Wednesday, December 7, 2016

After the Cheering Stops by Cyndy Feasel with Mike Yorkey

After the Cheering Stops: An NFL Wife’s Story of Concussions, Loss, and the Faith that Saw Her Through by Cyndy Feasel tells the life story of Grant Feasel, a center in the NFL. His ex-wife Cyndy chronicles his story, mainly during the almost thirty years they were married. When their life together started, he was at the top as a college football star being scouted by the NFL. He died young, his body wracked by addiction, his brain full of CTE, and his family penniless.
Cyndy Feasel describes her life with Grant in a somewhat objective manner. While being clear about the ugliness that occurred between them in the latter years of their life together, she also made it clear that it was a direct result of the CTE and alcoholism Grant was dealing with, even if she didn't realize that was the case at the time. She never crosses the line between describing what happened and slandering Grant.
 
There were some comments and observations that seemed overly personal, mainly concerning the physical aspect of their love life. Overall though, Feasel stayed within the parameters of discussing the alcoholism and other personality changes brought about by the CTE that was caused by Grant's years playing professional football. She mentions her faith a few times, but not enough that it could be considered a main theme of this story.
 
Anyone interested in the NFL, specifically the effects on a player's body and family, will find After the Cheering Stops an interesting read. It is an easy and quick read. Those interested in alcoholism and other addiction issues will also find this book an interesting read.
 
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Tunnels by Greg Mitchell

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill by Greg Mitchell tells the story of several of the tunnels dug under Berlin after the Berlin Wall was built, as well as the official U.S. response to them.
 
After the Berlin Wall was built, there were many people desperate to escape East Berlin. Many in West Berlin were equally desperate to get them out. This led to the digging of many tunnels under the wall. Several were successful while many more were not. Those involved in the digging were always in danger of being caught or betrayed to the Stasi, the East German police.
 
One of the most famous tunnels, and the one discussed at most length in this book was the NBC or Bernauer tunnel. The digging of, and escape through, this tunnel was filmed by people from NBC and turned into a documentary. The scrutiny and opposition to showing this documentary in the U.S. was almost as fierce as the danger faced by those actually involved in the digging and escape. In the broader context of the Cold War, the Kennedy administration didn't want anything to happen that could cause an open conflict over Berlin. JFK wanted more than anything to avoid a nuclear war.
 
While the first half of The Tunnels is a little dry, the pace of the second half is enjoyable. Mitchell is detailed in his description of both the digging of the tunnels and the motivations of the people involved. He also explains the broader context of the tunnels in regard to U.S. policy in the Cold War.
 
Overall, I'd recommend The Tunnels to anyone interested in the history of Berlin during the Cold War.
 
Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, November 10, 2016

i am found by Laura Dingman

i am found: Quitting the Game of Hide and Seek With God and Others by Laura Dingman is a six week Bible study for women focused on breaking the shackles of shame and replacing with the truth of God's word the lies that hold us in bondage.

Each week involves a Bible verse or two to memorize, and five days of study. Each day has questions to answer and scripture to examine. Sometimes the scripture is printed, and other times the reader is directed to use her own Bible. At the end of each week, is a "Truth, Lies, and Action" section that is designed specifically to help the reader identify the lies she believes in regards to that week's topic, the contrasting truths of scripture, and creating intentional steps to replace the lies with truth in our life.

The structure of the study is very user friendly. Each day's "workload" is quite manageable and allows for deep thought and introspection. This study is drenched in and founded on scripture and it's truths. The brief personal stories that are at the beginning of each week's content are relevant and relatable. Overall, i am found is a very well written and helpful study that would benefit any woman willing to put the time into it, either individually or in a group.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Moody Publishers Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, See Part 255

A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker

A Mile Wide: Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker is about how the Christian faith is meant to be much broader and deeper than how the average American Christian lives. The title comes from the old saying "a mile wide and an inch deep." In contrast to that, Hatmaker contends that the Christian faith should be both a mile wide and a mile deep.

The main strength of this book is its attempt to broaden the typical definition of faith. We should break out of the go to church on Sunday and live just with Christians mode. If we see through the gospel lens, any moment with any person can be a gospel moment. If we live on mission, any moment can be missional. Getting outside of our comfort zones in terms of the kinds of people we are in relationship with, and the opportunities we seek out to serve can only strengthen and increase our faith.

Hatmaker uses examples from his own somewhat unorthodox life and church to illustrate the above points. The second half of the book is much stronger than the first half. While the average person may benefit from reading A Mile Wide, it may be most helpful to those in some kind of leadership, or those specifically seeking ways to broaden their faith experience. Each chapter ends with a list of several discussion questions that would be useful either in a group setting or individually.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Love, Henri by Henri J. M. Nouwen


Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen is a collection of letters written over the course of the last twenty odd years of Nouwen's life. The recipients of these letters vary greatly and cover the spectrum from close friends to people he doesn't know who have written him with a criticism or a thank you to one of his books.

Edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw, this collection of letters offers great insight into Nouwen. Each letter is introduced by a short explanation about the recipient of the letter and his/her relationship to Nouwen, as well as any relevant details to a particular situation mentioned in the letter, or that was going on in Nouwen's life. There are also footnotes throughout the book that offer further explanation as needed. The result is that even without the letter written to Nouwen, the reader has all the information necessary to appreciate what he writes. There is no sense of feeling lost or of missing something.

Nouwen was a prolific letter writer. He was honest about his struggles, and most of all gracious with those he was writing to, regardless of the depth of relationship. His character shines through in this collection of his letters. They are put together masterfully, and this is a must read for anyone who appreciates Nouwen's life and writings.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, October 3, 2016

True Faith and Allegiance by Alberto R. Gonzales

True Faith and Allegiance: A Story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace by Alberto R. Gonzales is the autobiography of the only lawyer in history to serve as both White House counsel and Attorney General of the United Sates. Gonzales shares the story of his life, focusing on his time in public service with George W. Bush first in Texas, and then in Washington D.C.

Alberto Gonzales has lived the quintessential American story. The oldest son of parents who had very little formal education, Gonzales grew up in a two bedroom house that didn't have running hot water. His parents raised all eight of their children in this house. After graduating high school, Gonzales spent some time in the Air Force. He then attended the Air Force Academy before graduating from Rice University. He then went to Harvard Law school and spent a number of years at a prestigious law firm before going to work for George W. Bush who was the governor elect of Texas.

Gonzales' career would be linked to Bush's for the next several years. When Bush was elected president, Gonzales moved to D.C. to serve as White House counsel for four years. After Bush's re-election, Gonzales served as the U.S. Attorney General until his resignation.

In True Faith and Allegiance, Gonzales gives an inside peek into the tumultuous years of the Bush presidency.  He clearly presents what happened as he remembers is, refuting many popular assumptions and media reports about some of the most controversial events including the use of torture in the War on Terror, and the decision to invade Iraq. It is clear that Gonzales always has been, and always will be, a staunch supporter of George W. Bush and his policies.

Regardless of one's political leanings, True Faith and Allegiance is an interesting look at our government at an unprecedented time in history. The decisions and policies Gonzales was a part of creating shaped the world we live in today. This book is easy to read and understand. I would recommend it to anyone interested in modern American history.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Anxious Christian by Rhett Smith

The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? by Rhett Smith, is an examination of the role of anxiety in the life of a Christian. Rather than dismiss anxiety as something sinful or un-Christian, Smith offers a way to reshape anxiety into something God uses in our lives.

Smith's own struggles with anxiety greatly informs this work. This makes what he says have a ring of authenticity that allowed me to more fully accept what he says about anxiety. Those who haven't struggled with anxiety or depression can offer words of wisdom and advice, but there is something about these words coming from a fellow traveler on this specific road that adds weight. If he can live with his anxiety and allow it to shape him in positive ways, than maybe I can too. His work as a marriage and family counselor is also helpful as he has been able to see the principles he discusses play out in the lives of others as well.

The Anxious Christian is full of scripture, words from other authors, and Smith's own life experiences. He offers practical advice both about how to deal with anxiety as an individual, and how the Church as a whole should deal with it. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, exercises, and a prayer that relate to that chapter's specific content. The questions and exercises are helpful for either individual or group use.

Overall, The Anxious Christian is a great read. Those who struggle with anxiety will appreciate it for its sense of "me too" as well as its practical tips. People who don't struggle with anxiety, but want to better understand those who do will also find it informative. This is also a helpful tool for anyone who does any kind of counseling.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Moody Publishers Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, See Part 255

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw

Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alex Kershaw is a riveting story of the efforts of one particular family who was part of the French Resistance during WWII.

Dr. Sumner Jackson was an American who had served in the American Red Cross Hospital of Paris during WWI. He was married to a Swiss woman named Toquette and they had a 12 year old son named Phillip at the time of WWII. As the Nazi's marched toward Paris, Jackson was put in charge of the hospital as many of his colleagues decided to go home. Dr. Jackson helped the cause of the Resistance before the Nazis even got to Paris. He hid an American spy until he could escape under new papers.

I don't want to spoil what happens, so I'll stop there, but the rest of the book continues the story of this remarkable family and how each one contributed to the cause of defeating the Nazis. Kershaw tells their story in such a way that one feels one is reading a thriller. The suspense builds as the story unfolds.

Anyone interested in WWII in general, or the French Resistance in particular will find this a thrilling read. Even those who don't consider themselves history buffs will enjoy Avenue of Spies. It is a very entertaining story that has the bonus of being about true heroes.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Me Too by Jon Weece


Me Too: Experience the God Who Understands by Jon Weece is about God's ability to relate to human suffering. Far from being a distant presence who can't relate to the pain humans go through, God became man through Jesus Christ and as Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (ESV)

God's people are to model themselves after Him. In regards to suffering, God doesn't call His people to grit thier teeth and bear it. Nor does He ask them to paste on a smile and pretend everything is OK. The church should be a place where broken people walk with one another through the messiness of life. This is Weece's point. Everyone suffers, and because of that, we can give one another the gift of saying "Me too." I've been there. I hurt and suffer just like you.

Me Too is broken into three parts. They are, "What Jesus Did," "What Jesus is Doing," and "The City - What Jesus Will Do." Weece uses stories and scripture to illustrate how God and His people suffer, and how we can help one another through the hard parts of life. 

Anyone who has suffered will find something to relate to in Me Too. God intended us to live in community so that we could carry one another through the times of suffering. This book is part of that community.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Unsportsmanlike Conduct by Jessica Luther

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape by Jessica Luther is one of the most thorough and thoughtful books I have ever read. The relationship between violence, specifically against women, and sports, especially football, has never been more in the news and discussed than it has in the last few years. However, often it is discussed and that is it. No real change is made, or even suggested. The systems that protect those who commit violence remain unexamined, and those who profit from these systems continue to live their lives as if there is nothing wrong. In Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Jessica Luther takes a stand to change all of that.

Luther uses her journalistic skills to examine the relationship between college football and sexual assault. She uses cases going back to the 1970s to illustrate various aspects of this relationship. After a detailed introduction that defines terms and sets the stage for the conversation, the book is split into two halves. The first half examines "the playbook" as it stands. The playbook is how teams, universities, the NCAA, the media, and fans have responded to allegations of sexual assault against players in the past, and for the most part, how they continue to respond. Each institution is culpable in perpetuating systems that shame victims and go out of the way to protect perpetrators of violence. The second half of the book offers thirteen suggestions to change the playbook as it stands.

I appreciate that Luther tackles such an important topic. She doesn't shy away from difficult subjects that most would rather avoid. I also really like that she offers potential solutions, and doesn't just point out problems. She admits her own struggle in dealing with sexual assault allegations as a lifelong college football fan. Nothing can change if it remains unexamined or discussed. People who are willing to put money or even just the sometimes almost religious experience of being a fan of a huge football program ahead of the well-being of non-football playing students and others who don't have as much "value" have to own that they are part of the problem. Luther does a great job of pointing out how various groups are at fault, and how each group can change. Violence in our culture is not just the responsibility of those who commit it; everyone can be a part of the solution is we are only willing to ask, "How?"

I recieved this book for free through LibraryThing. I was not required to write a review at all, much less a positive one.

Friday, August 26, 2016

After Acts by Bryan Litfin

After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles by Bryan Litfin is an academic look at what history says about the main characters of the New Testament. Litfin examines church history and tradition as well as other historical sources to prove or debunk common theories of what happened to the disciples, Paul, and Jesus' mother Mary after what is recorded in the pages of the New Testament.

Litfin does a good job of setting up the study of this topic. He discusses what he means when he uses certain terms. He also lays out the most common schools of thought within the study of early Christian history and identifies where he lands. He makes this easy to understand. His examination of each person is organized well and each chapter ends with a handy "report card" that grades the probability/reliability of each tradition discussed within the chapter.

The lack of concrete historical evidence makes this more of an examination of common thoughts or traditions than an actual account of what happened. It is an interesting read, though it doesn't have as much detail as I had hoped. This isn't the author's fault however. He does a good job with what is available.

I would recommend After Acts to anyone interested in the people in the Bible as historical characters, as it is accessible to any type of reader.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Moody Publishers Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, See Part 255

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Unfair by Adam Benforado

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado examines the American criminal justice system and its effectiveness. Examined especially in light of new advances in humanity's understanding of the human brain and how it works, Unfair not only identifies common problems and biases, but offers solutions to these problems as well.

Benforado does a phenomenal job of making a complex subject easily understandable. Both the criminal justice system and neuroscience are full of technical terms and complex ideas; how these two topics overlap and interact is an area just now being examined. Benforado uses real world examples to illustrate the biases and problems and that some of the new research is suggesting. Some of the points he makes are so obvious that one wonders why anyone thought doing certain things in the criminal justice system were ever a good idea. Others are more nuanced and require more thought.

I really appreciated the fact that Benforado offers solutions to the problems he points out. He acknowledges the challenges inherent in changing the way things have always been done, but also points out that that is no excuse for not changing in the face of evidence that says it is wrong.

Unfair is a thoughtful book that examines a crucial topic in American society. One doesn't have to be an expert to understand this book. Reforming the criminal justice system is important enough to put some effort into understanding the problems inherent in the system in order to find effective solutions. Unfair is an important addition to this conversation.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks is the third novel in the Gwen Marcey series. Gwen Marcey is a forensic artist who in this novel travels to Kentucky to help a small town sheriff catch a serial rapist. While there, she gets caught up in identifying a badly disfigured body found with a rattlesnake in it. This leads to an investigation into a secretive religious group of snake handlers.

Jumping in to the middle of a series was a little strange, but thankfully while I may not have appreciated some of the more character specific story lines, I could still enjoy the overall mystery. Marcey is a relatable character who does what she can to bring justice to those who have been the victim of a crime. Her personal struggles make her dedication to her job, and her determination to live, that much more impressive.

There were just enough red herrings to keep me guessing as I read this book. I didn't see the twist at the end coming at all. It was very well hidden and the reveal was very dramatic. Overall, I would recommend When Death Draws Near to anyone who is a fan of easy to read, somewhat lighthearted mysteries.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, August 8, 2016

Seeking Refuge by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir

Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir is a call to Christians to know the facts about the current refugee crisis the world is facing and respond to those facts the way the Bible says to. As leaders of one of the nine organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S., the authors speak with the authority and experience of those who are in the trenches.

The authors first set the stage and explain the causes of today's current refugee crisis. They then discuss what the Bible says about refugees and immigrants. Then they put a human face on the discussion by sharing the story of five different refugees. The authors then set the facts straight about the legal terms and processes surrounding refugees, immigrants (both legal and illegal), internally displaced people, and asylum seekers. While they touch on the other groups, refugees are their main focus and they spend the most time explaining the rigorous process refugees coming to the United States go through.

I found Seeking Refuge to be both easily understandable and extremely informative. I would guess that the average American probably doesn't know the information presented in this book. As Christians, it is vital that we understand important issues so that we can approach them biblically. Scripture is clear on how God's people are to treat "the least of these." Refugees and others who have had to flee their homes are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and the Church is called to care for them, regardless of legalities, political opinion, or even personal opinions. Seeking Refuge clearly states the facts and urges Christians to act.  I recommend Seeking Refuge to anyone who wants a better understanding of one of the world's greatest humanitarian issues.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Moody Publishers Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, See Part 255

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beauty Begins by Chris Shook and Megan Shook Alpha

Beauty Begins: Making Peace with Your Reflection by Chris Shook and Megan Shook Alpha is a passionate plea to all women to see their beauty in the right place - in Christ.

Written by a mother and daughter, Beauty Begins points women to God - the author of beauty itself. It isn't culture, other people, or even ourselves that we should be looking too for affirmation and the definition of beauty. Instead, God is the mirror women should look into.

There is nothing earth shatteringly new or profound in Beauty Begins. However, simple truths are often the ones that need repeated the most often. That's what Beauty Begins does.

I'd recommend Beauty Begins to all women of any age. It is an easy and simple read that points out the truths of scripture that every woman needs to be reminded of daily.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow

The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow is another great addition to his body of work. Mixing the present and the past, The Witnesses tells the story of a family legacy and how to use the gifts God has given us.

The central characters of The Witnesses are a young lawyer and his grandfather, who served in the German army during WWII. Both have a gift of seeing into the future. While the grandfather is haunted by how he has used his gift, the young lawyer struggles with how to use his gift in his career.

The Witnesses isn't quite as legal thriller as some of Whitlow's earlier novels. While the law is involved, the focus is more on the gift of seeing into the future and how to responsibly use that gift. Still, it's an engaging read with relatable characters. The blend between the present and the past is well done and not at all confusing. The imagery and secondary theme of second chances were refreshing and encouraging.

Those who have enjoyed Whitlow's other novels will enjoy The Witnesses, while those who are only interested in straight legal thrillers may not.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Doubter's Guide to the Ten Commandments by John Dickson

A Doubter's Guide to the Ten Commandments: How, for Better or Worse, Our Ideas about the Good Life Come from Moses and Jesus by John Dickson is an academic look at how the ten commandments have shaped Western society. 

While Dickson is a Christian, he examines the ten commandments in a mostly historical and societal context. When he does make a spiritual connection or observation, he clearly states that its his opinion and and separates it from the historical and societal contexts. Dickson does two things throughout this book. One is explain each commandment in its historical and social contexts. The other is point out how each commandment has shaped Western society. Dickson argues that while the original commandment in its Jewish context started to influence societies outside of the Jews, it was Jesus' interpretation (what Dickson calls "transposition") of each commandment that really influenced the Greco-Roman world and the development of Western culture. 

Overall, Dickson makes some interesting points, but A Doubter's Guide to the Ten Commandments is rather dry. Also, I'm not sure how it answers doubters, except maybe if the doubt is about the commandments influence on Western society. I wouldn't recommend this book to many people.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Legend by Eric Blehm


Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines recounts the story of Sergeant Roy Benavidez's life, focusing on one extraordinary mission during the Vietnam war. 

Sergeant Benavidez's story is one of pure determination and grit. He went from an orphan who dropped out of school in the seventh grade, to one of the most well known and highly regarded men in American special forces history. Injured in his first tour, Benavidez was never expected to walk again. He proved everyone wrong and went on not only to walk, but to qualify as an elite Green Beret. His selfless and heroic actions during one mission that went horribly wrong saved the lives of eight men. 

Blehm weaves together Benavidez's story in a comprehensive and easily understandable way. He gives context of the war in general as well as the particular circumstances surrounding the SOG group Benavidez was involved in. Blehm also provides enough background on some of the other soldiers and helicopter pilots involved in the engagement to give the reader a sense of the kind of men involved. Legend is not just about Benavidez, but all the men who went above and beyond the call of duty for their country.

I would recommend Legend to anyone interested in the Vietnam war, American special forces, or simply in stories of incredible human beings.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster


Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster tells the story of the six men who first explored the new American territory west of the Mississippi River. When Thomas Jefferson first acquired the Louisiana Purchase, not everyone was impressed. Many thought it was more trouble than it was worth. There was some basis for this opinion, as there were no clearly marked borders between where American territory ended and Spanish territory began. This caused tensions between the two countries that almost led to war.

Jefferson chose to combat both the apathy of his own people regarding the land, and the tension with Spain in a somewhat unconventional way. Instead of a huge show of military strength, Jefferson sent explorers on four major expeditions. He hoped the explorers would bring back reports of the richness of the new land. He also wanted them to bring back examples of new plant and animal specimens so people could see the benefit of the new land for themselves. Jefferson hoped that once he had something to report, congress would give him more money for further exploration, and more people would be on board with his purchase.

The explorers were also told to establish contact with any native groups they came across. This was intended to establish both an American presence, and hopefully, dominance in their new land. Lewis and Clark are the men most remembered for their heroic journey to the Pacific and back. While they deserve credit for what they accomplished, there were other men who did just as much on their journeys. Zebulon Pike, Thomas Freeman, Peter Custis, William Dunbar, and Dr. George Hunter took just as many risks and did just as much for establishing American territorial borders and engaging the interest of the American people in their new land.

Jefferson's America offers a comprehensive and easily understandable look at the above men and their journeys. Each man (including Jefferson) gets the same level of treatment, as does each expedition. The importance of each is highlighted, as is the strength and weakness of each man. The motivations of the explorers is also discussed. Fenster gives a great overall look at the political, social, and economic, and international factors in play in the Louisiana territory during the early 1800s. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Thomas Jefferson, early American history, or exploration and the people who lead it.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Unashamed by Christine Caine


Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny by Christine Caine is a clarion call to women to live completely in the freedom that Christ has given them. Using her own story of living in and being set free from shame, Caine explains both how to break free from shame and why it is so important.

While the principles in this book are helpful to men as well, Unashamed is written specifically for women and addresses the unique shames that are inherent to women. Women have often been viewed as "less than" in many arenas. Caine herself faced these pressures as a young girl growing up who would rather excel at school and lead than learn to cook and clean house.

Caine shares her struggles and strategies in her lifelong struggle with shame. She consistently goes back to the freedom of Christ. Caine makes it clear that conquering shame is a process that has many levels and never ends. The freedom we are ready for now, is not as great as the freedom we'll be ready for a year from now. Because Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, he's constantly trying to steal our freedom and reassert shame's presence in our lives. That is why we must constantly set our minds on Christ and His word.

I recommend Unashamed for any woman, whether or not she thinks she struggles with shame. All of us deal with shame to some degree, and we often don't recognize it for what it is. Caine's honesty helps the reader feel less alone in her struggle. Her strategies are practical and easy to put to use. This will make a great gift for many!

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink covers the five days (and the ensuing fallout) that elapsed between Hurricane Katrina's landfall and when the last living person was evacuated from Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in 2005. Sheri Fink is a journalist who also holds an M.D. which gives her the background to intelligently cover complicated medical matters. She does this phenomenally in Five Days at Memorial.

The first part of the book briefly mentions Memorial Medical Center's history, short biographies of the main players, and the preparations for and actual landfall of Hurricane Katrina. The rest of the section recounts what happened day by day as the staff struggled both to take care of patients in continuously deteriorating conditions as well as get everyone to safety. Using interviews, transcripts of official documents, and many other first person sources, Fink tells the story through a variety of people's perspectives. Both events and mindsets are discussed. Though one can never truly know what it was like to be there without having lived through it, Fink successfully conveys the sense of desperation that enveloped not just the hospital, but the city of New Orleans during this time.

The rest of the book details the investigation that took place into the deaths of about twenty of the forty-five patients that died during the covered five days. Fink details not just the events, but again the mindset and motivations of the major players, including the investigators, coroner, lawyers, and those three professionals who were eventually arrested. Fink does a masterful job of helping the reader understand the struggle each of these people went through regarding their role in this process. For many of them, it was life consuming.

Five Days at Memorial doesn't offer any tidy conclusions or opinions. Fink presents the available information, providing appropriate context, and lets the reader decide. I changed my mind at least half a dozen times as various perspectives and facts were presented. Five Days at Memorial does exactly what a great non-fiction book should do: it allows the reader to be in the situation as much as possible, and then lets him draw his own conclusions. I would thoroughly recommend Five Days at Memorial to anyone interested in medical ethics, disasters, Hurricane Katrina, or just a well written current event story.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This Is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes


This Is Awkward: How Life's Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection by Sammy Rhodes is a memoir of sorts. The author tackles subjects that are inherently awkward and affect many people's lives. He does this through the lens of his personal experience with each topic. Rhodes is brutally honest about past and present failings in his life, and how those awkward moments can build community and strengthen relationships.

Topics discussed include divorce, pornography addiction, and depression. Rhodes shares his personal experience with these and other "awkward" topics. The emphasis of the entire book is how important grace is, and how we can best receive it in our awkward and failed moments, if we're willing to be honest with others about them. Sprinkled throughout the book are excerpts of random paragraphs that Rhodes wrote while procrastinating while writing this book. They are often lighthearted and serve not only to add levity to serious topics, but also as a somewhat unfiltered look into the author's brain. It's another way of being vulnerable that serves to connect and help the reader relate to the author.

Overall, This is Awkward is a good book. It makes some solid points and is honest about a topic everyone can relate to. Introverts may find this especially relatable as the author clearly is one and some of his awkward moments are born out of that. There are two appendices at the end. One is "An Introvert's Guide to Surviving a Party" and the other is "A Social Media Manifesto."

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Code 13 by Don Brown

Code 13 by Don Brown is the second installment of The Navy JAG series. Code 13 centers around the legality of a proposed drone project that has powerful advocates on both sides. Because of the billions of dollars that stand to be gained or lost depending on one's business ventures, various outside interest groups get involved to try and sway the legal opinion in their preferred direction.

Code 13 is better than the first book in this series (which I reviewed here). The characters weren't quite as oversized as before. There were definitely some overhanded and less than subtle statements and attitudes, but in this installment, there were at least hints of nuance. The overall plot was much tighter and easier to follow as well. The pace is fast and Brown does a good job of maintaining the suspense of what will happen next. While there is definitely room for improvement, Code 13 is much more like Brown's earlier works that I generally enjoy.

Anyone who enjoys military fiction will probably enjoy Code 13. Those interested in drones and how they can be used in various aspects of American life will also find this book interesting. It does raise interesting questions about where the line is between protecting Americans and violating their right to privacy. Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, but there are some groups that will find it an interesting and enjoyable read.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Night Driving by Addie Zierman

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman is the story of the author's two week car trip with her two young sons from Minnesota to Florida and back. Zierman interweaves the events of her trip with her internal struggle of a period of darkness in her faith.

This is Zierman's second memoir. Her first, When We Were on Fire (which I reviewed here) recounts her journey out of the Christian culture bubble from adolescence to adulthood. Night Driving picks up a couple of years later when Zierman finds herself once again sinking into darkness and trying to escape. She can no longer "feel" God and is desperate to avoid the pit she previously fell into. Her solution is to literally escape the dreary winter of Minnesota in exchange for the sunny beaches of Florida, and hope that at the same time her spirit escapes the winter it finds itself in.

Night Driving is just as readable as Zierman's first book. While I didn't find myself personally relating to this one quite as much as I did the first, I still found a familiar story with elements that resonated. It can be a struggle for those who were brought up to believe faith was all about feeling to not get discouraged and depressed with the feelings disappear. It's not only something one learns to deal with as one matures in their faith, but is also something that often requires a deliberate frame of reference mind shift. Zierman's journey through this shift is honest and encouraging for any who may find themselves in the same position.

I would recommend Night Driving to anyone who may find themselves in a "winter" in their faith. It would also be helpful for anyone who doesn't understand how discouraging that can look and feel. Zierman's honesty allows the reader to take what they can, and leave the rest. There is no pretense to wade through. Night Driving is another great addition to the collection of the millennial memoir.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Friday, April 8, 2016

Answering Jihad by Nabeel Qureshi

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi is a primer on understanding jihad and how it affects our world. Qureshi was raised as a devout Muslim. In his early twenties, after an in depth investigation of Islam that led him to reject the faith he was raised he, he converted to Christianity.

Qureshi states in the preface that he felt more comfortable addressing these questions individually rather than writing a book. However, he felt compelled to do so by the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernadino and Paris as well as the fiery responses to these attacks offered by certain American presidential candidates. As he says, "...lives are in the balance, and we must respond carefully. I cannot feign impartiality. Ignoring the reality of jihad endangers my nation, while responding with fear endangers my Muslim family" (11).

In Answering Jihad, Quershi provides a very understandable and basic explanation of both modern and historic Islam, jihad, and how people, specifically in the West, should respond to both. Using a question and answer form, Quereshi address eighteen questions he commonly gets asked, including "Is Islam a Religion of Peace?" and "How Does Jihad Compare with the Crusades?" Qureshi acknowledges that his treatment of each question is very basic and gives suggestions for resources that provide a more in depth look.

There are four appendices included at the end of Answering Jihad. They are "A Selective Timeline of Jihad in Islam," "Muhammad's Words on Jihad in Sahih al-Bukhari," "What Is the Caliphate?" and "Ahmadi Muslims and Details about My Former Sect of Islam." There is also a two page glossary of common Arabic and Islamic terms used throughout the book.

Overall I enjoyed Answering Jihad. I learned some important distinctions about subjects that are too often painted with a broad brush. This is a subject relevant to every American. Wherever one falls on the political spectrum, everyone can benefit from more information, and less fearful rhetoric. Answering Jihad is accessible enough to be a useful tool to aid in this conversation, therefore, I recommend it to anyone willing to more thoughtfully engage in this crucial topic.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife by Ruth A. Tucker

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse by Ruth A. Tucker is part autobiography, part treatise on male headship and complementarianism in marriage. Tucker was in an abusive marriage for almost twenty years. She weaves together stories from this time with stories of other women, as well as her views on hermeneutics and interpretation of various scripture passages dealing with male headship and the role of women.

I'm not sure why, but I was expecting this to be more biography and less theological treatise. Sometimes I felt Tucker was angrily preaching rather than sharing her view, though I understand the subjects she discussed are very personal and passions of hers. I doubt that we'd land on the same side theologically regarding at least some of the passages of scripture she mentions. What can't be argued with though is her personal experience, and how her ex-husband's view of scripture influenced his abuse.

One of the main takeaways from this book that cannot be ignored is that the church has to do a better job of addressing abuse and helping those in the middle of it. Placing blame on the one being abused is never the right answer. Neither is pretending abuse isn't happening in families we sit in the pew with every week. Through stories in her life of how people in the church inappropriately responded to Tucker's situation, the reader can learn what not to do, and hopefully from there figure out how to respond.

Overall, I'm glad I read Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. I don't know that I can say I enjoyed it, because the subject matter is difficult to say the least. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject of domestic violence, especially in the context of the American church.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, March 21, 2016

Arab and Jew by David K. Shipler

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in A Promised Land by David K. Shipler is an in-depth look at the relationships between the Israeli state and Palestine as well as among the various people groups that live there. David Shipler is an award winning journalist who lived in Israel for several years. This book is based largely on interviews and conversations he had with numerous people while living there and on return trips.

Originally written in 1986, this revised and updated edition contains the original text with more current statistics and anecdotes when a significant change has occurred. Otherwise, as Shipler states in the Foreword to the Revised Edition, "the descriptions from the mid-1980s contain many elements of today, and so remain useful as a look at what has been and, probably, what will be. This edition roves back and forth between then and now, for in the Middle East, the past is never past; old wounds never seem to heal."  As one reads the book, it is clear what is original material from the first edition, and what has been updated for this edition.
 
Arab and Jew is a fascinating read. Using historical fact and personal stories, Shipler puts the reader as much in the middle of the conflict as an outsider can be. He thoroughly explains attitudes and prejudices on both sides. I didn't discern a bias toward either side throughout the book. The good and the bad of both are laid bare for the reader to judge. It was mostly easy to follow, though sometimes I got tripped up with all the foreign names. The maps provided at the beginning of the book are helpful for keeping the unfamiliar geography straight. There are several pages of notes and a long index in the back that are helpful for further investigation.
 
I would recommend Arab and Jew by David Shipler to anyone interested in learning more about the intricacies of one of the most important cultural relationships in the world. I'm sure as in depth as this was, it was just a primer. It is a complex, complicated, intertwined relationship. There are no easy answers, nor should there be when people are involved.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, February 22, 2016

VeggieTales Bible NIrV

The VeggieTales Bible uses the New International Reader's Version and is specifically geared toward children. It is hard backed and standard book size, so it wouldn't be good for little children. The NIrV is written on a level that would be easy for the average 7 or 8 year old to read and understand. I would put the recommended age range for this bible to be 7-11.

At the beginning of each book, there is a page long introduction that includes a summary and key features of the book such as important people, verses, themes, and stories. Scattered throughout the text of each book are particular verses that are highlighted to memorize. Other verses are highlighted as important concepts. 

There are ten, four page comics throughout The VeggieTales Bible that tell a condensed version of ten of the VeggieTales stories that tell bible stories. At the end of the bible, there is an "Index to Veggie Values" that guides children to verses dealing with specific topics such as forgiveness, pride, and trusting God. After that, there is a dictionary that gives a simple definition of potentially unfamiliar words and phrases such as Baal, judge, and Zion. The last few pages of the Bible are left blank except for lines for notes.

All of these features are easy to understand and be used by children. Overall, The VeggieTales Bible is full of color and formatted in such a way that is attractive to children. The features included are helpful and will help children gain a deeper understanding of the biblical text. I'd recommend this bible to anyone looking for a bible specifically geared toward children. Please note, this is a review of this particular bible, not the NIrV translation. 

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe

The Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe is a fictionalized account of the woman St. Augustine of Hippo was in a relationship with for many years prior to his conversion. She is the mother of his son Adeodatus, and while she is referred to in Augustine's Confessions, she is never named.

Not much is known about this woman, though she played an important part in Augustine's life and eventual conversion. In Wolfe's version, she is the daughter of a poor tradesman who is left in the care of an emotionally distant aunt and uncle. It is her status as a non-Roman citizen of the lower class that prevents a formal marriage between her and Augustine, not a lack of love or devotion. They live as man and wife for many years before his ambition creates a crisis point for them. Without giving anything away, the story continues to follow X's life until the moment of Augustine's death.

I was intrigued by learning more about the life of this unnamed woman. While Wolfe admits she took some dramatic license (which she points out and corrects in a note at the end), I really appreciate her creating a believable and engaging story within the framework of the few known facts. The Confessions of X starts somewhat slowly, and includes much more description than dialogue, of which I am normally not a fan. However, after the first few chapters, I was invested in X and what happened to her, and the story flowed effortlessly. It was entertaining and easy to read. Historical fiction can sometimes be spoiled because the ending is known. This was not at all the case with this book. I was connected to the characters and felt the events with the surprise and dismay they did.

Overall, I would recommend The Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, a bit of romance, the plight of women in the ancient world, or the life of St. Augustine.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sandcastle Kings by Rich Wilkerson Jr.

Sandcastle Kings: Meeting Jesus in a Spiritually Bankrupt World by Rich Wilkerson Jr. discusses the futility of building one's life on anything but Jesus Christ. Using four characters found in Luke 7, Wilkerson discusses the problems with building one's life on the things of this world such as relationships, money, power, fame, or even religion.

Before reading this book, I knew enough about Wilkerson to be interested, but not enough to know for sure if he and his message were something I could get behind. Sandcastle Kings removed any doubt that Wilkerson is a man whose faith is relatable while not compromising any element of the Gospel. This book is filled with scripture and everything points back to Christ. While not a deep theological treatise, Sandcastle Kings is full of solid theology applied in a way that is both encouraging for the long time believer, and easily accessible for those just checking things out.

I like this understated design of this book. It's easy to read and fits with the message that the point is Jesus, not anything else. I'd recommend Sandcastle Kings to anyone interested in the message of Christianity on any level. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more from Wilkerson.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

(Un)Qualified by Steven Furtick


(Un)Qualified: How God Uses Broken People to Do Big Things by Steven Furtick is a book about exactly what it sounds like - how God uses the broken parts of His people to accomplish His goals. As God's people, we should embrace our broken parts, not because we aren't seeking wholeness, but because it's through the brokenness that God brings about wholeness.

Those who have read Crash the Chatterbox by Furtick (which I review here) will find familiar themes in (Un)Qualified. Using personal stories, as well as examples from people found in scripture, Furtick highlights the importance of what he calls "the third word." This is the word that we use to describe ourselves when we say "I am ___." I am brave. I am stupid. I am....whatever third word we use has the power to shape how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world. Furtick challenges his readers to examine their third words in light of what God's third words about them.

Those who struggle with seeing past their faults will benefit from this book, especially those who are believers. Accepting God's third words about us is vital to our identity as believers. Furtick's style is conversational and easy to read. (Un)Qualified is slightly redundant; however, for those in the midst of this particular struggle, I think repetition of the truth is key to victory, so in this case, redundancy isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255




Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio

Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio is an Advent book. Starting on November 26 and going through Christmas Eve, there is a short reading for each day. Most days include a passage of scripture, song lyrics or a poem, and a prayer. Some days just have a short prayer to allow for more time for meditation and reflection. 

Giglio does a good job of matching the scripture, song/poem, and prayer for each day. They tie together very well and provide a good reflection point for each day. The aesthetics of the book are beautiful. The black and white photos lend to the sense of hopeful waiting that the entries cultivate. 

This was the first Advent guide of any kind that I've ever used. It was a good experience, and something I'd like to do again in the future. I'd recommend Waiting Here for You for those who are new to doing anything for Advent, and to those investigating Christianity. Stopping and taking a moment to slow down helps one to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas season. 

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255