Monday, December 21, 2015

Classic Human Anatomy In Motion

Classic Human Anatomy in Motion, by Valerie L Winslow, is as beautiful as it is practical.

I recently resurrected a long-neglected drawing practice, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to review this book. It did not disappoint. As an artist and a yoga teacher, I am fascinated with the human body... how it all works, how it moves together, how nothing acts in isolation, but instead works in harmony with everything around it. It is the perfect marriage of science and art, and the author of this book understands this so very well.

An in-depth study of joints, muscles, and bones; a detailed primer on accurately representing it all through pencil and paper; AND a gorgeous coffee table book all in one, this is a book I will refer to again and again. What makes the book truly great is that it doesn't just show you - for example - how to draw a hand. It helps you understand what is going on beneath the hand, making your artwork richer, more balanced, and more realistic. Covering everything from facial expressions to arm and leg movements, to full nudes, this book covers everything you need to know about drawing or painting the human body, and then some.

It is a must for any artist, from the beginner to the most experienced. Detailed, thorough, and packed with information and beautiful images, it should be on everyone's shelf.... whether you are an artist, want to be one, or just appreciate the wonder of the human form.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fix by Force, by Jason Warne

Fix by Force, by Jason Warne, tells the story of Spencer, a high school student who is staggering under an enormous weight.  He is relentlessly bullied at school, he is dealing with the death of his father and the illness of his mother, he is wrestling with feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, he is struggling to find his place in the world, and walking the line between playing the role he's believed has been dealt out to him, and forging his own path.  In short, he's dealing with what many teenagers are dealing with... but magnified to an alarming degree.  When a series of events lands him in a special school for kids with behavior problems, he turns to what he believes will solve all his problems:  steroids.

This was good (albeit heartwrenching) story, and a fast-paced, quick read.  The characters were well-developed, and I especially enjoyed the relationship between Spencer and the girl he meets at his new school.  The author was not afraid to delve into some very deep topics here, and the result felt honest and lifelike.  I found myself rooting for Spencer, and hoping that he would eventually find his way.

My one nitpick, if I had to make one, would be that the ending felt a little rushed.  I wanted more. Still, it was a good book that dealt with some important issues facing our young people today, and I think that it's worth a read by young and older adults alike.

I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach

I was really looking forward to reading Messy Grace.  In it, Caleb Kaltenbach tells the story of how he grew up with gay parents, very much immersed in the gay community, how he eventually came to God, and how he ended up reconciling his love for his parents with his love for Jesus with his beliefs in the Bible.  At its core, it is a book about (as the title suggests) grace, and about showing love and compassion for those folks in the LGBT community.  As Kaltenbach points out, it is a demographic that has been historically been treated poorly by many Christians, and as such they need our love and support more than ever before.  They need us to love the way Jesus loved, and Caleb Kaltenbach understands this so very well.

Unfortunately, I finished reading the book with decidedly mixed feelings.  First, it is very well-written.  He uses a warm, conversational style that is easy to read, and he allows the reader to genuinely care about his story, his family, and his past.  He also effectively delivers much of what the book promises:  a convincing argument for more compassion, more grace, and more love.

Where Mr Kaltenbach lost me was about midway through the book, when he got to the "conviction" part of the book's tagline:  "How a pastor with gay parents learned to love others without sacrificing conviction."  While I absolutely agree that we should never sacrifice our conviction, and never cease speaking the truth, the way the issue was presented in the book left no room for differences in interpretation or differences in theology.   There are many faithful, Bible-believing Christians who have found that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality in and of itself, nor do they feel that - as Kaltenbach does - that celibacy is the only right answer.   We're told that those people are simply wrong, disobeying God, and/or ignoring the truth, which is.... disappointing.  The issue is not quite as black and white as we are so often led to believe, and drawing such a hard line halts the conversation and the dialogue and the research that still so desperately needs to be had.

Still, the book was a step in the right direction, and makes an important case for offering love and grace for all of God's people, even (or especially!) when we disagree.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lifted From Darkness, by Alexa Foster

Lifted from Darkness is a true story. It's a memoir. I found I was reminding myself of that fact over and over, because I didn't want to forget. What read like a harrowing but gripping Hollywood blockbuster was in fact a very real woman's very real nightmare. It tells the story of how she met, married, and ultimately escaped from a drug-addicted, controlling, physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive man. She chronicles her experiences in painstaking detail, and takes the reader inside both the outward torment she endured at his hands, and the inward struggle as she fought to save herself. 

Ms Foster tells a very important story here, albeit one that is incredibly difficult to read. First, she deftly and heartbreakingly answers the question, "Why?" Why would someone stay in an abusive marriage for so long? I think that there is a major lack of understanding in this area, and that because it's such an uncomfortable topic to discuss, we as a society tend to hide in our ignorance. But we need to understand it. We need to talk about it. What Alexa Foster does is share her immensely difficult and personal story in an effort to increase awareness about what it's like to live in that prison, and that's exactly what this book does. Second, and just as importantly, she gives the reader HOPE. Because through it all, she persevered, she fought, and she didn't give up. She came out stronger, and she did what she'd once believed was impossible: She built a healthy and successful life for herself.

Ultimately, this is a story of triumph, and it's one everyone should read.

I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Freedom's Child, by Jax Miller

Freedom's Child, by Jax Miller, is an extremely difficult book to read. And I don't really mention that as a negative. In fact, its harshness, its unflinching and dark look at a life that has spun out of control, is the very thing that makes it such a page turner.

Freedom Oliver is a raw, tortured, and wounded soul. She's an alcoholic who spends too much of her time at the local bar, sleeping with random men, and getting arrested for public drunkenness. She's also - as we find out in bits and pieces, slowly teased out of the story - not Freedom Oliver at all, but someone formerly named Nessa Delaney, who had a previous life, and two children, and an abusive police officer husband who was eventually killed.

The story begins with her hiding out in Painter, Oregon, in the Witness Protection Program. When she learns that her daughter, adopted by another family, is in danger, she sets out on a mission to find her. Pursued by both police and her ex-brother in law (recently released from prison for the killing of her husband and set on revenge), she takes off for Kentucky in an effort to save her daughter and ultimately find herself.

The story is fast-paced and brutal, with a whole set of rough characters with dark secrets and dishonorable, ie: murderous, intentions. Freedom herself is an angry and foul-mouthed individual who has more or less given up on herself until the motivation of righting the wrongs done to her children give her a reason to keep pressing on. Ultimately, an unlikable character becomes sympathetic, but it's not a pretty ride to get there.

Overall, a good, suspenseful page-turner, with a fairly satisfying (though not exactly what you'd call happy) ending. It's a frank look at an incredibly dark and seedy world though, and definitely one to skip if you're bothered by vulgarity.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

All You Want To Know About The Bible in Pop Culture, by Kevin Harvey

All You Want To Know About The Bible in Pop Culture combines two of my very favorite things: The Bible, and pop culture.  Kevin Harvey has written a fun, informative, and interesting little book here, with something to appeal to bible scholars and movie aficionados alike.

Taking a look at everything from films to television to music to super heroes, Harvey walks us through the current state of pop culture, showing us where we can find God - and biblical values - in seemingly unlikely places.  He gives countless specific examples, and cites such popular favorites as Superman, Lost, The Big Bang Theory, and Katy Perry.  He shows us that the important messages of the Gospel aren't exclusive to our Sunday morning church services, and that if we are open to it, we can find them even in the movie theater, in Tuesday night sitcoms, and in the Billboard Top Ten.

As someone who whole-heartedly loves God and pop culture, I truly appreciated this book.  It reaffirmed to me what I already believed to be true:  That God is everywhere.  You just need to be willing to find him.

On a practical level, the book was organized well.  The chapters were short, and punctuated with interesting side-bars, little quizzes, quotes, and games.  It was a fast and fun read, and an excellent choice for anyone who may want to challenge their belief that there is "nothing of God" in pop culture.

I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, by Matt McCarthy

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician's First Year, gives an intimate, first-hand view of Dr Matt McCarthy's hectic, stressful, heartbreaking, sleep-deprived, exciting first year of internship at a New York hospital.  Rather than just being an outside observer, this book takes the reader inside the entire process, and inside the author's head.  When he experiences fear and elation and utter exhaustion, we experience it right along with him.

I have always been fascinated with the field of health care, so I picked up this book with great anticipation.  It gripped me so completely right from the start that I ended up finishing it over the course of just a couple of days (a couple of days that ironically included an unplanned trip to the Emergency Room)

What I loved the most about McCarthy's story is its honesty.  He truly held nothing back.  It was raw and beautiful and scary, and so perfectly captured the roller coaster of emotions he faced as he was thrust into that fast-paced and often unforgiving environment of learning as he went along.  I laughed and I winced and I cringed.

I feel like I have a deeper understanding of a bit of what doctors go through in their early years, but beyond that I have a stronger appreciation for the human side of doctors as well.... from their remorse at their mistakes, to the euphoria of their first saved life, to the heartbreak of their first lost life, to the bittersweet connections they make with so many of the people who come through their doors.

This was simply a wonderfully written, fast-paced, moving, and often very funny read.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.*

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Your Family in Pictures, by Me Ra Koh

Your Family in Pictures, by Me Ra Koh (author bio) is a beautiful, user friendly guide to taking better pictures of your family. Covering settings both indoors and out, from the most casual such as eating breakfast and playing video games, to more formal occasions like weddings and graduations, this book gives you a simple, step-by-step plan to getting the best pictures possible.

As someone who loves to take pictures (particularly of my family) I have read a LOT of photography books, and have even taken a course or two to help me better understand my DSLR.  Unfortunately, even those aimed at beginners are often overly complicated and technical, and make the entire process seem more intimidating than anything else.  

This book is different.  It uses simple language and gives simple directions, all without feeling condescending towards the reader.  It assumes that even the most casual of camera users can learn to take great pictures, and with the help of this book, they probably can.  It gives instructions for both point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs, so you can use it no matter what kind of camera you own.  In addition to its dozens of "recipes" for getting the best picture in a variety of settings, it also gives good, clear tips on understanding your camera and photography in general, so that you have the information you need to take better pictures every time you pick up your camera.

It offers a fresh perspective, solid information, and easy-to-follow directions for anyone to capture wonderful and priceless memories of their family.  

Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.  It's a book I will be referring to again and again.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.*

Semi Serious, by Charlotte Stone


Semi Serious, by Charlotte Stone, tells the autobiographical story of a woman who, disillusioned and burnt out from her job as a middle school teacher, decides to heed a calling to completely change her course and become a commercial truck driver. Encouraged by her son in law's suggestion, Stone quits her job and embarks on a whole new adventure at a time in her life when most people are thinking about retiring.

Covering everything from her training to her early days to her many experiences along the way, the author takes us along for the ride as she learns the ropes of her new job, and explores the country in a whole new way.  Reading very much like a person journal, the book recounts her experiences, both positive and negative, in great detail, She talks about her personal growth, her encounters with animals (there is an entire chapter devoted to her different wildlife sightings), the people she meets along the way, and her opportunities to encourage others by sharing her faith.  

This was a fairly interesting book, and one I read quickly.  The author clearly found meaning and purpose in her new life's work, and it was encouraging to read about her experiences.  Unfortunately, it seemed to somehow fall a little short for me, for no real discernible reason other than I think I just wanted to like it more than I ultimately did.  The premise was interesting, and her passion and enthusiasm was palpable, but I found the writing style to be a little bit slow moving.  Certain chapters gripped me much less than others.

Still, it was a good book, and an encouraging read... especially for anyone who is feeling led to challenge the status quo and follow God's nudging for a new career.

I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Thing of Beauty, by Lisa Sampson

A Thing of Beauty, by Lisa Sampson, tells the story of Fiona Hume, a former childhood actor who has left the Hollywood scene behind and has been largely holed up in a dilapidated old mansion in Baltimore. When the story begins, we find a 32 year old Fiona broke after having squandered all her earnings. She's been emancipated from her parents since she was a teen, she is still trying to figure out where she fits in the world, and she has just placed an ad for a roommate to share her old, run down house which has basically served as a place for her to hide from life and hoard all the old bits and pieces of old furniture and other cast-off belongings that she hopes to one day make into art.

When Fiona interviews potential roommates, she meets Josia: a kind and talented older man who barely sleeps and eventually spends all his spare time woodworking and helping Fiona fix up the house. The two develop a friendship, despite Fiona's resolve for them to live separate lives, and she gradually gains the confidence she needs to face her own issues, and re-examine her relationship with her parents and the other people around her.

Sampson tells an interesting story here.  Overall, I really enjoyed the book.   The thing that I enjoyed the most, however, was also the very thing that made it frustrating.  Though it was fiction, it was a very life-like story.  We were often inside Fiona's head, which was wounded and messy and meandering.  Fiona, and the book, tended to trail off in different directions, just like life.  This is probably not the book for you if you prefer neat and tidy Hollywood endings, as it didn't really have one.  It reminded me of the ending of an independent film..... a little vague, kind of abrupt, but also sweet and hopeful.  I felt like I got to witness personal growth, and it really was a "thing of beauty."

There was a small amount of mildly strong language in this book (which I personally found really refreshing, as it made it more realistic), that's only worth mentioning because it seemed to bother some reviewers.  This was not your typical "Christian book", which in my opinion made it even better,  Again, just like life, it showed that a beautiful story could be found even beneath the not-so-beautiful exterior.... and that life can be hopeful and worth living, messy and imperfect bits and all.


*I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*