Guest Review…Making Life Better

Today’s guest reviewer is Annie K. Johnson – here she talks about Making Life Better by James Vandenburg.


Making Life Better by James Vandenburg is best understood as being a collection of philosophical essays that explore personal choice, thought patterns, and the general state of the mind. This is really what a self-help book should look like without really being a self-help book. It’s definitely more of a collection of related philosophical essays and one that a wide variety of readers could enjoy and appreciate. The only thing that matches the usual genre is the title. The actual content of the book is so far from anything I’ve ever seen in a self-help book and is so plainly honest that you just can’t help but like it.

Making Life Better is really sort of a fundamental philosophy book. I could easily see this being required reading for a Philosophy 101 course because of the simplistic style of writing and the sheer depth of Vandenburg’s arguments about the mind. This book is meant to stimulate thought and it does, whether you’ve come to his same conclusions already or not.

It is laid out in such a way as to connect with the reader and is written in a style that anyone can understand and follow. This is a feat only rarely achieved by authors who write something as intelligent as this is. Vandenburg does not just stop when he says that everything is a personal choice; he goes very deep into his own mind about it. It was very clear in reading this book that the author has spent a great deal of time actually conceptualizing what would be in this book and putting it into words. Still, he manages to piece his piece his arguments together without rambling or losing the central point of them.

What I didn’t like at times was that Vandenburg used specific examples throughout his book while still remaining somewhat vague. He talked about his fifth grade teacher early in the book who was the first to turn his fifth grade belief that “I had no choice” on its ear. At the same time, he doesn’t mention exactly what he was trying to assert having no choice on. The reader has to assume that it has to do with homework, but it would have been nice for the author to be more specific. Still, the point comes across that he learned a valuable lesson about his thought process from interactions with that teacher. With that, he does go into incredible detail on are the actual discussions of that particular thought process.

Similarly, the book starts off at the end of a conversation between the author and an unnamed friend. I think it would have been better if the entire conversation, or at least the stunning realization that had inspired the conversation, had been shared with readers. Instead, it was vague and I didn’t grasp the full point of that conversation. I’ve had the “Well, duh” moments that the author describes, but I’m not sure what kind of “Well, duh” moments he specifically meant. I can’t identify with that story because there aren’t enough details in the author’s description to stimulate a recall of those memories. As that’s the biggest and only flaw I’ve found with the book, it’s not something that makes it any less enjoyable or any less intelligent.

Overall, this is a very intelligent book that a lot of people would enjoy and would benefit from. If you don’t want to reach for a self-help book for whatever rut you’re in, this is the book you should go for.

About the book: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, “A mind stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.” For a control freak like myself, this is no small matter. Making Life Better is an invitation to own our part of our making and embrace our unique opportunities to make our lives better. It’s about making routine and daily choices of action, reaction, thought and feeling more profoundly connected to who we are, what we desire and what’s most important to us. It’s an invitation to turn off our auto-pilot setting and allow our sense of purpose, identity and direction to break into our lives with greater wisdom, clarity and intention. It’s a recognition that a meaningful, fulfilling and happy life is really nothing more, though certainly nothing less, than a very long series of meaningful, fulfilling and happy moments. How we experience each of those moments is always completely within us.


Buy the book on Amazon:

About the author: James Vandenburg is a geek.  He’s also a Writer, Composer, Motivational Speaker and quite often, a Philosopher.  He holds Bachelor degrees in Music Theory/Composition and in Philosophy/Religion, a Master’s in Music Composition, and continues to be an eternal student of life and culture with a penchant for reading everything he can get his hands on.  He’s traveled to some of the most remote places on the planet but for now, is perfectly happy living in sunny San Diego, CA.

Guest Review…A Far Cry from Sunset

Today’s guest reviewer is Annie K. Johnson – here she talks about A Far Cry From Sunset by Billy Franks due for release in 2012.


The question posed by the author, Billy Franks, is “Can four friends get ten superstars to appear on a tribute album to an unknown songwriter?” The question refers to author Billy Franks himself, who is a himself a performer and songwriter. He wrote a book about his journey with three of his colleagues as the group sought to connect with – Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, and Bryan Adams. The author clearly aimed high and details his pursuit of these superstars that had occurred over the summer of 2005.

The book apparently goes into the eight-month trip across North America and Europe as the author and company spoke with managers, publicists, and security all in an attempt to persuade the superstar artists to perform for a tribute album. The actual album is available for free through the author’s website,, and features seven of the ten pursued artists. It is sort of mind-boggling that a relatively unknown performer would be able to convince some of the biggest names in the music industry to do something like this, which adds to the interest of the book.

The story, as the author explains, goes into the actual process of tracking down and persuading these artists to appear on this album and will include the experiences of the group in sort of the task of traveling. Apparently, the group had shared with other people what they were intending to do and received a lot of warm encouragement from the regular people they had encountered along their travels. Franks explains that the process had been a tremendous experience, which one could imagine is likely very true, and that the group traveling with him had bonded a great deal. I can imagine that this may be on the heart-warming side and will likely give the reader a look into the offstage life of musicians as observed by someone in a unique position – not entirely on the outside, but not on the inside either.

On the site, the author ponders whether the superstar artists experience life in the thrilling sort of way that the author and his friends had over that summer. I’m not sure how the author handles that particular point, but the claim at least seems to be a bold one to make. In the book, he may back it up with some experience he had in speaking with the artists (according to Franks, he spoke with two of the ten artists). It may be a very profound point in his book that hits at the core of the cost of fame or it could be something that only attempts to earn sympathy for celebrities from readers. It’s hard to say which way things will go, but at the very least, the book does sound very unique and interesting. This will be one to keep an eye on, especially for those interested in the music industry.

The book is set to be released over the summer of this year, so if you would like to read more about the book, sign up for a notification when it is released, or to download the free album that Billy Franks put together featuring superstar musicians, visit his website:

About the Author: Billy Franks was the lead singer and songwriter for “The Faith Brothers”, whose two albums and six singles all made the UK chart. Billy has since released six solo albums to critical acclaim. Last summer he released a charity single in partnership with his friend, Prince Harry, to raise money for the Prince’s African charity Sentebale.

In addition to his musical passions, Billy was recently the focus of a feature length documentary film, called Tribute This! The film chronicles the adventures of 4 friends as they travel the world to ask ome of its biggest stars, Springsteen, McCartney, etc., to appear on a tribute album to an unknown but worthy recipient of such an honour: Billy Franks.

Billy Franks lifetime dedication to his craft says it all. “Billy has devoted his entire life to song writing. He has given so much to others through his music. Dedicating ourselves to a project that would honor him was a no brainer on our part,” said Mick McCleery. (Director of Tribute This!)

This spring will see the publication of his book “A Far Cry from Sunset”, chronicling the adventures of making the movie as well as stories from a musical career that involved touring with the likes of U2 and REM. In conjunction with the release of the book, Billy will release a live album entitled “From the Court to the Empire”, recorded at London’s famous Shepherds Bush Empire theatre.