that allowed Omalu to remain in America and do his work. This was particularly refreshing to read. Omalu’s story is not yet finished, and it will be interesting to follow his career to see what impact his research will have on saving people from CTE. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Friday, September 8, 2017

New York Street Style - Zoe de las Cases

She has done it again! Zoe de las Cases follows up her Paris Street Style with fashion sketches and New York City street scenes. The sketches are beautiful and retain their hand-drawn look. The paper is lovely. There is a pink bookmark and an elastic band to protect the covers. The blue covers with pink drawing are eye catching. You will love this! I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Love Heals by Becca Stevens

The founder of Thistle Farms, a community devoted to the healing of traumatized women, produced this beautiful gift book outlining fourteen ways and means God uses love to heal, such as through creation, with compassion, by His mercy, and during forgiving. In parts, the book was more poetic than I could fathom, more redundant than I liked, and more wordy than was comfortable, such as this: “This morning I went outside and felt the sunrise that was offered like a gift wrapped in bands of purple. I saw two beautiful rabbits feasting on clover in my overgrown yard, and a cool breeze kissed my cheek in the midst of the summer heat. I was full of praise and gratitude, and I felt inspired to birth new ideas.” I like fewer details and certainly fewer adjectives; this kind of writing makes me feel like I don’t know where to look. Another example was part of a poem which the author places at the beginning of each chapter: “Soaring above, predators scan meadows for the most vulnerable prey, like I am searching the horizon for a thought.” Huh? As the book progressed, however, it became less flowery and more solid. I found the chapter “Love Heals Beyond Stress” to be excellent, as Stevens suggested these “short-term practices”: pray daily, create free time, develop healthy sleep rituals, daydream, keep a student’s heart, understand pain as a teacher, and laugh. Chapters on forgiveness and fear were also outstanding. I would recommend this book with the caveat that the reader be ready for a couple of very different writing styles in one volume; one is liable to suit you, and you will no doubt learn from and be challenged by the author’s insights. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Alphabet of Grief by Andrea Raynor

This 144-page book consists of 26 chapters, each starting with a letter of the alphabet, addressing topics designed to help one move forward in the grieving process. I found it to be full of suggestions and insights ranging from the practical to the profound. The author is a long-time chaplain, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a United Methodist minister. Knowing that she served as chaplain to the morgue at Ground Zero after September 11 will tell you that her experience in confronting death and providing comfort has been deep and wide. Her writing reflects her skill. Each brief chapter is followed by a meditation and an affirmation, all of which will provide comfort and encouragement to anyone who is grieving. An example of how Raynor “gets it” is the chapter entitled “Everyone Else,” in which she tells of her father, riding in a car on the way to bury his mother: “Beyond the window was a world he did not know, one populated by a people called everyone else.” That captures how isolating a shocking death is. Some chapters are unusual, such as “Violence”, in which Raynor says, “When [death] is sudden and violent, it can tear us to pieces. The horror we feel, combined with the loss itself, can send us into a pit of despair from which it feels there is no returning.” I would recommend this book to everyone. If you are not grieving, this will give you helpful thoughts to tuck away until you or someone you love needs them. If you are grieving, you will find much to help you. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Gift of Heaven - Charles F. Stanley

While this book is just over 150 pages, the text itself probably comprises fewer than 40 pages, due to the fact that almost every page has a nature photo against which text is superimposed, and half of the pages consist of a short quote, usually taken from the text on the opposite page. This is the second Stanley book I’ve read with this much photography, which I found detracts from rather than enhances the writing. The text itself consists of basic biblical teaching about heaven--what it is, who will be there and how to get there. It covers the bases adequately but is by no means a scholarly work. One might consider this an introductory look at the topic. It would be a nice gift for someone if one wanted to open a conversation about heaven; it does not aim to answer deep questions. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn This revised and updated edition of the 2000 classic was well worth the reread. An important chapter--“Was Jesus Really Talking About Financial Giving”--has been added. Alcorn’s writing is clear, concise and persuasive. He builds on what he calls Treasure Principle Keys: “God owns everything. I’m his money manager; My heart always goes where I put God’s money; Heaven and the future New Earth, not this fallen one, is my home; I should live not for the dot but for the line; Giving is the only antidote to materialism; and God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving.” Alcorn’s writing supports these principles nicely with Scripture. I found nothing to argue with, and much to be persuaded by, in this small book. Because its teachings are so diametrically opposed to the prevailing culture, it may take several readings for everything Alcorn mentions to truly sink in. I recommend this book highly to all, as it clearly teaches what the Bible says about money, a subject Jesus mentioned more often than He mentioned heaven and hell combined. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

At long last, someone has written a book about a truth I realized many years ago: one cannot be more spiritually mature than one is emotionally mature because our emotionally stuck places become our spiritually stuck places. Scazzero does a fine job describing the process by which we get stuck, and while he proposes processes to help us become unstuck, some of his proposals were too general. For example, the author outlined the effects of his childhood, which led him to overfunction, overperform, have cultural expectations for marriage and family, resolve conflict poorly, and not let himself feel. But in the crucial chapter about enlarging your soul through grief and loss, Scazzero often talked about what not to do but not what to do, saying that grief is often dealt with by being practical, freezing in time, becoming addicted, and denying and minimizing wounds. He advocated “dropping our defensive shields” and turning toward pain, with common defenses by paying attention, waiting in the confusing in-between, embracing the gift of limits and “climbing the ladder of honesty”, all of which strike me as being more cerebral than emotional. The author encouraged a couple of habits to help the reader become more aware of God’s presence, including keeping “the daily office” and the Sabbath. New skills proposed to overcome emotional immaturity include embracing conflict, speaking and listening well, and clarifying expectations. While I think this book provides a good start toward emotional maturity, I would not recommend it wholeheartedly because it was lacking, both in methods to work with oneself--by learning to recognize and admit truth--and others. It is vital to associate with emotionally mature adults in order to become one, and this was not emphasized. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Know Who You Are by Tim Tebow

Aimed at the homeschooled, this 36-chapter book is divided into four parts titled, “Who Are You?”, “Don’t Sweat It; God’s Got It”, “Others Matter”, and “Live Bigger”. Each chapter starts with a key verse, is less than three pages long, is followed by a journaling question, and ends with a quotation. The writing is clear and concise, and I imagine it to be very appealing to a young person. Tim’s aim is to help homeschoolers come into and sustain a vibrant relationship with God and others. His very well-written book would be helpful to anyone with that goal. The book contains enough personal examples to make it interesting but not so many that the book becomes about Tim. I thought it was written in a way that made the topics easy to relate to. Tim talks about how to come into relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the assurance of God’s love and plan. He then delves into matters of character, including keeping your word, overcoming fear and failure. choosing wisely, being an honest and courageous friend, and being purposeful. I would recommend this book to any young person, not just the homeschooled, as it would help the serious reader consider all aspects of their life. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Of Cats and Men by Sam Kalda

Subtitled “Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen,” this heavily illustrated book profiles 30 men whose lives and, in many cases, work were heavily influenced by their love of cats. Each of the 30 is featured with a biography of several paragraphs, many of which are followed by a full-page quotation and illustration, resulting in a book of fewer than 100 pages. The illustrator is also the author, and the book is more illustration than prose. Neither the artwork nor the biographical sketches were to my taste, as the art was modern and the prose exceptionally brief. Unless you are a fan of Sam Kalda’s artwork, this would not be a book for you. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

This Life I Live by Rory Feek

Just so you know, I had never heard of Rory Feek or his wife Joey. Rory is a country writer/singer who came from an unstable childhood involving multiple moves, with a father who was in and out of his life, and a mother who struggled to raise him and his siblings. This led to Rory’s own unstable adulthood--until Joey came along, bringing with her a firm belief in God, rooted in the Bible. Since Rory was in his late 30s when he met Joey, he had a lot of life experiences behind him. Rory came into relationship with God (although he is not specific about how that happened) a few years before meeting Joey. He wished and was ready for something different, weary of a history of his own making. Joey brought a new kind of relationship and a new life to Rory. Life wasn’t perfect, but it became healthy. Rory and Joey had a love that transcends everything. They built a stable home and life by facing themselves, down to the core, and changing the parts of themselves that didn’t work well. For 14 years, they contributed their best to their marriage, and it paid good dividends as they faced Joey’s terminal illness. This is a biography worth reading. It is filled with hope. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes

This narration of Hillary Clinton’s loss, written by two authors sympathetic to her, provides the very long division, from before the start to the end of the presidential campaign, of an insider’s close look at the minutiae that contributed to that “tragic” outcome. (That word “tragic” provides the lens through which the authors look, as there are those who would say it was “fortuitous”.) This 400+-page tome hammers home the points that Hillary’s campaign staff was both tone deaf and overly focused on analytics, to the exclusion of providing necessary resources on the ground in state after state, and, perhaps the biggest flaw, Hillary Clinton failed to clearly articulate her vision for her presidency. Couple those factors with the mistake of having the wrong staff members making major strategic decisions and the outside forces working against Hillary (Russia, the FBI, Congress and the Benghazi and e-mail server issues), and you have the formula which, according to the authors, brought Hillary down. The elephant in the room, though, was Hillary herself. Her personality, character, judgment and history worked against her. After 24 years on the national stage, Hillary was a known quantity. No voter needed to be confused about who they thought she is, as she has an entrenched reputation for being cold, aloof and secretive; for being less than honest; for being slow as molasses to face up and ‘fess up when caught; and for choosing the wrong side to defend when faced with evidence of being married to a sexual predator. Yet Hillary Clinton thought she could play the American public against itself, certain that it would never choose her bombastic, egotistical, impulsive, unpredictable, lewd and crude opponent over measured, prepared and qualified her. Clearly this was a no-brainer. But it wasn’t. In the end, the slow drip of 24 years of watching this very careful candidate led enough voters to cause the electoral college to turn away from her and risk it all on a more unknown quantity. The inexorable pull against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election seems inevitable, according to Shattered. It lays out the downhill course step by step. If you are interested in every last detail about what should be Hillary Clinton’s last race, you want to read this book. If that would be too much information, then take a pass. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, May 15, 2017

What Happens After You Die by Randy Frazee

This book is straightforward in considering the Bible’s teachings about heaven, hell, being with God, and separation from God. The writing was clear, and I found nothing that contradicted the Bible. The first three chapters were a little slow, as there was some repetition. The author’s consideration of topics was thorough, as he addresses subjects including ghosts, purgatory, degrees of hell, rewards, pets and animals, marriage in heaven, guardian angels and cremation. This is a good basic book covering a broad range of topics related to life after death. I recommend to those who have not considered this topic deeply. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Known by Dick and Ruth Foth

Subtitled “Finding Deep Friendships in a Shallow World”, this thoughtfully written book makes a compelling case for prioritizing relationships in a fast-paced world now seemingly driven by social media. The authors advocate using conversation, especially the telling of our personal stories, as a tool toward friendship as an antidote to the great loneliness that is rarely helped by current methods of personal interaction, whcih emphasize the exchange of information. The authors outline specific qualities of friendship, including praying for each other, talking deeply together, resolving conflict, doing good and reaching out. The personal dynamics they encourage include commitment, spending time face to face, telling each other the truth, and pursuing each other, all of which contribute to an active, vibrant relationship. The book’s style is conversational and engaging. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to consider friendship as a serious topic. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency - Chris Whipple

This book is particularly informative for those who are not terribly interested in politics, as it explains in basic terms how each president since Nixon utilized his chief of staff, some very successfully and some less so. In about 30 pages, Whipple narrates how each president became acquainted with and chose his first chief of staff, and then he highlights the personalities of president and chief, primary events, successes and failures, and successors if there were any. If this writing formula is not your cup of tea, you will not enjoy this book. It suited me exactly, as I could not have even named a chief of staff, then or now. Since politics is a bore to me, I chose this book to become a little more educated. The book held my interest, chapter after chapter. It was a story that unfolded decade after decade, leaving me with more appreciation of the inner workings of the White House. One appealing thing Whipple did was to connect with former chiefs of staff much more recently to get their perspective of their times of service. It makes for interesting reading to see how those men now regard their presidents and themselves. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

KJV - Compact Thinline Bible

This little Bible is about 5” x 7”, so it is very packable. You might think the type would be minuscule, but it is not bad at all. Passages even have headings, such as “Jesus’ Prayer in Gethsemane,” “Jesus’ Betrayal and Arrest,” and “Jesus before Caiaphas” in Matthew 26, and Jesus’ words are in red. While there is no concordance, there is a one-year reading plan and “30 Days with Jesus”, listing one long gospel passage (mostly from Luke) for each of 30 days. There are seven maps, including World of the Patriarchs, Exodus and Conquest of Canaan, Land of the Twelve Tribes, Kingdom of David and Solomon, Jesus’ Ministry, Paul’s Missionary Journeys, and Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus. The cover is two tones of Leathersoft, which apparently is a kind of bonded leather. It certainly feels like leather and has beautiful stitching where the two tones come together and around the outside border. I have not had a new KJV in many years and wanted one to take on travels, so this one is perfect. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quiet Time for Your Soul - Sheila Walsh

This exceptional little devotional is composed of vignettes accompanied by five pertinent Scripture passages. The passages are spot on and are aimed at comforting and encouraging the reader, with themes such as gratitude, humility, the encouragement of God’s Word, and Jesus’ love. I have not seen many devotional books structured in this way and was impressed with the thoughtfulness demonstrated in the choices of verses, as each set of five worked well together to emphasize the theme. The two things I wished for were a table of contents and an attached ribbon bookmark. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Life to Live by Agnes Nixon

Completed just a couple of days before she died in September 2016 at age 93, Agnes Nixon’s autobiography is a fascinating narrative about her relationships and her work. It is, of course, well written, as she was a master storyteller. Famous for being the creator and head writer of soap operas that aired for more than 40 years, the author herself has an intriguing life history. Her autobiography encapsulates a couple of eras that have now come to an end, including a childhood in post-Depression America, and young adulthood during World War II, and an adulthood that spanned the second half of the 20th century. Her parents had a great influence on her, both for good and for ill, shaping her aspirations. She was burdened with the feeling of having to prove herself long after that should have been a non-issue. Agnes Nixon used her unique platform to tell stories that demonstrate how much people influence and are influenced by those closest to them. If you are curious about serial storytelling from the time of 1940s radio through the television soap-opera era, or about how a person’s background might lead them into such a field, you will enjoy this book. It is highly readable and engaging, and you will come away with an admiration for a determined yet gracious woman who made her way through a family and in a world which were not particularly welcoming but which both came to value her for who she was and what she offered, on her terms. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask) - Eric Metaxas

Addressing some of the most common questions and concerns about God, His existence, Jesus, the Bible, creation, supernatural beings, hell, heaven and prayer, the author does a masterful job of giving logical, easily understood answers, using a question-and-answer format. Metaxas’ sometimes takes a light tone, which helps the book’s readability. He also has a brilliant way of using analogies. My favorite was in answer to the question about whether people are not inherently good: ”. . .it’s as if we’re cut flowers. Wemight look great, but we are dying. We’ve been cut off from the Source. . . . Without God, we have no life, no goodness that lasts. We were meant to live forever, but until God reattaches us to him--until we choose to allow him to do that--we have no eternal life.” Each chapter starts with a pertinent story or poem and ends with a paragraph or so emphasizing the importance of the chapter’s topic. This book takes a fresh, engaging look at some old questions. You will not be sorry you read it. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Finding God’s Blessings in Brokenness - Charles F. Stanley

Although small and short, this book delves deeply into the topic of brokenness--its purposes, the process, and the promise in it. The book is about 150 pages, and a good fraction of those are photos of nature scenes (which I frankly found distracting at times). The purpose of brokenness is said to be so that God can bring forth something new in us. Our resistance to it stems from our self-sufficiency, abilities, and trust in our self and resources. Spiritual maturity is God’s ultimate goal for us. Of particular benefit were the sections on the areas in our character God targets: strengths and weaknesses; attitudes, habits, and relationships; and desires; and God’s tools: our enemies, family, and circumstances, in order to call us to salvation, sanctification and service, and form in the Christian the character of Christ, as described in Gal. 5:22,23 as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The author lists the “five great blessings from brokenness”: the blessing of understanding God better, understanding ourselves better, increased compassion for others, greater zest for life, and an increased awareness of God’s presence. This book was almost exclusively an excellent objective, third-person examination of the biblical subject; only once did I read a subjective, first-person paragraph by the author. That could be good or bad, depending on what the reader wants. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Visioneering by Andy Stanley

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say at the start that I do not practice setting goals or “maintaining personal vision,” as Andy Stanley would describe it. Reading Stanley’s book did not persuade me to start. With that being said, if setting goals and having vision are important to you, this book will help solidify your practice. The author systematically states his case for “visioneering”, describing it as "a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.” Stanley gives examples as small as sharing the gospel with someone to starting a corporation. Nehemiah is used as the prime example of someone with a vision, which started as a concern, led to prayers, and continued with planning, communication, cultivation of unity, single-mindedness, and constant attention. This is as fine a book as I have read about goal setting and having vision, as Andy Stanley writes thoroughly and passionately about his belief. I happen to not agree with him that vision is for everyone; some of us make very good followers after we agree to help with someone else’s vision. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

A Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada

This daily devotional is thoughtfully and well written, reflecting the depth of reflection given to each topic by its author, who has been a quadriplegic for almost 50 years. When you are aware of her suffering, it brings added meaning to her words. For example, once she described her chemotherapy for breast cancer to her husband as a “splash-over from hell”, and they wondered what “splash-overs from heaven” might be--“easy, bright times” maybe?” “Ken looked at me and with wet eyes whispered, ‘No, Joni. It’s when we see Jesus in our splash-over of hell.” It is this kind of rubber-meets-the-road life experience that gives Joni’s wise, encouraging words such power. There is a devotional for every day of the year, beginning with a reference to a Bible passage, including a couple of paragraphs of Joni’s thoughts, with a brief prayer at the end. The devotionals are meant to encourage and sometimes exhort, not necessarily teach. I found a great deal of comfort in this little book and plan to use it regularly. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.