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Thursday, October 19, 2017

"In the Middle of the Mess" by Sheila Walsh

While the cover features a broken teacup and the title boasts words like "mess" and "broken life", I was not expected for how intense this book would be.  Readers learn firsthand about the author's father who committed suicide after he escaped from a mental hospital.  They also learn about the author's mother and how her death affected those around her; the mother's sad case of Alzheimer's is detailed.  Readers also learn about the author's nervous breakdown, thoughts of suicide, and mental institution visits.  Yes, there are triumphant areas of this book where the author speaks about God and quotes Bible verses.  This book has Christian undertones as there are many references to Jesus.  There is definitely hope in this story, and I'm sure many readers will respect how far Walsh has come in her own personal journey of healing.  However, given how depressing the majority of this book is, I definitely want to warn readers.  This is not a book to make you smile.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Brave Beauty" by Lynn Cowell

Written like a devotional journal, this book is full of 100 prompts for young girls.  The mini-chapters are no more than a few pages and include journal prompts, short quizzes, and guided prayers.  This book has strong Christian undertones as it has many "dear Jesus" prayers.  Many of the anecdotal stories seem to come from middle school or relate to pre-teens.  While readers of any age can enjoy this book, it is geared towards females as opposed to males.  Sections of the book have to do with beauty, confidence, being loved, and being confident.  This book is empowering for young girls.  They will learn from the Bible and even from the author's own life.  Stories unfold to show how one can be brave and beautiful.   

Friday, October 13, 2017

"The Master's Mind" by Lance Hahn

The general premise behind this book is how to overcome anxiety and negativity with strength and positivity.  The author is a preacher and not a psychologist, so the techniques explained are very set in religion as opposed to psychiatry.  While I personally felt the book was a bit too religious and not psychological enough, I can see how certain audiences would really appreciate this read.  Devout Christians would enjoy this book as there are copious references to Jesus.  Hahn discusses how Jesus overcame negative thoughts and focused on his purpose in life.  Key ideas that stuck with me were how many people choose to believe lies about themselves and worry for hours about events which will likely never occur.  More trust in a higher power and emphasis on prayer / meditation is a good idea for relieving anxiety.  Family problems and addictions were also briefly discussed.  I should note that this book is not anti-medicine since the author himself states how he has been on psychiatric drugs since the late 1990s.  My favorite aspect of this book was how Hahn challenged the notion that religious people have no anxieties.  Religious people, like all other people, need to reshape their thoughts so they add to life, not detract from it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Buechner Books

“The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life” by Frederick Buechner

This book is small but packs a powerful punch.  With just under 10 chapters and a spine width of less than an inch, the book can easily fit into a backpack or purse.  Each essay / lecture included shines light on living in the NOW.  There is not so much a story in the sense of fiction but rather separate chapters all different yet all pointing the reader in the same direction.  While a religious man, Buechner does not shy away from his doubts, insecurities, and faith crises.  He even talks about his complicated family life, including his father’s suicide.  There is not any sort of preaching in these pages, even when Buechner speaks of his Christian religion.  Rather, the letters tell the story of a man at the end of his life.  He paints the story of his life in bits and pieces, looking back at all that was and all that could be.  Very philosophical and introspective, this book is difficult to write a review for.  However, I will say that while this book is insightful and moving, it is also serious.  I recommend it for meditation and not a simple beach read.  The essays will not make you sad, but they will not make you happy.  You will come to ask yourself what you’ve been ignoring and how you can better pay attention to the hourglass of time that is constantly slipping out from under your feet.


“A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory" by Frederick Buechner

To be honest, I did not enjoy this book as much as the other one.  While it is impeccably written and poignantly powerful, it was simply too depressing for me.  Much of the book dealt with the author's troubled childhood.  Many more pages spoke about death and losing friends / loved ones.  There is much insight on the afterlife, how to cope with grief, and how to handle one's past.  All of these things are practical and good to visit now and again.  However, for someone not in a state of grief, it is very hard to keep turning the pages.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Ordering your private world" by Gordon MacDonald

"I seem to have misplaced my time, can you help me find it?" is a phrase in this book that really got my attention.  Written from a Christian perspective, this book is sprinkled with stories of success and failure in the arena of time management.  The author is very candid as he shares a sad story of a mid-life crisis and breakdown in his own life.  No one wants to wake up and realize that years of their life has been squandered.  Quotes from some famous and not so famous people are interspersed throughout to give inspiration.  Some are from holy figures such as saints and some are from ordinary people.  The discipline of prayer is discussed heavily as the author notes how few people stop to think about the quality of their spirituality.  This ties into what the book describes as the inner world versus the outer world.  The outer world is clear for the public to see--clothing, accolades, relationships, etc.  However, the inner world is obscured from the public view--depression, emotions, prayer, spirituality, etc.  The cry of this book is to slow down and manage one's time properly.  Every moment spent is a moment lost.  There are incredible feats that people can achieve if they stop and think about what they want.  It is very difficult to write a review for this book since it is not exactly linear.  The chapters are unique but follow the same common theme.  I encourage readers to discover for themselves what they enjoy about ordering their own private world.  Due to disjointed nature of this book, it is very easy to pick up after days of neglect.  I went on vacation and picked up right where I left off without missing a beat!  Also, there is an insightful readers guide in the back of the book that will help facilitate personal growth or book club discussion.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" by Ashlee Vance

This biography about billionaire CEO Elon Musk takes readers full circle from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood to adulthood.  The journey begins in South Africa with Musk's childhood dreams and even discusses his dynamic with his mother and his [abusive] father.  Reader learn how Musk escaped to Canada and then America to complete his education and about his early works as a computer coder.  Teaming up with other like-minded friends and family, Musk started an internet business that was very successful.  After selling his initial internet companies Musk gained a lot of capital that helped him invest in what would later become Tesla and SpaceX.  The dream of electric cars and a human colony on Mars may initially seem absurd, but Vance paints a picture of feasibility.  While this book highlights Musk's successes, it does not shy away from failures.  Failed test launches, late products, poor public relations / media coverage, and near bankruptcy are discussed.  For those who wish to work on the future at Tesla or SpaceX, they learn of the horrific work-life balance and the cold nature of Musk as a boss.  Many employees of Musk have been yelled at and pressed to work nights / weekends.  There are more than a few stories of people who were fired on a whim.  Musk's personal life is also covered, and readers learn about his various marriages and divorces.  In the middle of this book are come full-color pictures that go along with the book.  Since this book has some cursing and a few lewd remarks--which I would have preferred were edited out--this book is not recommended for children.

Friday, August 25, 2017

"Get Out of that Pit" by Beth Moore

When I first got this book to review, I thought it'd be some sappy self-help book that would depress me and bore me to tears.  Boy, was I wrong!  Full of real-life advice, this book ties biblical principles to difficult scenarios.  While falling into a pit can be a real physical event, this book talks about analogies that are less tangible.  For instance, a pit can be depression, anxiety, a bad job, a bad relationship, an addiction, a bad habit, and so on.  What I really enjoyed was how Moore discussed different ways of getting into a pit.  Someone can be thrown into a pit, someone can slip into a pit, and someone can jump into a pit.  This is important because it highlights both personal responsibility as well as the idea that not every bad situation is your fault.  Still, there is a clear path forward for getting out of whatever pit one is in.  I won't spill all the details, but I will say the way forward is practical and makes sense.  It also puts trust in God to help.  There is a lot of Bible quotes and a Christian undertone to the book.  Still, Moore writes in such a way that her religious views are not pushy and do not overshadow the main idea of getting out of one's pit(s).  At the end of the book, there are also discussion questions and Bible verses to pray aloud.

"The Legend of Geoffrey" by Toys R Us

I got this lovely children's book and stuffed giraffe for my birthday from Toys R Us.  Even though I am no longer a little kid, I am still a big kid and absolutely adored the combo!  The hardcover, full-color book tells the story of Geoffrey the Giraffe.  While I won't spill the entire plot line, I will say it is full of rhymes.  Readers will learn the personality of Geoffrey and even how he got his stars.  Readers will also identify with the themes of finding oneself and finding one's purpose in life.  Though life gave Geoffrey some doubts and anxieties, he eventually found a purpose-driven calling that makes both him happy and children all around the world burst for joy.  This is a story I plan on reading every time my birthday rolls around.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Love Letters from God" by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Rachel Clowes

Beautifully illustrated and written, this book is a treasure for girls of all ages.  Various Bible stories involving female characters are described in simple language.  These include Bible characters from the Old and New Testament.  Each of these stories takes up a left and right page.  On these pages are illustrations, the Bible heroin's name, an inspirational Bible quote, and a "letter from God."  Each of the "letters from God" are flip-style and have a blank for the reader's name to be written in.  The messages sent to girls are that God cares for them, God is enough, not to worry, not to stress, to pray for troubles, and to trust in God.  At the very end of the book is a flip-style blank letter for the reader to write their very own letter to God.  The book is hardcover with full-cover illustrations and lettering.  The reading level is fifth grade and higher.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

While it seems like a simple concept, saying yes and saying no can be incredibly difficult for many people.  Afraid of guilt, losing relationships, or the unknown, countless people try to do good but lose themselves in the process.  In this book, both PhD authors give sound advice on how to "take control of your life."  There are distinct chapters on boundaries for family, children, spouses, friends, and more.  In the beginning and end of the book, there is a story about a woman with and without boundaries.  The difference is stark and is one left for the reader.  Throughout the book, there is an emphasis on starting small, getting support groups, and dealing with feelings.  When readers start to stand up for themselves, they may be met with unwanted responses.  Nevertheless, drawing lines in the sand is a must.  From a psychological perspective, there is an emphasis on childhood needs and how a lack of boundaries in one's youth may have an impact on adult boundary problems.  Luckily, with help and effort, readers can learn to draw boundaries, regardless of age.  Are you stuck in an unloving relationship?  Do you end up staying late at work?  Do siblings or friends ask you to lend them money?  Does your mother or friend guilt you into countless hours on the telephone?  Then you will gain something from this book.  The greatest message I got from this book is that we are all responsible for ourselves and how we react to others.  If we let others to interfere with our feelings (i.e.- "they made me"), we are not in control in our life.  It should be noted that this book quotes heavily from the Bible, particularly the New Testament, and has many Christian undertones.  Still, the life lessons in the pages apply to people of all faiths.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Wired for Dating" by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT

This book goes into the psycho-biological aspects of dating.  Backup up by real neuroscience, the chapters chronicle how the brain works in a dating and courtship environment.  The author explains how lots of "feel good" hormones are released when two people first meet...but that these chemicals can and do wear away over time.  Readers are urged to thoroughly vet any and all potential partners before getting serious.  Since those "feel good" chemicals do go away, people should really take the time to ask the tough questions of potential mates.  They should also meet friends and family to determine what others think of this new person.  There is even a section of breakups, as well as making long-term committed relationships.  This book is quite liberal in that it talks about homo-sexual couples as well as hetero-sexual couples.  I do not agree with all the advice in the book (such as living together before married), but I will say the book offers some excellent insights into the relational brain.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Clean Skin from Within" by Dr. Trevor Cates

Most all men and women know the gist--there's a big event coming up, our skin is not the best, and we rush to apply whatever skin treatment we can to look out best.  This can be in the form of makeup, cleansers, lotions, etc, and this is just as true for men as it is for women.  But these short-term "prescriptions" do not treat the long-term causes of skin issues.  This is where Dr. Trevor Cates' book comes in.  The entire philosophy is that people need to be internally healthy before they can be externally healthy.  There is an emphasis on diet, exercise, and even mental health (stress can damage skin just as bad as candy can!).  Readers can go to http://theskinquiz.com/ to determine what their skin type is.  What I love about the skin types is that they are named after people.  Instead of just being called "oily" or "dry", skin conditions have real people names like "Amber" and "Heath".  This makes readers feel more like individuals than objects on a doctor's examination table.  Beyond giving advice on well being, Cates also provides recipes for food and health products.  So, not only will readers learn how to make skin-nourishing smoothies, but they will also learn how to make face masks from scratch.  And, don't forget the random tips in this book, such as how to make non-toxic weed killer!  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I felt it equipped me with the tools to eat better, feel better, and look better.  Best of all, I did not have to spent hundreds of dollars.  After reading about the benefits of avocado, I took some of my avocado cooking oil and began using it as toner.  I took a simple household kitchen item and turned it into a beauty product for myself--and I am loving the results!  Stop spending money on makeup and cosmetics that just damage your skin in the long term and get your body healthy NOW.  On a final note, I want to state how well-researched this book is.  Dr. Cates is not just some hippy doctor with no scientific basis.  The references section of this book is full of scholarly journal articles, not blog posts or magazine articles.  The research is sound, and the information is refreshing.  Give this book a try for more vibrant skin.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Love in 90 Days" by Diane Kirschner, PhD

This book title immediately caught my eye.  Love in 90 days?  Really?  Come on!  But the author is a PhD, so she can't just be making this stuff up.  So I began reading solely out of curiosity.  While I can not say that 90 days is some magical number, the advice that the author gives is excellent.  It sets the way for readers to have the potential for real love.   The most important aspect is labeling men as DUDs versus STUDs, dating multiple people at once before committing to one person, and reprogramming negative self talk.  Let's take a scenario.  Sally has low self esteem and dates Jack.  Jack does not treat Sally very well, but she stays with him because she secretly believe he is the best she could get.  Sally stays with Jack and ends up in a sad marriage.  Now, let's apply the Love in 90 Days philosophies to rewrite that story.  Sally works on herself to develop more self-confidence.  She dates Jack and realizes she deserves better.  Sally does not commit to Jack but instead keeps dating because she knows she can do better.  Eventually, Sally meets Dan who is wonderful and treats her like the jewel that she is.  Sally decides to stay with Dan and goes on to have a happy love.  In the book, the author also emphasizes the importance of what I refer to as, "get up, dress up, show up."  Readers are encouraged to believe in themselves, get makeovers, and go places where men are.  While women do not have to be pursuers in relationships, the author encourages talking to men, starting friendships, and building those confident social skills.  With many relationships based on friendship, it only makes sense that to increase one's odds of meeting that special someone, people need to get out and talk to people.  While the book is geared toward women, I would argue the tips could also work for men. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Radical Beauty" by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Kimberly Snyder, C.N.

When it comes to health and beauty wellness, the options for reading are countless.  There are lots of books out there that are written by professionals that are way too difficult to follow.  There are also lots of books out there written by nonprofessionals that are easy to follow.  This book offers the best of both worlds in that it is written by professionals yet is easy to follow.  With no medical degree, I was able to follow along and put the advice into practice in my own life.  Knowing the tips in this book are backed by science and not just some fad really helped.  I also really enjoyed the sections devoted to recipes and exercises.  It isn't good enough simply to tell readers they need to eat better and move more.  Books need to tell readers WHAT to eat and HOW to exercise.  With the cool pink pages and emphasis on beauty, this book is geared more towards women.  However, I would argue that men would also like to learn how to look better.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant

This dramatic novel takes a simply Bible story and makes it come to life in a most unflattering yet human light.  In Genesis, countless generations read how Jacob wanted to marry Rachel--his one true love--but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah.  After this swindle, he waited seven years to be with Rachel (as was the custom in that day when some men worked for their bride-to-be's father until the agreed-upon wedding day).  Yet, in Diamant's tale, Jacob was not totally in love with Leah, and he was not such an honorable man.  Beyond having two other wives beyond Rachel and Leah, Jacob had several sons by Leah.  A drunken man can be excused for conceiving on his wedding night, but what of all the other children and women?  What other excuse is there?  Leah's only daughter Dinah is remembered in the Bible as a woman who fell in love with a prince.  The prince and her were intimate, and the prince loved her so much that he wanted to marry Dinah.  However, Jacob's sons murdered Dinah's love and doomed her to a life of misery.  From this misfortune, Dinah never forgave her family.  Diamant goes so far to presume Jacob changed his name to Israel not due to some diving encounter but rather to be rid of his former name Jacob that had become synonymous with murder and deceit.  Of course, the story of this novel is historical fiction or midrash of the Torah.  It can not be 100% verified.  However, given the blunt details of the Bible and the persuasive way this story reads, it is not difficult to imagine that the characters in the Bible really lived the way we read in "The Red Tent."  This book has adult themes and is not recommended for children.  It is also very sad, so I would not recommending it right before bedtime.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"The Secret Language of Dogs" by Victoria Stilwell

Clearly written and full of pictures, this book is a must for all busy dog owners.  Tips will teach people how to have a happy dog that behaves well.  Communication is key in any relationship, and the author explains how dogs communicate with others.  Barks and body language are explained, as well as unusual behaviors.  The science of howling, pain, and aging are covered, too.  This book is honest and not a be-all-end-all.  For situations that are unique or hard to determine, the author recommends a visit to the vet.  My favorite part of this book is the underlying these of positive training as opposed to negative training.  Punishing dogs does nothing but cause pain, and the dog learns nothing.  To have a truly happy and well-behaved dog, reward good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.  I love that.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"Shadow of the Storm" by Connilyn Cossette

As the second book in the Out of Egypt trilogy, this story both builds upon the first book but also stands on its own.  Readers who have not read the first book will not be confused as to what is going on.  This tale focuses on Shira, a young woman who desires to become a midwife.  She battles with her past where men abused her, and she is confused when a man truly begins to love her.  Can she trust him?  Is he just like all the others?  To make matters worse, there is a desperate woman named Dvorah who does everything to make Shira's life a living hell.  And did I mention the Golden Calf incident is going on at this time?  Beyond the drama of a good story, this book really makes one think about the biblical narrative.  What really happened to all those converts to Judaism?  How did Moses handle the racial divide?  How did families react when loved ones were murdered for bowing to an idol?  All these questions and more are played out with characters. While nothing in this book is graphic, I would not recommend it for young readers.

"This is Real and you are Completely Unprepared" by Alan Lew

While this book centers around the Jewish fall high holidays, the messages it sends to readers are important for all year round.  The rabbi writes about self-introspection, family, guilt, forgiveness, purpose, and so much more.  From setting goals to realizing failure to finding joy, readers will go on the incredibly uncomfortable but incredibly essential journey of Rosh Hashana to Sukkot.  There are Hebrew terms in this book, but it is written in such a way that an lay reader can understand.  Even non-Jewish readers can gain insight into themselves as they read this book and delve into a culture that stresses the importance of both the community and the individual.  From broken marriages to ignored homeless people, no sour spot is ignored.  Life is tough.  This is real and you are completely unprepared.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Saffire" by Sigmund Brouwer

Set during the early twentieth century, this story takes place in Panama during the building of the Panama canal.  There is a mysterious cowboy who is send to inspect the building project.  There is also a young girl whose mother disappeared and who is looking for answers.  There is an entire host of characters whose paths cross as intrigue and mystery enfold.  The book takes some literary liberties but does have historic credibility, including a note at the end of the story.  While Brouwer is one of my favorite authors and I do like cowboy stories, this book was just a little too slow paced for me.  It's not that I didn't like the book--I just found it hard to keep turning the pages compared to some of his other books.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Snuggle Time Psalms" by Glenys Nellist

This short book puts psalms into everyday language that young ones can understand.  The colorful images of animals adds to the cuteness, as well.  Each psalm has a verse quoted followed by a poem beneath it.  The poem contains the nature of the psalm but obviously has been reworded for children.  From elephants to monkeys to mice to penguins, there are so many fun creatures running about in these pages.  The full-color pages will make the illustrations come to life, and the hard-cover binding will keep the book in tip-top shape over the years. Young readers will understand that God watches over them like a parent, takes care of them when they are sick, watches out for their life, and guides them towards happiness.  While this book is geared towards children, I would say it offer valuable lessons for readers of all ages.