Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 2015 Bookshelf

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
Audio Book - 6 hours (approximately 4 hours listened to end of April)

Whoa. Each one of us is required to make 200 or more choices about food (and beverage) each day.  At least that is what Wansink has discovered in his years of research. He says that number may seem high because we aren't aware of 90% of them! We are mindless when it comes to eating, to food choices, to knowing what we are actually digesting.  Wansink spends the length of the book proving that and giving solutions to combat that mindless eating and become more mindful. This isn't a diet or restrictive solution.  All it involves is thinking a bit more than normal when it comes to mealtimes.  This book is far from dry, Wansink uses interesting research and conducts really fun and interesting studies.  His facts and research are fascinating because they prove how powerful thought, or lack thereof, can be.  He proposes that if we change three habits and nothing else we would lose up to 30 lbs a year (if we needed to lose weight)! And the science behind mindful and not mindless eating is so incredibly simple that I felt a little dumb listening and realizing how painless it would be to make some changes. Right away I decided to quit getting adult meals at the only fast food place I go to, I'm getting a kid meal and it's plenty. (Plus I get a fun toy!) Next time I'm at a restaurant I'll look over the kids menu and see if there is an adult kind of meal or I will be mindful. It's about being mindful.  We can all say we know that but Wansink proves that we know it but we don't know it.  This is a great book, such a great resource.  For a preview of Wansink's suggestions and resources check out Mindless Eating's website. I highly recommend this book regardless of your size, weight, and ideas about food.




Losing Faith by Adam Mitzner
Kindle Edition 368 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Galley Books for this free copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

Adam Mitzner has been likened to John Grisham.  I can see that a few years down the road and a few more titles under his name.
Aaron Littman is a top notch lawyer at one of the largest law firms in the country.  Taking a case under duress, he becomes the main target and suspect in a Federal Judge's murder. All he knows for sure is he didn't do it and it's very unclear as to who actually did do it.  His longtime mentor represents him and works all the angles for acquittal.  Mitzner never gives any hints toward "whodunit" but when it is revealed there is a gasp of shock and surprise.  Or is there?
This title is getting good reviews but it felt very anticlimactic to me the whole way through. Something about the storyline and characters felt stunted.  The reason I kept turning the pages and reading is because I was expecting a big moment, in my opinion it never came.  It read as if Mitzner was leading up to a really big break/reveal/moment and when he came to that moment I was let down, it wasn't the big moment it seemed Mitzner was leading up to.  The characters were not developed enough for me to be convinced by their roles.  The title wasn't a bad read but it felt very 'elementary' in its development overall.



Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
Kindle Edition 336 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this free advanced readers copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

I'm confused by the positive reviews, especially the reviews that include the words "humorous" and "funny" as descriptives for this story.  I found nothing funny about it at all.  In fact, I found it to be rather dull.
The Shanleys are a NYC based family who are being torn apart by father Jack's indiscretions.  Jack wants to brush it off as if it is a normal part of life and doesn't really affect anyone else.  Deb and the kids, Simon and Kat, can't follow Jack's line of thought. It raises questions, insecurities, anger, doubt, and self-recriminations. Honestly?  That's it.  It is literally a story of a family falling apart after a betrayal.  Jack is narcissistic, Deb has no backbone and their children are suffering for their parents indecisions and decisions.
I felt agitated while reading the book and I believe it is because I was bored and looking for some sort of climax in conflict or something but nothing really happened.




Out of the Blues: Dealing with the Blues of Depression and Loneliness by Wayne A. Mack
144 pages

I have relied on many of Mack's books for my own personal emotional health as well as for counseling others.  He is committed to a biblical foundation to address anything that comes up in life.  At one time I 100% stood alongside of Mack in my beliefs but the past few years, and my own personal experiences with depression, have led me to diverge from him just a bit. That doesn't mean that I don't find value in his counsel, I do but with a little more realism than before.
Like most staunch biblical counselors Mack is opposed to using "secular" psychology. He draws a thick line between the secular and the sacred.  However, I disagree.  In the past decade I have seen the secular and sacred collide and have seen how God inserts himself into all things, be they secular or sacred.  In fact, I no longer choose to categorize things by those two labels.I see God in it all.  So this is the point in which Mack and I no longer walk side by side.  In looking at so-called secular psychology I am able to see the hand of God at the root of all valid theories and thought.  The other place where Mack and I diverge is that of medication. While I do believe our current culture is over-medicated I also know the helpfulness medication provides when it is actually needed in a short term, and in rare cases long term, capacity.  I myself am on medication and it has helped me greatly. Mack supposes that medication is the "easy way out" and a way to avoid dealing with sin issues etc.  I am in major disagreement with that supposition.  If anything the medication has helped me personally have enough motivation and care to want to address the issues which lead to my depression.  To make large, general, sweeping statements as Mack does is to hurt those who do genuinely deal with depression and not for any of the prescribed reasons Mack adheres to.  He supposes that all forms of depression find their roots in one of three reasons and no other.  He ignores the possibilities of chemical imbalances, etc. Again, I used to walk alongside of him in that thought but after several experiences with myself and others I can no longer do so.  There are legitimate physical reasons that can lead to depression.
Where Mack and I continue to agree is on the response to depression and many exercises and applications to help ease its hold and release the person to joy and peace. Being a lay counselor myself none of what Mack shares in the book was new-to-me information but rather good reminders for myself personally and for those who pop up in my life that need help walking through a depressive time.  If you don't live within the bubble of Christianity this book and Mack's thoughts are going to make you angry because while he reaches for compassion and grace he ultimately fails at it because his words contradict one another at times.  If you live in the bubble of Christianity then you'll find this book helpful. If you've lived in the bubble but no longer do, like me, then you'll glean what you need to from the book and be able to walk away from the rest in peace.  Regardless of Mack and I slightly diverging on the road I will still continue to read his works and glean from him what God highlights for me.  He is excellent at what he does, bringing the Word of God into every situation and life circumstance.




As Waters Gone By by Cynthia Ruchti
Kindle Edition 304 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for this free advanced readers copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I've not read this author before but I want to now, after reading this newest title from her.  Ruchti has a writing style that is easy to read and provokes thought as well as entertainment.
Emmalyn Ross has sold her house, packed up her life and put it in storage, and traveled to one of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior to hide out, er I mean live.  Years ago she and her husband, Max, had bought a cottage on Madeline Island and she heads there to try and find life again.  Five years prior Max went to prison and shortly after that told her to get on with her life and forget about him.  Easier said than done.  Now Max is scheduled for release in 8 months and Emmalyn isn't sure what that means for their marriage, if they even have one any longer.  They haven't spoken in 4 years.  Arriving on Madeline Island Emmalyn is immediately embraced by Boozie Unfortunate (yes, that's her name) and Boozie introduces Emmalyn to healing.  (If only real life were as comforting, quirky, fun, and gracious as Boozie.)  Through time, renovation of the cottage, meeting new friends, and waiting for Max Emmalyn begins to settle in to a life that has more peace than she has ever known.
Seriously, is this Boozie character an actual real person?  Because if she is I need to meet her. She's like the coolest chick on the planet.  It's such a romantic thought to go live on some mostly secluded island and have everything you need/want.  But romance and reality are often very different things. I love the idea that what Emmalyn did and found could actually happen but the reality of it is a little far off in today's world I think.  Regardless, Ruchti writes a good story with much to think about.  Her lessons on grace are timely and thought provoking, calls to action in this world we live in.  Yes, God is weaved into the story but not in a way that makes you want to vomit. Ha! I really enjoyed the book for its ease of reading, grace filled storyline, and warm characters.




Where's Jesus? American Christianity in Crisis by Stephen F. Huss, PhD
Unpublished First Draft 242 pages

Stephen Huss is my sister-in-love's stepfather.  He founded COMTREA about 40 years ago and is a true intellectual. In Fall 2014 he sent out an unpublished draft of his newest work to his kids and asked for any input, etc.  My sister-in-love sent it to me thinking it was right up my alley.  She knows me very well.  :)  I finally got around to it this month and I'm glad I did.
Stephen and I don't see eye to eye on a few things but on the topic of this book we are in sync for sure.  He makes several strong and accurate statements about the state of the Church and he focuses on America specifically.  America tends to be the example for other countries and nations when it comes to what kind of jeans to wear all the way through to religious expression and beliefs.  It's fair for Huss to pick on America a bit. Right away in his introduction Stephen pinpoints the reason, in his opinion, for the Christian crisis in America. It's Jesus.  Jesus is the problem because the Church on the whole doesn't get Jesus, doesn't understand what Jesus was really saying and doing.  The problem isn't actually Jesus but those who claim faith in him. The Church at large has walked away from the truths, principles, and values Jesus spent his life and brief ministry spreading.  That is the problem.
Because Stephen is a true intellectual he takes the reader on a history lesson. He introduces the reader to the culture and history in which Jesus was born into and grew up in. After a brief telling of the length of the life of Jesus he then explores the development of the early Christian church, it didn't take us very long to begin to part ways with Jesus.  Then he delves into the beginnings of American Christianity, the various denominations that popped up and why, the hellfire and brimstone revivals, the surge of religion. As Huss says during this section, "Christianity spread like prairie fire across the English colonies, although in forms unrecognizable to Paul or Peter or especially to Jesus."  As he travels through the beginnings of American Christianity he pinpoints where it turned from being a "berean" faith to an emotional one in which people were encouraged to put down their bibles and just trust whoever was standing in front of them and preaching what to believe.  Add to that, as the years went by, a reluctance - perhaps even a refusal - for the Church in America to keep up with the changes the country was experiencing as a result of two wars, the stock market crash, the dust bowl and advances in technologies, etc.
Using the ever popular WWJD? Stephen takes the reader through many different societal parts that make up a culture. He examines what would Jesus do and what do "we" do.  They are pretty different. After examining the principles of Jesus Stephen then turns the attention to us, the Church.  He lays out how the principles of Jesus can be applied to American society. Huss implores people of faith to "act in accordance with Jesus rather than listen to extremists of any religion or denomination." Along with that exhortation he includes a simple "rule book" for Christians to follow. When all is said and done Huss claims, and I agree with him, that "armed with an understanding and acceptance of the real central teachings of Jesus, a modern Christian could effectively address the problems of climate change, abortion, poverty, guns, economic inequality, toxic political discourse and all the other flash points of today with an effort to solve rather than inflame passions about them....we look to Jesus for direction; he never lets us down." 
Indeed. Jesus never lets us down.

Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor
576 pages

The story of the author's parents told in fictional form. It's a good thing that Victor, in the preface of the book, acknowledges that a lot of his parents story, especially the parts of his father's life, seem unbelievable and in fact made up. He's right, they do. But he interviewed several family members over several years and received the same story for both of his parents time and time again so it all seems to be true. I am glad for the explanation at the beginning of their story and at the end.
This is the story of Lupe Gomez and Juan Villasenor, both children of the revolution in Mexico and both children of immigration as their families were finally forced to flee their homeland and cross the border to find a new life in America.  Their stories are told in alternating chapters and parts until they finally converge in California in the 1920's.  Lupe is part of a very religious and devout family, no drinking and gambling. Juan is from a religious family as well but they drink...and he gambles. To make ends meet and to prove that mejicanos were a people and culture of value Juan becomes a bootlegger during prohibition.  Lupe wouldn't approve so he keeps this secret from her apparently well into their marriage.  Both mothers have deep faith and this drives their advice, action, and responses to their children as they are all trying to find their way of life in America.  The faith part is very evident, very prominent.  It is ultimately a story of redeemed life and love, hope, failure and success, and faith.  And family.  It, perhaps, is a story of family above all else and how family is the foundation of life and culture.
Villasenor has written a beautiful, and honest, tribute to his parents and their lives in Mexico and then in California.  It is a rich story full of family history and legacy.  He gives the reader a view of the revolution in Mexico from the life of a resident, of the miles and miles of travel to reach the border between countries and gain access, of the racism the people of Mexico encountered once they arrived in what they thought to be places of freedom. He gives tribute to the sweat of the people as they forged a new life on American soil and sought to retain their country and culture amidst changing times and the influx of cultures that lived in the same country. Not only is Villasenor's book a keepsake of Mexican history but of American history as well since America went through its own transformation with the many cultures crossing sea and land to come to this land of 'milk and honey.'




Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
Audio Book - 5 hours

I loved this book, it was so incredibly clever and well-written.  It's gotten some bad reviews and I read a few of them and think that maybe the readers missed the point of the story or were too stuck on their idea of what the book should have been about. This was a great story, perhaps I loved it in part because I get the whole invisible thing.  In fact I think that more people than we all may realize feel invisible. The beginning of this book made me think of this scene from The Princess Diaries.
Clover Hobart gets out of the shower one morning and discovers she's invisible. She can't see herself. Wha....?  Her best friend confirms it, yep she's invisible.  But Red, her dog, can see her so what does that mean?  Clover is curious about her family, can they see her?  She doesn't know because they seem to look right through her while still acknowledging her presence when she's needed. They see her but they don't really see her, if they did they would see she has no visible head! Clover begins to wonder how long she has actually been invisible before she noticed it. As the days and then weeks pass Clover learns the cons and pros of being invisible, she also learns how unseen she and other people are.  Being invisible gives Clover a boldness she would never have visible and she begins to do and say things that make her wonder why she didn't start speaking up when she could be seen. Clover finds a group of invisible women to meet with and through that group's research for an answer as to why they became invisible it is discovered that all of them were taking the same three medications at the same time.  Tired of being ignored and unseen, Clover and her group of invisible women set out to hold the pharmaceutical company responsible.  And maybe the pharmaceutical company aren't the only ones who need to open their eyes and start really seeing.
The author explores two different kinds of invisibility through the literal phenomenon of being invisible. Sure, physical invisibility might be a pain but being invisible to family and friends is more of a pain. And what kind of contribution do those who seem invisible make to the problem themselves?  Ray, through a clever story, explores the feeling of invisibility that isn't uncommon to at least this reader.




Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
303 pages

I've been wanting to read this book for a few years.  Finally I get to it! What a fascinating topic to put into several chapters and call it a book and expect people might want to read it.  I am squeamish but also fascinated by the science of the human cadaver and all the information it holds.
Roach explores the several uses human cadavers serve.  She also discusses the various ways cadavers have been experimented on for possible head transplants, as natural remedies for a variety of illnesses (ick), the search for where the soul does reside, and new ideas in the disposal of cadavers. While Roach is a humorist in the majority of her writings in this book she is conservative with the humor in deference to human life and death.  One of the reviews said the book was funny and laugh out loud reading. I 100% disagree.  It was, however, super interesting and informative. Because Mary Roach is a humorist it was an interesting read rather than a dry and dull one. If the TV Show Bones has intrigued you then this book will be enjoyed by you.




Radical Together: Unleashing the people of God for the purpose of God by David Platt
129 pages

This book has been sitting in my stack since I read Radical in 2011. Clearly I was sidetracked by other titles. But this month I'm trying to tackle the stack I have in my home instead of forming a stack from the library.
Radical Together starts off with a word picture of a single drop of water beginning its descent down toward a larger body of water. As it travels down it is joined by other drops of water and momentum is gained.  By the time the combined drops of water, now perhaps a thin stream or more, reach the larger body of water (in his picture it is the Amazon River) they have a significant addition to the river's contents.
In Radical Together Platt takes the ideas he laid out and discussed in Radical and encourages believers to join together and be radical together for the sake of the gospel.  What I appreciate about Platt is he doesn't suggest there is only one or two ways to truly do this.  He gives examples from hither and yonder of radical living for God, local and global. He doesn't say one is better or more spiritual than another but he does suggest that we need to be concerned about our locals with the bigger picture in mind of the globals.  In one section he discusses Brook Hills Bob and Brook Hills Baruti, we don't focus on one over the other but we focus on both for the sake of the gospel and then he goes on to show how we can do that.
Platt proposes 6 ways to think through for the purpose of becoming radical together and each chapter is devoted to those 6 topics bookended by an intro and conclusion. In 129 pages he succinctly lays out his thoughts on the topic and leaves the reader to do the major chewing, he just gets the reader started.  He vocalizes some thoughts that are identical to mine in regards to the life of a Christian in developed countries and he offers grace, something I still am working on!  It was a good, quick read.




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