Beautiful, Inspiring and Insightful: Review of Art Wolfe’s Photographs From the Edge

“Photographs From the Edge” is a compilation of Art Wolfe’s work from the film era of the early 1980’s through the digital age up to 2015. Each page features a photo along with a brief explanatory caption, a photo tip and a more detailed personal insight or short story by Wolfe.
Granted, some of the captions are a little pointless, like the one defining an avalanche. A little more effort and creative thinking could have made some of these more useful, but most are insightful and interesting.
Ultimately, this book is beautiful. It’s packed with Wolfe’s favorite pictures from around the world, and for aspiring or amateur photographers the photo tips and personal stories are both informative and fascinating.

From the moment I picked it up I loved this book. Reading about Wolfe’s experiences and his techniques was affirming to me as an aspiring photographer. I often get caught up in trying to do everything right, but as I read Art Wolfe’s tips and stories I was reminded that in the end, photography is truly art…my perspective, my unique way of capturing an image is just that: mine. So you could say this book gave me a much needed reminder that while technical correctness matters greatly, there’s got to be room for freedom to capture an image as it speaks to me.

This is definitely a coffee table or waiting room book as it’s formatted for pick-up and put-down browsing, but it is a book that will be frequently perused. The captions and stories will speak primarily to photographers, but given that everyone with a smart-phone is a photographer, that makes for wide-spread appeal. Above all, this is a picture book, and the pictures tell the stories of other people, remote places, and one man’s exploration of this world. In that sense there’s something for everyone in these pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for 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.

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Review of “Domino Effect” by Davis Bunn

The Domino Effect

Davis Bunn’s novels are creative and contemporary, though his character development often leaves something to be desired.  That’s what made his latest book, “Domino Effect”, so interesting.  The novel revolves largely around the main character, Esther -a solitary, analytical risk-analyst who predicts and attempts to prevent a global economic meltdown.  Bunn actually does a great job developing Esther’s character, creating a woman who has endured deep personal loss and tragedy throughout her life and consequently is a remote and isolated adult who takes comfort in the solidity of numbers, patterns and algorithms.  As an added and interesting touch, Esther is also a genius. But Bunn does such a thorough job depicting Esther as closed-off and anti-social, that she’s not especially relatable from the reader’s perspective.  This contributes to a contrived feeling throughout the book, as Esther is drawn into increasingly meaningful relationships, despite seeming disinclined towards personal interaction. That progression from her isolation to her healthy socialization would actually work fine except that the plot is compressed into an incredibly short time period.

The post-2008 banking setting makes this novel extremely jargon heavy; however, explanation and description of the banking and trading terms is thoroughly conveyed through the characters’ dialogues. The uninformed reader (I fell squarely into this category) will learn quite a bit about trading, the stock market and banking practices throughout this book.

The plot is interesting and realistic; banking practices that brought about the 2008 global recession were mitigated through government intervention and regulations. Though many unethical practices were curtailed, some banks developed new, risky schemes for amassing quick profits and the global economy faces total, imminent (and diabolically engineered) collapse.  While the story is fictional, it definitely rings of truth and perhaps acts as a warning for consumers today.  As mentioned, this story is condensed into a very brief time period, events progress quickly and there’s never a dull moment.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for 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.

Made it through some summer reading: “Barons of the Beltway” by Michelle Fields

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Perhaps you recall the incident with Donald Trump’s campaign manager yanking on a reporter and shoving her away from Mr. Trump?  (You can always watch the slow-mo here if you’re really interested.  Judge for yourself if it qualified as battery or not.)  At any rate, the reporter, Michelle Fields, has recently released a book entitled “Barons of the Beltway” – an expose on the privileged, elitist world of our politicians in Washington D.C.

I don’t think Ms. Field’s “Note to the Reader” intro- which told her side of the “battered-by-Trump’s-campaign-manager” story was beneficial to the book, primarily because it revealed a propensity to hype and exaggeration.  This in turn triggers within the reader a need to beware; an instinctual suspicion that the book will not attempt objectivity.

But I plunged on and found Ms. Field’s writing style is casual, simplistic, and often angry (though not without reason). I enjoyed her use of historical comparisons and felt she was on target with her insight into modern society’s loss of appreciation for genuine humility.  Ms. Field offered numerous examples of the almost obscene perks of power enjoyed by today’s career politicians, the hypocrisy of lawmakers who exempt themselves from the laws, and the narcissism and favoritism that is rampant in Washington.

The author put forward a number of recommendations for reducing corruption in our political system; among them, voting for term limits for our elected politicians, demanding an end to insider trading, and requiring members of Congress to keep their day jobs.

I enjoyed this book at times, and I certainly didn’t hate it, as did so many other reviewers.   I will concede, however that I could only read small doses at a time, because the tone is scathing and  abrasively angry- not that the recipients of Ms. Field’s criticism aren’t deserving of it.  Democrats are the main targets of Ms. Field’s denouncement, but Republicans- the Bush family in particular- do not get away unscathed. The author successfully demonstrates that today’s politicians – particularly those who’ve made long-term careers in Congress- live in a world far removed from the rest of us.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for 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.

 

Review of “Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State”. Eye-opening and totally engrossing, this book will cause you to rethink the consistency of your political beliefs

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The initial shock and horror that followed 9/11 gave way to a sense of national unity and even defiance in the United States: we would not cower to terrorism. But below this resurgence of nationalism and the outer trappings of righteous anger, a spirit of fear festered and grew.

It is this spirit of fear that prompted Americans- even the most conservative and usually the most protective of their constitutional rights- to increasingly accept a loss of liberty in favor of the growing demands of national security.  Author Karen Greenberg, in her new book “Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State”, argues that the Bush administration both reacted to this fear and exploited it, ultimately using it as the vehicle for extending the powers of the executive office farther than our Constitution ever provided, and trampling on the rights of citizens and the integrity of the justice system in the process.

“Rogue Justice” examines the erosion of our civil liberties at the hand of the executive office, starting in George W. Bush’s administration and continuing in Barack Obama’s. While the author clearly strives to be objective in her coverage of the legal maneuverings and policy decisions orchestrated by both administrations in response to the ongoing war on terror, a hint of partisan bias still manages to comes through. This was most apparent in Greenberg’s repeated censure of the Bush administration’s legalization of torture and abuse of executive powers in contrast to what felt like a downplaying of Obama’s “kill list”, his frequent use of assassination-by-drone, his failure to close Guantanamo as promised and his utter lack of transparency.  To be sure,  Greenberg did express dismay at Obama’s failure to reform the abuses within the national security apparatus and his continuation of most of the Bush administration’s policies in that respect; however, her criticism of Bush came through far more strongly.

That aside, “Rogue Justice” is very readable and completely enthralling.  Although there’s a considerable amount of ‘legalese’, you certainly don’t have to be a politician, an academic or a lawyer to appreciate this book. For the typical American citizen who kept up on the news over the years, but doesn’t really have a deep understanding of the Patriot Act, the Freedom Act, our government’s approved use of torture, indefinite detainment of prisoners, drone-killing, Edward Snowden’s leak of classified information or the government’s blanket surveillance of American citizens’ communications- the behind-the-scenes look provided by “Rogue Justice” will leave you reeling.  This book should also challenge simplistic views of right versus left/conservative versus liberal when it comes to the executive office and the path our government- whether under Republican or Democrat leadership- has chosen to in the interest of national security.  I would recommend this book to anyone who desires to be a better informed citizen and I would certainly challenge anyone who believes that national security justifies tampering with our constitutional liberties, the rule of law and the values our nation was founded on, to read this book and re-examine their presuppositions.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Blogging for Books.  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.

Light reading, deep themes: A review of Dana L. Sleiman’s book “Courageous”

Product DetailsI decided to read this book because I was intrigued by the historical setting of this Christian novel;  you don’t see a lot about the Crusades in this genre. I somehow missed the fact that this was book #3  in “The Valiant Heart Series.” Generally I try to start with the first book when it comes to sagas. That said, although I knew I was missing back stories on the characters, I still enjoyed this book and am interested enough in the story line to read books #1 and #2. And lucky me, I found book #1 free on Amazon today!  

Here’s what I liked about “Courageous”:

First, I felt the author did a good job treating the topic of the Crusades with sensitivity and balance.  Sleiman touched on the perspective and motives of both the European crusaders and the Muslim inhabitants of the land. While the Crusades are long over, religious divisions and war clearly continue and many of the themes touched on in this book are relevant today. On that note, the author went briefly into some of the differences and divisions existing among sects within the Muslim faith (then and now), and she graciously addresses the exclusivistic claim of Christianity: there is only one way to be saved, and that is faith in Jesus Christ.  In “Courageous” one of the main characters befriends someone of an opposing belief system and as their friendship grows, these women lovingly and respectfully discuss their beliefs with each other.

The importance of prayer and  worship is a dominant theme in this book as is the Christian’s highest calling- to sacrificially love and serve others.  Reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and healing are also touched upon throughout.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers.  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.

 

Review of Elizabeth Camden’s “From this Moment”

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(This book releases June 7, 2016)

I’m pretty sure author Elizabeth Camden can do no wrong in my eyes- I really enjoyed this book. “From this Moment” is historical fiction set around the construction of the first American subway, in Boston, Massachusetts.  If that doesn’t sound too terribly thrilling, keep in mind that’s simply the setting (and it’s actually fascinating). The story itself holds a strong element of mystery surrounding the corruption of city officials and the death of the main character, Stella’s, sister.  The plot centers on Stella’s quest to discover the truth about her sister’s death, and it is on this platform that Elizabeth Camden touches on themes like courage, humility and tragedy.  As always, it is the dynamic characters that make Ms. Camden’s novels so engaging.  While there’s an element of clean romance in this story such as you would expect from Christian fiction, “From this Moment” doesn’t convey any overtly “Christian” message. That’s fine with me, as I don’t read novels for spiritual growth (although it can happen). So, I’d say this book avoids feeling ‘religious’ and is just good, clean reading. It also leans more on the mystery and the history than it does on the romance side of things.  I’d definitely recommend it to fellow historical fiction readers!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers. 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.

Review of Live Fearless (Adult Coloring Book)

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While adult coloring is all the rave these days, I’m not much good at sitting still and coloring for extended periods of time.  Sitting still and reading, yes, but not coloring. However; I have noticed the times I have spent coloring and doodling were, admittedly, relaxing. When I was given the opportunity to review this book I went for it because “Live Fearless” is more than just an adult coloring book- it’s also something of a reflective journal with a scripture and a page for reflection on the opposite side of the design. Theoretically, as you color, you also reflect and meditate on the scripture on each page. This feature really appealed to me because I love memorizing scripture and I know that doing something while I memorize is very effective.

So, for all my adult coloring friends, (Vicki Maddox I’m thinking of you in particular), I think you would LOVE this book. For all my short-attention spanned friends, who, like myself enjoy occasional coloring, I think you would also really enjoy this book.  The coloring pages are not so huge and intricately detailed you feel you’ll never finish them, and “Living Fearless” is a really creative spin on a prayer/reflection journal. Finally, for all of you “non-adult coloring” folks- this book would be a great gift for the color-er (yes, I just made up my own noun there) in your life.

(Final note here: this book is appropriate for any age in my opinion- not just adults.)

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers. 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.

Review of “I Will Witness” by Wade White

I mainly review for Bethany House Publishers, though I’ve done a few reviews for self-published authors.  I’ve also chosen not to review for a few self-published authors because the books were disasters.  If you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t say it, right?

This author, Wade White, contacted me and asked me to review this book based on my review of “The Full Armor of God” by Larry Richards.  I do not know Mr. White, so there’s no bias going into this review. It’s important to point that out because I think we tend to disbelieve many reviews of self-published authors (they’re all written by friends and family, right?). That said, I was very impressed by “I Will Witness” and I benefited greatly from reading it.  So far, this is the only  self-published book I’ve been willing to put on my blog  so that’s got to say something.

This book is written with the Christian teen in mind, though adults –and particularly those who work with youth (youth group leaders or Sunday School teachers)- would enjoy and gain from “I Will Witness” as well.  Indeed, I believe many youth group leaders could incorporate this book into their teaching material and I highly recommend it for that purpose.

“I Will Witness” is essentially a how-to manual for overcoming fear and finding the courage to be a witness for Christ.  I say “how-to” manual, but I don’t want to convey that it is anything like a textbook. On the contrary, “I Will Witness” made great use of stories, analogies and examples which serve to capture the reader’s attention and drive the author’s point home. I really appreciated Mr. White’s writing style, which is casual, yet engaging.  He avoids using a dry, academic tone and is never redundant or overworked- nor is his writing overly simplistic.  The author promises not to use “churchy” words and generally holds to that (he does provide a glossary of terms because, ultimately, not all churchy words can be avoided.)    A teen reader, particularly one who may not read a lot of non-fiction, will find this book readable, motivating and faith-inspiring.

Mr. White addresses a number of theological issues with clarity, particularly in terms of the believer’s role in witnessing, the Holy Spirit’s role, and the recipient’s role.  He discusses the importance of prayer, of discerning the Holy Spirit’s prompting and seeking divine appointments.  He also focuses on the importance of the Christian’s example through life-style and the need to “love our friends toward Jesus, rather than scare them away from Hell.” In regards to over-coming fear, the author addresses the roots of common fears, presents a heaven-focused perspective, encourages the reader through examples and stories and reminds us that “faith is a gift from God, not from us”.

This book is well-organized, to-the-point, theologically correct and a worthwhile read.  It definitely gets my recommendation.

 

“Like Never Before – Great Depth, Spiritual Insight and Romance

I have enjoyed all of Melissa Tagg’s books to-date.  She is excellent at developing her characters and weaving spiritual truth into contemporary, realistic settings.  “Like Never Before” is book #2 in the Walker Family Series, and while you needn’t have read “From the Start” (book #1) to enjoy this book, you’ll really enjoy it a lot more if you have.  Themes found in “Like Never Before” include the guilt a working, single parent can struggle with, the guilt of moving on after the death of a spouse – and how the death of a spouse can affect extended family relationships.  Divorce,  disappointment with God,  false security and reconciliation are other themes that combine to make “Like Never Before” an emotionally engaging story with great depth, spiritual insight, romance and a hint of mystery.  It had been awhile since I’d read the first book in the series (again, these books can stand alone but are better as a series), so it took me a little while to “refamiliarize” myself with the Maple Valley setting- for that reason I felt like it was a bit of a slow start.  But, as I got into the story and the characters, I developed a great appreciation for its depth.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers. 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.

A Good Lesson in NOT Judging a Book by its Title or Cover

Siri Mitchell consistently delivers entertaining and insightful historical romance, and “Flirtation Walk” is no exception. Do not judge this book by its title or its cover; “Flirtation Walk” refers to an actual pathway at West Point Military Academy, and the cover- while demure and sentimental-in no way reflects the story line or plot. Rather, I found this a fast-moving, entertaining, and purely enjoyable read. I loved the use of 1st person for the main character- it was refreshing and caused me to realize I rarely see books in 1st person anymore. The “con-girl gone good” and “good-guy trying to go bad” angle that forms the story-line was unique and well-developed. As always, Ms. Mitchell’s characters are believable and well-rounded. I enjoyed the incidental history about West Point Military Academy and I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for 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.