Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scholarly, But Very Readable

Sister Queens traces the parallel lives of Katherine of Aragon and her sister Juana, Queen of Castile. Daughters of Isabella and Ferdinand, the girls were raised to realize that their role in life was to increase the power of the Spanish dynasty and cement relationships with other nations. Things started well for both girls. Katherine, a favorite of Henry VII, married Prince Arthur in a magnificent ceremony. Juana married Philip of Burgundy, the love of her life. There the lives of the two women began to slide toward tradegy. Arthur died and Katherine married his brother, Henry. This marriage eventually ushered in the break between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Juana's Philip was consistently unfaithful and power hungry. When, unexpectedly, she became Queen of Castile, he determined to take the power for himself.

I highly recommend this book. Not only are the sisters sympathetically portrayed, but the author addresses some the mysteries of the Tudor period. Was Katherine's marriage to Arthur consummated? While the author doesn't give a definitive answer, she does present a comprehensive review of the evidence. Was Juana mad, or the victim of her male relatives hunger for power? Again, there is no way to say for certain. Juana's behavior was often erratic, but being imprisoned, she had good reason to try to get her own way in small things.

While this book is not a comprehensive history of the Tudor period, it gives valuable insights into many of the leading characters of the day. I particularly liked the interweaving of the sister's stories. It made the glittering dance of kings and queens across Europe much more understandable. In this regard, the genealogy charts were outstanding. It's very hard to remember who was married to whom and where they reigned. My only quibble is that because the marriages were so important, I would have liked to have that date as well as the dates of birth and death. A very enjoyable view of a fascinating period.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Learning to Let Go

In this sequel to Softly and Tenderly, Jade is trying to heal from Max's betrayal. She still doesn't trust him, but she's fallen in love with Asa his two-year-old illegitimate son. Max returns from the Outpost Rehab Ranch in Texas where he has been coaching football for the Randall County rec center team. Now Jade and Max have to figure out how to become a family again or whether it's still possible.

This sequel is a good follow on to Softly and Tenderly. Jade and Max now have to face the problems that drove them apart. The book handles this well, although I still find Jade's inability to let go of her hurt a bit juvenile. Max still comes across so understanding it's hard to believe he's for real. I missed the interchanges between Jade's mama and her mother-in-law, June. Mama is dead, but June is pretty much out of the action. I was disappointed in her major scene. In my opinion, it was too dramatic to be realistic.

I thought the theme of letting go was handled very well. Even when we know we have to move on, it's hard to leave our things, our homes, and our familiar routine. We feel that we're losing so much, it's hard to see the gain.

I recommend this book if you're struggling with change, and particularly if you enjoyed Softly and Tenderly.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Die to a Self-centered Life

In Die Young, Hayley and Michael DiMarco make a good case for turning your life upside down. Die to live more fully. The self-centered life is a kind of death. Once you die to that life as Hayley points out: worry, stress and doubt disappear and you find peace. Dying to your pleasure centered existence leaves the way open to live as Jesus intended.

This is a very important book. It points out how much of our unhappiness is due to the selfish lives we live. My favorite chapter is about stuff. How many of us feel trapped by all the things we have and even more by the things we want. Michael confesses that he loves stuff and uses it as a drug. Buying is supposed to make you feel better, but in the end you're left with stuff. Give up your attachment to things and you have more peace, more time for family, and less stress. I thought that chapter rang with truth.

I found the last two chapters more of a stretch. The book makes an excellent case for submission to God and Jesus Christ. “Thy will be done.” is an extremely powerful prayer. Submission to one's husband, as opposed to defiance, is clearly a good thing, but I felt the discussion was pushing the concept. Cooperation might be a better concept in today's world than submission.

Likewise I found the last chapter on confession rather strained. Confession is clearly a good thing. However, even Michael, in his confession, suggests that building a culture where confession is encouraged is difficult. I think the book makes a laudable try at expressing the importance of confession, but I don't think the answer is clear about how to implement it.

I recommend this book. The confessions of Hayley and Michael that accompany the text are particularly helpful in illuminating the discussion. It makes the book very human.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Useful Bible Reference

The Proverbs in the Bible are one of the most useful sections for everyday use. Most of them have found their way into everyday wisdom. However, the arrangement in the Bible is not conducive to easily locating the proverb you want. Other reference books, such as Bartlett's Quotations can be used to find a specific proverb, but the proverbs are not necessarily presented in the most current Biblical translation.

Dallas has categorized the proverbs so that they are easily found under key words. While the categorization may not be perfect, it provides a good start for locating the proverb you want. I was also pleased to note that Dallas uses the New King James Version of the Bible. It's, in my view, a good translation for preserving the essence of the Bible as intended by the authors.

I think this is an excellent reference. It can be used by lay people and is also a handy reference for sermon preparation and for Bible study groups. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your library of Bible study tools.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Case for Literal Bible Translations and the Excellence of the ESV

The Bible is a literary book filled with poetry, metaphor and flowing prose. Ryland makes the case that these qualities should be maintained in translation and that a literal translation does this best. The Bible is a book to be read aloud and savored , as we savor good poetry. It shouldn't be treated as a throwaway dime novel and the poetry and prose relegated to the standard of informal communication.

Ryland traces the evolution of the literal translation philosophy of the Bible from Tyndale through the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version. I found the history of translation fascinating. Translation isn't easy under any circumstances, particularly when the translators try to be true to the exact meaning and wording of the original author and also try to make the text accessible to a modern audience. I think he does an excellent job of showing how the ESV committee tried to maintain this standard.

At the other end of the spectrum from literal translation is dynamic equivalence. Ryland's examples make a good case for how much of the literary quality of the Bible is lost in this style of translation. No matter how good the editor or interpreter, it's very difficult to maintain the quality of the original if too many additions and substitutions are made. Personally, I find it degrading and arrogant to assume that a translation must be aimed at the lowest common denominator, in this case a sixth grade reading level, and that the general public can't be trusted to interpret poetry or prose metaphors.

I highly recommend this book. I learned a great deal about the history of English Bible translation and came to appreciate the qualities of the King James Bible and it's successor, the ESV. If you have any interest in the history and quality of the Bible you're using, this book is a must read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Crossway Reviewer Program.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beginning Information for Landscape Photographers

The four small books contained in the Landscape Photography: Four Seasons are full of information for the beginning landscape photographer. The information is clearly not at the level of the professional or advanced amateur. For example the Spring book details the type of camera required by a landscape photographer. I assume anyone who has been involved with photography for awhile would have this equipment and perhaps more than one camera.

However, some of the discussions are more advanced. The section on filtering in the Fall book is useful. I learned about neutral density filters and got some helpful hints on how and when to use them. The discussions of photographing in various weather conditions are valuable. They're probably not news to anyone who's been doing landscape photography, but for the person starting out, they're extremely useful.

The books are small. They could be carried by a photographer who wants to have the information available in the field. I think this is part of the beauty of the packaging. For simply reading about various techniques, the packaging, four small books in an overall cover, is not optimal, but for using the books separately, it works.

I recommend the books for someone wanting to learn more about landscape photography. They're easy to read and contain valuable hints. I plan to use them when I do my next landscape shoot.

I reviewed the book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Four Traditional Romances

With the mill closing, the town of Smitten is out of business. Not all the townspeople are enthusiastic about moving. Four ladies have a vision. The name translates to romance, so turn Smitten into a tourist resort aimed at honeymooners and other lovers. After all, the name fits.

The plot of this book drew me. Having lived in a small town that tried to redefine itself as a tourist destination, I felt a kinship with the town's problem. The idea is interesting, but the four ladies highlighted in the novellas are not. I was very disappointed by the vapidity of the four heroines.

The novellas rely on the traditional romance idea of misunderstanding between the girl and her guy. This can be handled well, or poorly. I found the ladies in the novellas straining to misunderstand their chosen guys. It wasn't a fun read.

If you really love traditional romance, and don't mind how mindless the heroines are, you may enjoy this book, otherwise give it a miss.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.