BOOK REVIEW: J.R.R. Tolkien (Mark Horne)

As a brief synopsis of J.R.R. Tolkien's life, this book serves to whet the reader's appetite for a full biography.  Mark Horne touches on Tolkien's service in World War I, his wife's sacrifices for his career, a positive relationship with his children, a short-lived camaraderie with C.S. Lewis, and his lifetime compilation of writings which became The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.  His years in education (as a student and as a professor) and his involvement in social groups of like-minded intellectuals (including C.S. Lewis) are covered.  The reader gets a glimpse into Tolkien's passion for language and mythology and his perfectionist drive to re-write his manuscripts.

Overall this is a good introduction to Tolkien's life and the books and events that influenced his major works.  Perhaps I am missing something, but I did not see how the first two chapter titles corresponded appropriately to the material about Tolkien's early life.  My favorite concept that the author conveys is the idea that even works of fantasy can portray truth.  The content was interesting, but several times the story felt disjointed and rushed.  I would recommend this book to others, but it could use some editing for better flow.

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BOOK REVIEW: Galileo (Mitch Stokes)

Throughout his life, Galileo struggled financially and rarely received the credit he deserved for his research and experiments.  Galileo was highly intelligent and excelled in many areas, including painting, music, singing, prose, math, science, debate and astronomy.  His theories of a sun-centered universe and a rotating earth came to the attention of the Catholic Church and ultimately put him under house arrest by the Inquisition.  They viewed him as a borderline heretic because (in their opinion) his views were in conflict with the Biblical passage in Joshua about the sun standing still.  Despite his lifelong challenges, Galileo continued to teach and to write, even dictating his final musings completely blind and bed-ridden. 

Before reading this book, I could not have told you that Galileo was a devout Catholic from Florence, invented the pendulum clock, had 3 children out of wedlock, or was put under house arrest in his later years.  The reader really has to concentrate to keep the names and concepts straight in the first half of the book: Aristotle, Augustine, Archimedes, Pythagoras, Euclid...heliocentric, geocentric, inertia, motion, etc.  Although dry at times because of the subject matter, the text is very readable and well-written.  It was sad to read that this legendary figure rarely received validation of his theories because of the reigning religious and scientific views of the day.  I would have enjoyed a more in-depth look at his personality and relationships, but perhaps that information is not documented.  I am glad I read this book and would recommend it to others who want to discover how Galileo charted his own path and influenced science as we know it today.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Shelter of God's Promises (Sheila Walsh)

This is my first exposure to Shelia Walsh and I was pleasantly surprised with this book that I would not normally pick up in a book store.  Unlike many "inspirational" works, this one DOES have substance.  It is a conversational commentary on some of the major promises God's children can count on during this unpredictable journey of life.  The writing style reminds me of a motivational speaker taking you through a Bible study.

Overall this is a very encouraging read and one that should ideally be read slowly.  My only complaint is the addition of quote inserts (re-quoting a sentence and putting it in bold print in the middle of a page); to me they are distracting filler.  On a positive note, I had several eye-opening moments in the book as Sheila explained a Bible story in a way that made me see how the characters in Scripture may have been feeling and why Jesus' dialogue with them was what it was.  The sermon on the mount, Mary Magdalene, Mary Jesus' mother at the cross, the maniac of Gadara--so many stories are expounded in ways that help you really envision them and that truly support the promise she is addressing. An effective Bible study for yourself or a group, this resource is worth your time and can strengthen your faith in Christ.

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Book Review: The Power Based Life (Mike Flynt)

The Power Based Life is an encouraging read with a life-coach feel that challenges readers to focus on the important things in life.  The theme for the book (listed on the back) is an anonymous quote: "The two greatest days in our lives are the day we're born and the day we realize what we were born for." (As you begin reading, you find that this is an anonymous quote.  This in particular made it seem that the author was trying too hard to be profound.)  The premise is that each person must discover his strengths and priorities, then develop appropriate short- and long-term goals.  Key elements covered include spending time in God's Word, having a positive attitude, and (not surprisingly) exercising. 

In addition to scripture (not a version I am familiar with), at times Mr. Flynt effectively relates personal anecdotes to support his points.  I found some of his examples throughout the book captivating and others, particularly the plethora of sports analogies, to be tedious.  Because the author seems like a very likable person and a capable coach and businessman, I wish I could give the book a more favorable review.  As other reviewers have commented, his advice seems a bit too cheerful and simplistic.  I would certainly recommend the book to others as it did encourage me to think about my priorities, and I am going to search out some of the authors he referenced.  Parts of the book did make me think; however, minus the wordiness, I think the whole book could have been condensed into a shorter read or maybe a long article.  Flynt's book is more of a scattered summary of ideas that are developed more extensively in other works such as: What Color is Your Parachute, and Knockout Entrepreneur, as well as individual books on spiritual gifts, self-esteem and the benefits of exercise. 

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Book Review: Then Sings My Soul (Robert J. Morgan)

Then Sings My Soul is an impressive compilation of the stories behind 150 of the hymns sung in our churches in America.  The layout is very user-friendly and easy to navigate with flaps inside the front and back cover pages (great for page markers); a simple table of contents that separates the songs into categories (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Patriotic, Other Favorites); indices at the back for finding songs by title, author/songwriter or first line.  Throughout the book, the left page is a sheet of music from the hymn (often the entire hymn), and the right page is the hymn story.  On the right-hand story page, the title of the hymn is displayed prominently with the year of the writing of the hymn underneath (not always in chronological order) and a relevant Bible verse underneath the date.

Aesthetically pleasing from the cover quality to the layout of the text,  Then Sings My Soul is an uplifting and educational collection of the background behind Christian songs, some of them written hundreds of years ago.  I was repeatedly fascinated with the stories throughout the book, although some of them were just about the author of the hymn and not the writing of the hymn itself.  The Bible verse included with each story would be helpful for readers using the book as a devotional, but I found them distracting.  The author obviously spent an enormous amount of time to research the information presented here, but the absence of bibliographic references left me questioning the credibility of the stories.  Also, I would recommend clean edges and transition pages between sections (e.g., Christmas to Easter).  Overall, this is an excellent choice for anyone interested in church history, music or Christianity in general.

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Book Review: The Revolutionary Paul Revere (Joel J. Miller)

Beginning with his father's journey to America, the Revolutionary Paul Revere is essentially a biography of this famous player in American history that focuses on his activities as a member of the inner circle of revolutionaries in the events surrounding the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere became an apprentice in the goldsmith trade and developed his skills throughout his life, venturing into silversmithing and engraving. A father, freemason, soldier, craftsman, businessman, express rider and visual historian, Paul Revere was present during many key events leading to America's independence.

I really enjoyed reading about how Paul Revere documented the events he witnessed by engraving the scenes. Parts of the book were interesting, but I struggled through most of the book to concentrate and comprehend the material (partly because of the subject matter and partly due to the author's writing style). At times the author used "cute" phrases and analogies that detracted from the credibility and readability of this work (e.g., "Then Bernard--in what must have been one of the great you-can't-fire-me-I-quit moments in history...). I did not feel that I "knew" Paul Revere after reading this book. A more in-depth look at his home life would have been intriguing. I believe history lovers will enjoy learning some new facts about Paul Revere in this book.

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Book Review: Master Your Metabolism (Jillian Michaels)

This is an independent review (not a Book Sneeze review).

At first glance, Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels appeared to be another gimic diet book for women, but as I learned of the author's credentials and discovered the intriguing primer on major hormones (and signs of their imbalance), I knew this book could lead many readers to the "why" behind their hormone-related symptoms.  Michaels explains the steps of Removing (processed foods, chemical cleaners, etc.), Restoring (e.g., whole foods, fish oil supplements) and Rebalancing (e.g., no eating after 9pm) to reach optimal hormone cooperation (aka metabolism). 

Although at times the medical explanations were overwhelming, I was impressed with the scientific explanations and am always glad to find a book that I can't sufficiently "skim" (i.e., I need to re-read it) and one that makes me want to dig deeper into a subject--in this case, endocrinology and organic foods.  Although written for both men and women, some men may pass this one on the shelf because of its cover.  Seemingly marketed as a diet book, Master Your Metabolism actually deals with hormone balance and establishing healthy eating habits.  A couple things some readers may find offensive or annoying: the profanity sprinkled throughout the book and Michaels' "go green"/"heal the earth" philosophy.  In the section on getting enough hours of deep sleep for hormone function, Michaels did not address the unavoidable lack of sleep for breastfeeding mothers and those in certain careers (e.g., active duty military).  I found the references to having a "hot" body on the proposed plan more of a marketing ploy and not really appropriate to the content of the book.

Overall I was happy to come across this book and agree with Michaels' ideas on eating before you get too hungry and enjoying occasional "real" treats (e.g., ice cream) versus imitation ones (e.g. artificially sweetened diet reduced calorie low fat _________ [you fill in the blank]).  I certainly needed the reminder to eliminate diet sodas and (most) processed foods from my personal menu, and to add whole foods.  But now the challenge is to start practicing what I have learned!