Blogger Review Books

These books have been provided free for review. The review is mine and has not been influenced by

What It Means to Be a Man by Rhett Smith

What it Means to be a Man: God's Design for Us in a World Full of ExtremesSummary: Short, highly readable book that would make a great discussion in a teen or 20/30 something mens group.

The subject of what it means to be a man in the modern world fraught with difficulty.  We mix up ideas of gender, personality, aggression, control, authority, biblical understanding and more.

Rhett Smith, author of the highly recommended book, The Anxious Christian, and a family counselor tackles the concept of manhood in a very readable (and short) book that is perfect for discussion.

I (sort of) participated in an online discussion group about this book that Rhett hosted. (I am horrible with book clubs that reads a book slowly, I want to read it straight through and discuss it).

Rhett said that he intentionally kept the book short so that there would be little reason not to read it.  The shortness makes it great for discussion groups, but has less detail than I would like.

As a man that hates sports, has worked as a nanny, has a degree in social work (a decidedly female leaning profession) I bring some issues into the manliness discussion.  Manliness in a lot of the Evangelical world is more equated with Mixed Martial Arts fighting and uncontrollable lust.

Rhett focuses on what makes a man, fathering, introspection about real issues (depression, anxiety, loneliness, vulnerability, etc.) and the movement into becoming a better man.  I think the method and writing style lends itself to teen and young adult readers, but as someone in the decade of his 40s, I think most men will find value in it.

In many ways, I think older men will get more out of it, if they read it intentionally with one or more people of a younger generation.  Becoming a man is more about mentoring and development, then knowledge or skill.  So no one has achieved a perfect on their ‘man card’.  And part of becoming a man means helping others become a man.

A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown

Reporting this review because the kindle version is in sale for $2.99 now $1.99. Also on sale for $1.99 and related is Alan Jacob’s biography of Lewis, The Narnian.

A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by by Devin BrownTakeaway: Lewis really was a gift to the church as a whole.

This year is the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death.  So there have been several new books on Lewis.  Alister McGrath’s new biography was excellent.  But there were two places where I wanted more from McGrath.  One was more about Lewis’ relationship with his two stepsons (Douglas Gresham introduces the book).  The other was more about Lewis’ spiritual development, the focus of this book.

The format of A Life Observed is to use a rough outline of Lewis’ two most biographical books, Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed. Lewis wrote Surprised by joy as a spiritual autobiography.  But it only goes through Lewis conversion to Christianity.  He lived another 32 years after that.  And A Grief Observed is his raw journals after the death of his wife near the very end of his life.

The middle of his life, in between his conversion and his marriage to Joy is really what I wanted most.  There is the chapter on the Inklings, Lewis and Tolkien’s literary club and circle of friends.  And Brown talks about Lewis’ commitment to his local church, not the university church.  In passing, it is mentioned that Lewis had a single spiritual director throughout his life, but only in passing.

Brown resists moving beyond what Lewis actually says about himself.  And mostly I appreciate that.  But it leaves large gaps in the story.  Because Lewis did not write a lot about his Christian life, Brown does not write a lot about his Christian life.

But what is here, is very good.  This is not simply a retelling of Lewis’ own story.  It is an explication of Lewis’ story.  There are quotes and referenced to one of Lewis’ books or one of his letters on virtually every page.  But it does not feel like quote after quote, it feels like Brown is weaving together the fiction and the non-fiction of Lewis into a whole that more completely reveals Lewis.

Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson

Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine BrysonFrancine Bryson is a national pie champion and a former finalist on The American Baking Competition. She’s written two cookbooks, “Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen” and her recent publication, “Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen” which is my most recent review. As my family contemplates a move a little further South in a couple of years, I thought it would be fun to dip my toe into the Southern culinary cuisine.

I spent a sold two weeks deciding which recipe I would try for this review and landed on “The Best Fried Chicken You’ll Ever Eat”. My husband is eager for any excuse to use his deep fryer so this had to be the one.

Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding by Leeana Tankersley

Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That's Been Hiding by Leeana Tankersley

I read Leeana Tankersley’s first book, “Found Art” several years ago. I found it to be a fascinating read about life and faith as Tankersley lived in the Middle East with her husband as he served in the US military. Somehow she fell off my radar screen and I missed her second book “Breathing Room”. I’m glad I didn’t miss her third production, “Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding”.

Tankersley has grown as a writer since “Found Art”. She’s just as thoughtful and introspective as before but her writing has gotten even better over time. Throughout this latest work, Tankersley seeks to reclaim the word “brazen” and return to its original meaning of “without shame”. Women have so many moments in their lives when they silence themselves, attempt to make themselves metaphorically smaller or muffle their own voice.  Bit by bit, Tankersley encourages women to reclaim who they are as a child of God.

Paris Street Style: A Coloring Book by Zoe de las Cases

Paris Street Style: A Coloring BookThe biggest trend in the publishing world last year was adult coloring books.  According to the New York Post, more than 2,000 adult coloring books hit the market since 2013. A quick search on Amazon will yield over 12,000 results for coloring enthusiasts and there’s something for everyone:

  • Garden Designs
  • Animals
  • Geometric Prints
  • Flowers
  • Scripture
  • Muscle Cars
  • Harry Potter
  • Doctor Who (I may have to get that one)
  • Tattoos
  • Irreverent (for those who are a little sweary)
  • Jon Hamm (yes, the Mad Men actor)

Adult coloring books are hard to miss and I’m finding people use them for a variety of reasons: a creative outlet, training their brain to focus, bonding with their teenage children, and as a stress reliever are just a small sampling of reasons I’ve encountered among enthusiasts. Even my retired parents jumped on the bandwagon as a way to keep themselves entertained during the long Midwest winters. I dove into coloring this past winter as well just to see what the fuss was all about and found myself enjoying the process.

Anxiety has been an issue for me and coloring has been a fantastic way to get my anxious thoughts off of the hamster-wheel-of-worry. Losing myself in the swirls and abstract images with a colored pencil in hand has gone in a long way in calming my spirit and as an added bonus, I’ve chosen to pick up a pencil instead of stuffing my worries under a layer of Doritos or M & M’s.

One doesn’t need to spend much money to experience this hobby. A small box of colored pencils from the grocery store and a free coloring page download from many websites is an easy and very inexpensive way to experience the benefits of the coloring trend. But if you’d like to splurge, some very nice options are available such as today’s review: Paris Street Style by Zoe de las Cases.

Paris Street Style is a charming coloring book that is designed like a journal. The pages are high quality; thick, glossy and smooth. The pencil glides across the page. The images vary from geometric patterns, fashion images and street scenes from Paris. The book also contains an elastic closure and a ribbon marker. I find it to be a very enjoyable and small indulgence.

This trend shows no signs of slowing down. In this crazy age of busyness and stress, give it a shot! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Paris Street Style by Zoe de las Cases Purchase Links: Paperback


I received Paris Street Style for free in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a favorable review.

New Release – The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Narrated by Emma Thompson

Audible has continued producing new content with A List actors as narrators. The newest release this month is the short (96 pages in print) creepy novel by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw narrated by Emma Thompson.

This is part of the same series that has reviewed previously, with Colin Firth narrating The End of the Affair, Anne Hathaway narrating The Wizard of Oz, Tim Curry narrating A Christmas Carol and Claire Danes narrating the Handmaid’s Tale. (Links are to my earlier reviews.)

The Turn of the Screw is a story that I have not read. A governess has care of two orphaned children at a country estate. She becomes convinced that an evil presence is lurking in the house stalking the children.

Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David G Benner

The original edition of Surrender to Love is on sale for $2.99 on Kindle. So I am reposting this 2015 review of the new edition. I am not sure what the difference is between the two editions. The audiobook is $3.99 with purchase of the Kindle Edition.
Takeaway: God is love is not the only important thing in theology, but it may be one of the harder parts of the Christian life to truly accept.

I have a theological bias. I believe that any description of God and the Christian life that does not include God’s love as central to his essence, not just one of his characteristics, is missing the heart of the Christian life.

Yes, the ‘God is Love’ can be and has been misused. But I would much rather move toward the potential over-adoption of God is love than the under-adoption. Going too far is balanced by prevalent themes in scripture. But under adoption of the ‘God is love’ principle fundamentally changes the nature of Christianity. It becomes performance based, rule following, and eventually a self-saving religion that rejects the concept of grace and ceases to be the orthodox Christianity of scripture.

I like to be (and need to be) continually reminded of God’s love of us as fallen, broken humans. David Benner (who I have read previously talking about spiritual direction) has expanded and re-issued a trilogy of books which starts with Surrender to Love.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia BarnettRain.

It’s a simple subject with somewhat of an easy explanation of what causes it. We don’t think about rain unless we’ve had too much or not enough.

Cynthia Barnett, an environmental journalist, has accomplished the impossible; a highly entertaining and educational work on the history and story of rain.  Although technically a scientific book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History is actually a biography. Barnett traveled the globe covering the scientific explanations of rain as well as highlights its mystery and romance. The storms, downpours, showers and drizzles on our planet affect so much more than we realize.

  • Diseases caused by too much, or too little, rain
  • Attempts to capture the aroma of rain, both naturally and in laboratories
  • Rain’s presence in story and song, from Emily Dickinson and Charles Dickens to Kurt Cobain
  • The history of forecasting
  • Man’s attempts to make it rain, both earnest and the rise of the charlatan rainmakers
  • The mood-altering effects of rain
  • Strange accounts of rain (frogs, fish, yellow rain, red rain, inky rain, etc.)

Both scholarly and lyrical, Rain is an extremely interesting book, filled with interviews, research, history, poetry and prose. It’s engaging to read, no matter what the reader’s interest is in scientific topics.

I received Rain: A Natural and Cultural History for free in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop

Jean Perdu has devoted his life to his floating bookshop, The Literary Apothecary. Perdu has the amazing ability to diagnose his customers’ ailments and correctly prescribe a literary remedy. Although Perdu helps every shopper who frequents his business, he is unable (or unwilling) to read the one thing which will help him cope with decades of grief.

An international best-seller, The Little Paris Bookshop is the 26th book by German writer, Nina George. George has created a unique premise in the most glorious setting with imaginative characters. Unfortunately, the story stalls halfway through and never regains its momentum. This is a shame; the story starts off very strong and the characters are quite memorable.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

I am reposting 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99 (Today only).
The Cairo Affair by Olen SteinhauerSummary: Information is money (and/or power). But it is the people that really keep and break security.

Olen Steinhauer is probably my favorite spy novelist right now.  Steinhauer is almost always compared to John le Carre‘.  But I did not pick up my first le Carre’ novel until after I had read the first two of Steinhauer’s Tourist trilogy.

Steinhauer and le Carre’ are writing in the same subgenre of spy novels. They are detailed, more about the slow burn of uncovering details than the action (although there is action).

The Cairo Affair is broadly about Sophie Kohl, the wife of a diplomat.  Just minutes after she confesses to her husband that she has had an affair, a man walks up to them at dinner and murders her husband right in front of her.

The murder of Sophie’s husband is then at the center of what may be an attempt to overthrow the government of Libya (this is set in 2011 before the fall of Gaddafi). The question is who is behind the attempt and why was her husband murdered.  Working separately, Jibril Aziz, a CIA analyst and former field agent, is trying to figure out who has put the plan he wrote for the overthrow of Libya into action.

This is not a book that really has a central character.  The story unfolds from a variety of perspectives with a number of scenes told from multiple perspectives.  I really like this as a method, especially in a spy novel.  The heart of spy novels is always information.  And no one has all of the information.