Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sisters of Blue Mountain by Karen Katchur

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Ah. The life of sisters. I don't have one so I often watch with fascination from the sidelines at how women in a family treat each other.

At their best, sisters rely and lean on each other, are good friends, and lovingly tell each other the truth. At their worst, they remember conflicts and bear grudges, compete for parental attention, and tear each other apart.

Katchur captures the complexities of family relationships where one leaves to fulfill her dream and the other stays behind to care for the family. This satisfying read leaves you wanting to know more about the family when the last page is turned.

I enjoyed learning about the migration habits of birds and some environmental concerns as a bonus.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Zora and Nicky by Claudia Mair Burney

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
Knock me off my feet! What a fabulous book. Read it. If you're an American, please read it.

But first, a history. I became an American this year, a very hard choice and the price of working overseas. (That's another story.) I'm learning about American history and challenges bit by bit. The deep-seated racial divide between blacks and whites astonishes me and - honestly? sets my teeth on edge.

Why? Canadians of my age grew up with different "stuff" - of course we have many of our own prejudices and assumptions. But when I went to school, we read about countries with civil wars, racial conflicts, and class divides that belonged to others. We were taught that all of us had immigrated from somewhere on equal footing. No teacher put one group below another. My classmates, friends, and their families came from Europe, Africa, Asia, or were First Nations (called Canadian Indians at the time) from Asian or southern migrations.

We asked each other, "Where are you from?", meaning "Where is your family originally from?" and expected to hear Russia, Cuba, France, China, etc. We didn't notice much about skin color since we came in all shades. I burned; others tanned. I had freckles; others had lovely olive skin with not a mark on it. Mostly, we evaluated each other by: "Are you nice? Do we like each other and play well together? Okay then, you're my friend."

We expected everyone to be their own person. Our groups and families looked different from each other and we hung around mostly within those networks. We kept our language alive with our grandparents and parents at least for another generation or two. Then our grammar got so bad that people from "home" (our place of origin) laughed and most of us spoke only English or French.

Our stereotypes into adulthood were of community qualities, foods, movement, and the things our groups valued. "Germans are rigid and rule-bound." Chinese make money. "Catholics have big families." Ukrainians paint Easter eggs and their church services sound gloomy. "Japanese fold paper into marvelous shapes and like eating fish." Indians wear turbans and their curry smells better than Mexican chili. "Africans dance like nobody's business" (proven at my brother's wedding: our white kid looked like a wooden stick, dancing among the Kenyans into which he married. We German-Canadians laughed aloud at our ineptness and envied the fabulous "moves" of our new family members.) That wasn't all we knew but it reflected some of what our people (whatever our origin) contributed to Canada.

That may offend some of you. That's the way Canadians learned to embrace varied rituals and backgrounds and were taught to value each other and otherness. It was a celebration of difference, rarely negative (but even then, we tended to be equally depreciative: "You have the moves but I'm a better organizer.")

We didn't like everything about everyone: my Polish-born German father-in-law hated curry so he didn't like the smell of Indian food as W and I did, living in Vancouver's "little India." My father wouldn't hire First Nations "to get things done" because he was task-oriented and they were relationship-oriented. They had little sense of time and ownership. If someone showed up to talk, Indians talked, nevermind the appointment on the calendar. We accepted and expected differences. We sometimes chose (and were chosen - or not chosen) according to our tribe's strengths and weaknesses.

As a young adult, I heard about Camp David, the Madrid Conference, and the Oslo Agreement. I read the novel Exodus by Leon Uris, creative fiction that shone a spotlight on the impossibility of harmony between Abraham's sons. I marveled at the ongoing Jewish-Palestinian hatred. When we visited Israel recently, I listened to both sides, explaining the difficulties of reconciliation and living beside a historical enemy. I heard how no "solution" from inside or outside was working.

But all the black-white conflicts in the USA? Those were utterly foreign problems. Why couldn't people just get along? Weren't they living in the "land of the brave and the free?" What wickedness segregated schools, pools, and drinking fountains? It was the weirdest thing, living next to such a country.

Yet I first encountered American racial tension at church. After playing choir piano for a Brooklyn Tabernacle song, I sighed backstage and made an offhand remark to my friend (who happened to be black. Ignorant me: as a Canadian I'd never identified her as anything but a friend and fellow musician.)

"I'm just not able to pull it off. I wish I had the big hands and soul of a black man. I wish I could relax into the music." To a Canadian, that expresses a passing sigh for a strong, positive stereotype: music, rhythm, flow that the African side of my family has and the German part of the tribe admires.

Unknown to me, I had just detonated an explosion in our relationship. "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?" Donis asked me. "WHAT?! I'll forget you ever said that, or our friendship is over." She heard me demean her heritage as "black musicians in a white club."

I was staggered by her vehemence. She wouldn't talk more about it. "If you want to be my friend ever in the future, never ever mention this conversation."

So, what had just happened to Donis and me? I sought clarification from my American friends (black and white - acknowledged at that point as "other" - from each other and from me.) My friends tried to explain the history of slavery and civil rights and the ensuing bias of white against black and black against white. Those heritages were utterly strange. The explanations of the racial divide repelled me so much that I refused to consider becoming an American. Who would choose to join hatred on both sides of history?

Well, here I am. Identified as "white people." How odd. This book made me laugh aloud - how can such humor exist in a difficult story? It also made me cry a few times, I who "never" cry for books or movies. My heart was touched and touched again.

I closed the book with new insights, compassion for the realities and challenges of current black and white USA cultures. Now I am puzzled and stumped. How can my life make a difference to this abhorrent divide that has been handed me with citizenship?

How can I embrace this as "my" problem and responsibility from here on? The color-blindness I grew up with doesn't seem healing to African-Americans. Advice welcome. (For example, a friend suggests any blindness is not helpful, but living with a kaleidoscope perspective is.)

Ok, this is a book review. = I highly recommend the book. It's sympathetic, compassionate, and a great story besides. I'm going to read it again. In the meantime, I'll be thinking about it - and any comments I get from you.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sewn with Joy by Trisha Goyer and Sherry Gore

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
The ups and downs of a closed religious or social community are unique. When love and courtship are involved, everyone takes an interest and has a stake in the outcome. Joy and Matt are finding their way toward each other, but it's not always a straight path.

I read this with a smile: the characters were winsome but complicated enough to keep me interested. The good intentions of an Amish community - whether or not those include self-interest - bring twists and turns to any story.

I recommend this as a reminder that life can be sweet - but romance can be complicated. Goyer and Gore have spoken from the outside but the story feels like a glimpse from an insider's perspective.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Christmas on my Mind by Janet Dailey

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This is a sweet romance - small town, officer and new gal in town. Not too much you wouldn't expect, but a nice read for an evening of relaxing on the sofa by the fire.

There aren't too many surprises, but I recommend it to pass time on the plane or when you want to be in a holiday mood. Good author, easy reading.

Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer's Journey by Gary Chapman, Edward G. Shaw, Debbie Barr

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
Whether our loved one is affected by Alzheimers or brain injury or cancer or other traumas, we want to express love to them in ways they can understand. This much-needed manual encourages and supports those affected by Alzheimers and other dementia.

We remember how they were. How we hoped they'd grow old with us, sharing memories and relationships until death parts us.

But what do we do when they begin to fade away, to slip into not knowing us and not remembering? When they no longer are the loving spouse, parent, sibling, or friend we have loved and depended on?

This book opens with a heart-wrenching story of early-onset Alzheimers, the same illness that affects my cousin. Liana is closest in age to me among our cousins. She's always been there, always been organized, on top of things, and outgoing. Now she is in full-blown illness and our family is forever changed. Her loving husband and children take care of her, along with daytime caregivers who make sure she eats and doesn't wander off.

The authos define key terms, stages, and other facts about the progression of dementia. They show how caregivers can express their love in 5 "love languages" that can be understood by patients at any stage of deterioration or plateau.

For caregivers and supporting family and friends, I highly recommend this book as workbook, reassurance that you are not alone. You're making a difference. This text will help you express ongoing care and love to someone who is slipping away.

The 5 Love Languages Singles Edition by Gary D. Chapman

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
What's new in this edition of Love Languages? Two of our children are married; two are single. And I've observed that singles definitely view life from their unique perspective, whether they've been single always, in a relationship, or married and divorced or widowed.

Chapman explains how to receive and give love appropriately. How can a single person express their affection and desire for closeness in ways that promote relationships?

Well worth picking up as a review (if you read the first book) or as an exploration of ways to communicate to others and deepen relationships in a healthy way, beyond superficial hellos and handshakes in social situations from at home, work, church or other settings.

Broken Ground by Karen Halvorsen Schreck

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
A book to make us gasp. A book to make our heart sing with sorrow and hope. A book about culture and prejudice and learning and influence.

You'll enjoy the journey that starts with growing up in small-town Oklahoma and leads to studying at university in California and then to influencing and mentoring others as a teacher. The story is warm and pulls you in. I encourage readers to embrace this glimpse into the heart of a young woman, joys and challenges of helping others by loving and beliving in them during the Great Depression.

Highly recommended = an outstanding story to make us think about the great privilege each of us has to transform lives around us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Third Calling by Richard and Leona Bergstrom

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
So you thought you were done. That no one cares about your expertise or or what's on your heart ... because you're getting older. But what if God wants to use all of your experiences and give you a new calling at the peak of your career or in retirement?

The Bergstroms redefine what it means to be getting older. This creative, counter-cultural generation of Boomer s (50+) is a big group of people. The authors ask us to consider the possibility that leading-edge Boomers should - and can - continue to significantly impact the world.

"We propose an entirely new paradigm and name for this season and adventure we call aging.  We implore individuals and our entire generation to consider a Third Calling." (Richard Buckminster Fuller)

This is the story of my husband and me. We left secure careers and are doing crazy adventurous things we dreamed of doing as young people. We established a family, were active in our communities ... and have left it all behind for a new season, our own Third Calling.

If you're bored, wondering what's next, and not ready to drift into the sunset, pick up a copy ASAP. And hang on. You're about to explore what God has for you and perhaps to embark on the most exciting, most fun, and most challenging part of your life!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Coyote by Kelly Oliver

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This book kept surprising me as I turned the pages. When it was over, I felt a bit stunned by the action, twists, and turns. Set in quiet country, I expected relaxation and fun. Instead, the story gripped me and pulled me into issues of the day.

Oliver comments on the social and moral dilemma of human trafficking while delivering a great story. Highly recommended for those interested in social justice, fighting for environmental accountability, for readers who enjoy a mystery, and others who deal with racial prejudice.

Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
From the moors to the city, staying true to yourself and what you love can be difficult. Let's just say that Rees has a way with stories.

This novel sucked me in and kept me reading to the end. I fell in love with the descriptions, the people, and this tale of rags-to-riches ... with-complications. I was sorry to see the last page.

Recommended for readers who want to get to know the characters, for those with an eye for detail, and for those who want a great story. I'll read it again in case I missed something the first time.

Sweet Taffy and Murder by Dana Moss

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A spin on the rich spoiled girl and hunky handyman - but good fun nonetheless. The cute heroine Taffy (yup, sappy name) shows up in town, needs help, and falls into a mystery. I'd read it again lying on the beach and enjoying the story.

Recommended for vacations when your mind needs a break and you want to put a smile on your face.

Lost on Hope Island by Patricia Harman

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
What a delightful book! The cover may be boring but the content is not. Two spunky and intelligent kids get caught into an adventure beyond the imagination of most of us. It's Robinson Crusoe X2 - and great fun to read. Would you be able to dream up pre-teen "goat midwives"? Neither would I.

I recommend it for children who are advanced readers, teens bored with zombies, and parents who love a sweet story. I wanted to take these two home, give them a bath and breakfast, and reunite them with those who love them.

Highly recommended. Can't wait for the next installation.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Foraged Flora by Louesa Roebuck and Sarah Lonsdale

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Part horticultural guide, part inspiration, this book is a delight. If you lean towards things free or inexpensive, have an artistic and creative bent, and love seeing nature with a fresh eye, you'll love this book. A few breathtaking options included.

With beautiful photography and helpful tips, this books is full of stories and quotes. I appreciated the comprehensive index at the back that lists florists, flora, and sources. Enjoyable for beginners or expert florists who crave new ways to capture the beauty and unending creativity of the natural world.

Whispering Vines by Amy Schisler

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Think of the culture shock! Imagine moving from Baltimore to Italy ... with a shared inheritance and a handsome and resistant Italian man on the other side. I enjoyed this clash of expections and the eventual romance that leads to a happy ending.

Good summer reading, if somewhat predictable.

Jilted by Varina Denman

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
How long should people just us by our past? How can we see others with fresh eyes, forgiveness, and hope? Can we forgive ourselves? How do we move forward into a new life and new relationships?

This happily-ever-after offers romance and promise, wrapped up in the story of a town's memories, the loving protection of others, and new possibilities for the future.

I recommend this for your summer reading list if you enjoy small-town neighbors, new beginnings, and redemption.

Summer in Good Hope by Cindy Kirk

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A sweet summer read. Some romance novels are predictable and entertaining. This is that, but I was in the mood for something light and so I enjoyed the story.

A widow with kids. An available man next door. A small-town project they work on together ... with all the gossip and goings on only a little place provides. With names like Primrose and Marigold, you expect it to end well. It may not be the greatest story told, but it ends happily and makes the reader feel like you're visiting with friends. That's a good thing. Enjoy!

Until I Love Again by Jerry S. Eicher

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This enjoyable and entertaining romance will help pass the time on vacation or long summer nights. Its glance into the life of the Amish highlights the joys and restrictions that define this culture.

I found myself sympathetic to Susanna and her family - both in their upholding and challenging of their history and culture. As a mom of 4 grown kids, I know that part of growing up is keeping things private, hiding from parents the things we think may hurt them or cause more restrictions. So it goes for Susanna - and the process of growing up is not easy for her or her family.

All in all, a delightful novel.

Great Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer by Albrecht Durer

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A master indeed. Enjoyed looking again at this artist's work through adult eyes. I grew up with Dürer's woodcuts in a children's book of Bible stories. Loved the selection and breadth of art enclosed in this volume.

Moderns have become accustomed to "instant art" and modern scribblings - but Dürer's work reminds us of the enduring excellent and craftsmanship by those artistic geniuses who dedicated their whole lives and gifting to art. Inexpensive and ongoing pleasure provided in this volume.

An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation by Nyasha Junior

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A valuable addition to African American and womanist theology. Would not personally relate to the agenda, except that I serve with feminist and womanist scholars where I have encountered similar viewpoints. Each scholar claims the right to draw conclusions from our research. Therefore, such a personal and professional slant on theology is acceptable among researchers.

Junior offers us theological scholarship through the particular lens of African American culture, American history, and womanist theology. Her theological reading, not necessarily in agreement with the Church's systematic theology or biblical theology, adds a contemporary voice to ongoing theological conversations and trends. She provides niche-theology by responding as a scholar who perceives the world as an African American woman. Every voice adds to an ongoing and evolving conversation.

That said, I read this as a Canadian raised to expect the integration of people groups. We may remember the strengths and weaknesses of our heritages and histories ... but we seek to move ahead. I was taught that our differences provide the foundation for contributions to society in a positive way. Historically, Canadians have celebrated and embraced the migration of people groups and our historical differences. Sure, we stereotype and sass each other with our tribes' strengths and weaknesses, the bad and good things we've been through and done, and rehash the stories of our parents, grandparents, and forebearers. But we preface answers to "Where are you from?" with "Italian-Canadian," "Hong Kong-Canadian," and "Sudanese-Canadian" - reflecting acceptance and pride in the legacy of our ancestors.

The ongoing grievances of African American slave histories are kept alive, constantly revisited, and rehashed as excuses for unresolvable racism and violence in the USA. That attitude is astonishing and depressing for outsiders. I felt Junior's resistance to a peaceful resolution or moving forward into a healthy future of racial reconciliation. She seemed uninterested in embracing racial, ethnic, or gender differences as a foundation for positive theological contributions.

While this volume adds many insights from the perception of American blacks, I'm not sure it adds (or wants to add) God's peace or healing for those reading and studying the Bible. Instead, it explains and promotes racial and black feminist divisions and distinctions from historical theology. That was disappointing.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus by Beth Moore

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I promise to review after reading a book from the publisher, but the few pages provided gave only a clue and not a holistic view of the novel. So far, I'd say I'd be interested in reading the whole thing. Tell me more.

A Bed of Scorpions (Sam Clair #2) by Judith Flanders

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
My first Sam Clair novel. I look forward to the next one/s. This was an amusing and entertaining novel, perfect for summer travel.

Sam Clair comes alive with all the quirks and personality traits of a book-lover. I learned a lot about the publishing industry, besides enjoying the story. There were twists and unexpected turns - enough to keep me coming back for the next installation.

I recommend this for a train trip or a weekend at the beach.

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife by Ruth Tucker

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
This book knocked me off my feet. Tucker asks why the Church still tolerates domestic abuse under the guise of wifely (or husbandly) submission.

I read and quoted Tucker's work for my dissertation, admiring her excellent research and writing, so helpful to historians and missiologists.

In this book, her piercing honesty and reflections on sufferings as an abused spouse  - and how a local congregation and fellow believers can support or discourage the hurting - broke my heart. Who knew?

Several of our friends are therapists and counselors. They hear these stories regularly and help the abused heal. For the rest of us, Tucker exposes the heartache of dashed hopes, the fear of physical and mental harm, and the escape from terror at home.

While her extreme honesty will make readers uncomfortable, it forces us to think about how we can be a refuge and sweet support for those who suffer domestic abuse - or a lack of safety in the Church or community. Highly recommended.

Evan And Darcy by Melanie Coles

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Pure fun - a surprising modern and imaginative twist on the Jane Austin book. I kept turning the page, hoping for a consistent and entertaining read - yup. Satisfying and entertaining.

Enjoyed it front to back. Recommended as summer reading.

The Naked Muse by Kelley Swain

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
Oh my goodness! Completely unexpected and beautifully written.

I signed up for Figure Drawing when we lived in the UK. I expected a class on perspective, geometry, and line drawing. Instead, to my surprise, a woman walked into the room, dressed in a robe - which she proceeded to take off. She posed for us for 2 hours - while we drew the curves and lines of her body.  I stayed for 8 weeks of learning about the human figure.

Swain writes about the model as person and object in an insightful and astonishing way. Her descriptions and categories of heart and art sing to the reader. She does a wonderful job of explaining the skills and attitudes that make a life model successful (or not) and how important the work is to the development of the artist and art teacher.

I learned a lot years ago during class - and now again from Swain - about how the human body is perceived in art. I remember how the self-worth of the model showed up in the drape of a body and the poses. I wouldn't volunteer again for a "naked muse" class, but having attended, this book was enlightening.

In an age when women are exploited and trafficked for various reasons, I've highly recommended Swain's insights on self-exposure to friends who work with women, as well as those considering figure drawing courses.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Acrylic Painter by James Van Patten

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I took my first painting class to find out about brushes, paints, and other options. With this book on my desk, I could have saved myself the trip! 

Beautifully illustrated samples and photographs explain the tools and methods of painting with acrylics. Color wheel to framing - it's all here for the beginner. I enjoyed it very much because it explored the "why" of painting with acrylics and why we choose the paintings we create, as well as art theory.

I like the blank spaces beside the text, perfect for making notes as you go along. This is an interesting and useful primer for anyone interested in painting with acrylics.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

First comes love by Emily Griffin

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Choices determine how life goes. Some people choose "the right path," one decided by others. Some are "free spirits" who find their own path. And sometimes other peoples' choices and experiences limit our own.

Josie and Merideth are sisters, different as different can be. After the death of their brother, the family defines itself by the accident. The sisters wonder if the other sibling has made better decisions toward happiness. When Josie decides it's time to have a baby, she chooses a good friend as the father. Meanwhile, Merideth isn't sure she has the right husband or can be content in a marriage that is conventionally good but not exciting.

Told from each point of view, the sisters and their families work through life and issues of happiness and contentment together. Though the process may be unconventional, the ending opens up a future filled with possibilities and hope.

I became thoroughly engrossed in this strange and wonderful telling of the inner life and love of family. I'd happily read another by Griffin.

Teaching The Faith At Home by David Rueter

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Scripture teaches that parents are responsible for the indoctrination and training of their children in matters of faith. Rueter urges parents to teach the catechesis toward ritual confirmation to children of elementary school age. He notes today's trend for self-interpretation - finding oneself in the scriptural text - rather than the historical approach of letting the text speak to us.

Rueter views children as "blank slates" who probably are open to learning the basics of Christian faith, rather than assuming their resistance to religious formation. The author reviews the learning processes of children, their willingness to mirror their parents' faith during childhood, and the necessity of teaching the basics of biblical narratives, including the sacrificial cross and powerful resurrection of the Savior.  He insists that moral guidelines without the whole picture of Christ-with-us is less effective in producing life-long believers who life in a Christlike manner.

Rueter asks many questions along the way. He cites studies and history to prove the increased happiness and learning ability of those who follow the Way. Not light reading, but well worth considering.

Old Paths, New Power Daniel Henderson

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Written by a Western pastor for Western pastors, Henderson exhorts ministers to seek spiritual renewal. How? We should pray and preach just like the apostles did in the Early Church, rather than depending on programs and gimmicks.

The book is full of examples of "the richest church on earth" (American) and contrasting models from early church history. Henderson includes links and quotes from Christian leaders in his examination of power, distraction, and other issues undermining the church's influence. He encourages his readers to focus on leadership in prayer and sound theology based on scripture. There are practical how-tos for starting a personal prayer time, leading others in prayer, and preaching with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

This is a strong call for the American church to return to the basics of sharing Good News with a congregation, to change both them and the world around them.

On Purpose How We Create the Meaning of Life by Paul Froese

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Froese notes how every culture (and most individuals) look for purpose in living our lives. Packed with studies and personal observations, this book brings together environment, personality, and experiences that shape us.

An interesting look at purpose as "the personal meaning we give to any experience." If you're on the hunt to find out what gives life meaning, this reviews many paths that people pursue to self-discovery.

The open-ended "your purpose is whatever you believe it to be" left me unsatisfied. I don't want to be told what my purpose is by other people, but neither do I want life to be so meaningless that any path can get me to the goal. No journey I've ever been proves that to be the way home - or forward. Why would I entrust my life to a random self-assignment?

Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First Work by Robby F. Gallaty

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Disciples are followers of Jesus, ideally unleashed in their talents and areas of interest to multiply the work of God around them. Starting with what we can understand about God is the Hebrew method of education. Western (Greek) systems began with knowledge of self.

Jesus made disciples by modeling life, including his disciples in his work, mentoring his disciples in action, and releasing them into ministry. Do we do the same? This practical manual, packed with scriptures and real-life examples, shows us how to become better disciples as we train others.

You'll enjoy historical examples and interesting stories while you learn and grow in faith. Well worth the time to read it.

Sensing God Learning to Meditate During Lent by Laurence Freeman

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Sooooo.... I'm really late with this review. Lent has come and gone. Instead of clicking out, I'd like to recommend this book for your own spiritual discipline of 40 days, sometime this year.

We hear so much about meditation, usually from practitioners of Eastern religions and New Age combinations who are emptying their minds in order to find peace.

In contrast, Christian meditation sets aside daily cares and obligations in order to focus on the beauty, wonder, and goodness of God-with-us. With very practical tips on posture, attitude, and readings, Freeman offers 40 days of reflection originally designed for the Lenten season. I'm choosing twice-a-day disciplines in my own 40 days of stillness and seeking the Presence.

I recommend this for an immersion in thoughtful contemplation, a desire to be more compassionate, and in understanding God's desire for a relationship - communion - with his creatures. Enjoy!

The More of Less by Joshua Becker

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
It's no surprise that there's more in our houses than we can use. Some of us have cabinets stuffed with things we hoped would make us happy - or thinner - or better cooks - or nicer people.

Becker invites us to reexamine our goals and values "under everything you own". This little volume asks questions about what our possessions say about us. What they are doing to our well-being. What we best can live with ... and without.

An easy read, this is challenging if taken seriously. If you're new to minimalism - or living within your means - you'll enjoy this challenge.

Peaceful Neighbor by Michael G. Long

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
Ah, Mr. Rogers. We know him as the mild-mannered, sweater-wearing gentleman who was a friend of preschoolers and somehow persuaded fabulous talents to appear on his show. I was fascinated by the puppets and watched more intently than my children did, chuckling at the descriptive names and watching for the train to round the bend. I was blown away by the musicians and artists who played for us.

Long explores the politics, faith, and deep convictions of this Presbyterian minister. Though his manner was mild on TV, Rogers dedicated himself to promoting health, wholeness, and non-violence between countries, races, and individuals. Though we may have forgotten many of his concerns since the show stopped, this book serves as a reminder of a storyteller with a compelling message - pacifism and reconciliation.

I enjoyed this book, recommend it, and will revisit it in the future.

Sit, Stay, Love by Mentink, Dana

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I admit to being a sometimes dog lover. (I don't like all dogs, but I liked this one!)

Bring together an old dog, a pro athlete, and a fired schoolteacher, and you have the setting for this tale of friendship and love ... with expected complications.

A great summer read when you want to relax, have a good laugh, and enjoy a little romance. Especially if you like dogs.

What Happened on Beale Street by Mary Ellis

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A complicated tale of adventure and mystery. I enjoyed this old-fashioned detective story filled with likeable and unsavory characters.

A text for help from an old friend sends Nikki into action. She's too late to save her Danny. Balancing professionalism with personal concern, Nikki and her partner Nate ferret out facts and circles around others' assumptions to find the truth.

A satisfying book that makes you want to read the next Mary Ellis novel.

Between Pain and Grace by Gerald Peterman and Andrew Schmutzer

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
Our daughter suffers pain every day. She's in her mid-30s, but the pain started in her teens and has not let up. I've cried out to God for relief. Begged. Pleaded. Attempted to block the suffering.

This text balances God's absolute power and ability to intervene with the human story, our privilege to live in God's presence as his representatives. As we move through wonderful and terrible days, his love and grace surrounds and sustains.

A worthwhile read - and good questions at the end of chapters for discussion and support groups. Recommended.

Death by Sunken Treasure by Kait Carson

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Set in beautiful waters, a deadly game is afoot. Treasure lures and obscures the truth. And no one may be who they seem to be! Romance, diving, partnership, and policework. Two conflicting wills. Intertwined stories. It's all here.

This treasure hunt, starring paralegal and diver Hayden Kent, went in so many directions I felt dizzy at times. There were stops and starts, twists and turns that surprised me all the way through. I was stunned by the ending, the sign of a satisfying mystery. Enjoy this summer read.

Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
So complicated. That's what I thought through this book of conversations and emotional rollercoasters. Cohen takes us inside the heads and hearts of surrogate motherhood with this novel. Does anyone act with complete altruism, or are good intentions and motivations stronger than that ... and worth hiding?

Those of us with children take parenthood for granted. Those who want children pine for them, long to hold a baby, and dream of raising children. Claire and Ben are such a couple. Romily is a single mom who has been Ben's friend for decades.

A stunning novel that keeps you engaged and wondering, page by page. After the final page, you may begin to breathe again.

Island in the Sea: A Majorca Love Story Anita Hughes

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
When you have a job to do, you try to do it well. At least that's Juliet's intention. She's smart, good at her work, and determined to persuade an aging musician to fulfill his contract. And Lionel considers resistance his best option.

The twists and turns of expectations in human relationships and resistance make this a story you want to finish. The descriptions of beautiful landscapes and surroundings - and a happy ending makes it worth the time. A good read for passing the hours at the beach or on a summer afternoon.

If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greene

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A relationship - especially falling in love - is a funny thing. It imprints us with the soul of another. And some souls are more memorable than others.

Henry and Margot are students in love when they become separated ... when they choose separation. Years later, they meet again.

This touching story invites us to ask, "What do you recognize and value about the ones you've loved?" Well told with the details of affection and loss, I enjoyed this book.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Balanced Relationship Barometer: A Practical Approach To Achieve A Healthy And Fulfilling Love Relationship by Michael Gabriel

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Sometimes we plunge into romance and forget that he and she (we) are humans with real needs, backgrounds that influence us, and history that scars us or makes us soar.

This book asks us to examine relationships with those we love based on our needs, hopes, and fears. Do you know why you respond the way you do? Why you feel fulfilled or unsatisfied in your marriage or while dating? How can you fix what is broken and affirm what is going well?

I found the summaries and questions at the end of chapters the most useful part. I recommend this book and will use some of the questions and categories in marriage counseling sessions.

Friday, May 27, 2016

People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Surprised and relieved by turn, I stayed with this book until the last page.

Who would you be if everyone thought you were dead -- and you let them think that? If you walked away from your family and friends and made a completely new life for yourself? How would you reinvent yourself? Protect yourself from discovery?

This is a beautiful and terrible book of choices and consequences. I read Emily's story as if she was me ... or my sister. Hooper writes a journey of discovery, hiding, and hope.

Well worth picking up. You'll be sorry to see the final paragraph.

Friday, May 20, 2016

An Elegant Façade by Kristi Ann Hunter

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
How important is social standing and ambition? This historical novel explores how our own expectations define our options and choices.

Hunter offers a good story. This historical novel showcases the limbing up the soclal ladder, restricting access to other people, and wanting to keep her high status, young Lady Hawthorne moves through society as an up-and-coming noble.

The tale helped me think about my own ideas of what is important. Am I behaving in certain ways to impress others? Or am I willing to be true to God's call for me, regardless of what others expect of me?

Easy to read and good fun on a lazy summer evening.

The House on Windridge by Tracie Peterson (Bonus: Lucy's Quilt by Joyce Livingston)

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
2 sweet stories that explore the challenges and rewards of living well.

Life can be a challenge. It's also filled with adventure as we learn to love others, learn to accept and pursue meaningful relationships, and care for those who depend on us.

Peterson and Livingstone give us two tales of women who do their best to be faithful and true to their families and communities, giving themselves to others. They are rewarded love and kindness.

If you need a good read to pass the time or relax, I recommend this!

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review
Anne Tyler writes about the world in our heads. I look forward to reading her books, often more than once. I love the way she explores the interior life, full of mystery, hope, and puzzles.

Vinegar Girl explores family dynamics and the patterns that determine our behavior. Even modern women can fall into habits that define their lives.

Kate Battista is a brilliant and creative 20-something drifting through life, puzzled by the social and cultural expectations of others. She maintains life for her family, defined by her father, a researcher who typifies the stereotype of an "absent-minded professor." I laughed at Tyler's descriptions and fell in love with her characters.

Highly recommended. Will make you sigh, smile, and read it more than once.

The Daniel Prayer: Prayer That Moves Heaven and Changes Nations by Anne Graham Lotz

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
Lotz challenges us to consider our role in God's plans by praying in the manner of Daniel. Rather than casually praying - now and again - or praying only in desperate times, the author asks questions like, "Do you have a time, place, and purpose for praying? Have you committed to pray? Are you disciplined about keeping your appointment with God?"

These are a few of many reflections and encouragements to pray with purpose and deliberation. I highly recommend this book, even though some may not feel called to be intercessors. The ideas will inspire anyone interested in a deeper relationship with God and those who are appealing to God on behalf of others.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Does God Exist? And 51 Other Compelling Questions About God and the Bible by Conway, Bobby

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Conway is the pastor of a non-denominational church and founder of "The One Minute Apologist." This collection of questions offers viewpoints from the perspective of a conservative, non-charismatic Protestant.

Conway intersperses 52 theological questions like "God who are you?" and "Who is the Trinity" with social and moral questions like "Is it okay to smoke marijuana?" and Does the Bible approve of sex changes?" It explores social responsibility and hot-buttons: "Should Christians vote?" and "Did love win in the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage?"

I found the juxtaposition of topics strange and occasionally disconcerting. The scope of the questions is far-reaching. The number of questions makes this an interesting exploration, especially for inquirers who are new to Christian faith.

As a Pentecostal believer, I may disagree with some of the finer points of Conway's theology, but nothing here will undermine an honest quest for scriptural truth.

I liked the format of the chapter reviews: Thought to Ponder; a memory verse, a Question to Consider, and a link to a "One-Minute Apologist Video."

Recommended for inquirers. Also recommended for Christians who want to examine their beliefs today's climate of changing values ... in light of scripture and American Christianity.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands by Jennifer Bird

The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I agree with Bird that we are constantly exploring the biblical text. We don't know enough about the original cultures of biblical writers to understand all the meanings and truths contained in the Bible.

But I would argue that arbitrarily tagging difficult parts of scripture as myth is stepping away from the text, its intentions, and its history as sacred truth. Bird's approach puts biblical scholars and theologians on the slippery slope of deciding for themselves what is true and what is "a lesson."

On many interpretations of biblical data, I disagree with Bird's conclusions. Two examples follow.

First, she claims that the creation accounts are two separate myths, fairytales to explain how we came to be. However, the scriptures claim to agree on the accounts of creation. One version is poetic, the other more linear. (Can differences be due to genre and intention, two ways to tell the same events? = a simpler and more direct explanation.)

Second, Bird's claim that it is necessary to view God (not the serpent) as deceiver - if one takes Eden's story literally - is startling. Her constant twisting of the text to a modern feminist reading is breathtaking in its daring.

"I'm glad Eve at the fruit," she says, considering it a privilege to know good and evil. She says the story of the Tree of Good and Evil is merely an ancient myth explaining our difference (morality) from animals. (Yet in line with biblical claims, could God's warning not to eat of the fruit be protective because humans were not yet ready for the wisdom God intended to provide them in the future?) Bird calls God sadistic if he actually meant a woman should bear children in pain.

Bird constantly and consistently reads current permissive culture back into the text, judging its accounts as offensive or permissible according to today's societal judgments. She views the honesty of scripture regarding sin and its consequences (for example, accounts of rape) as aberrations of justice or a callous overlooking of its trauma to victims. That is a very modern re-reading: we live in a culture where victims are held up as heroes-for-enduring-pain, who should be protected, rewarded, or avenged. However, historically, victims seldom gained full justice or wrote history. Bird is outraged when scripture notes offenses against God and humans without going into details from the victim's POV.

Bird reads current permissiveness and cultural issues back into the biblical text, judging its accounts as offensive or morally sound according to today's societal permissiveness. Her suggestion of possible same-gender sexual relationships between David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and perhaps Paul and Philemon is downright offensive. She champions redefining "what healthy sex is and looks like today" based on texts outside of scripture.

Indeed, Bird has taken the Bible into her own hands. I do not - and cannot - applaud her for it.

Insecurity Detox: A Breakout Plan to Rejuvenate Your Body, Mind, and Spirit by Trish Blackwell

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
The book makes big promises. Four well-known pillars for wellness provide the book's structure: 1. sleep more; 2. stress less; 3. eat more; and 4. move more. They're basic tenets of health, but how few of us follow them.

Blackwell syncretizes Christian beliefs with yoga, scientific research, affirmations, and exercise. Using personal examples and stories, the author encourages us to take the best of positive thinking and living for personal health.

Interesting. Recommended for consideration (with the above reservations about the dangers integrating positive thinking, Eastern religion, and Xtiansy) when detoxing negative and unhealthy patterns of living.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
What an adventure! What happens when you provoke a scholarly librarian? When you threaten irreplaceable and historical treasures? You'll enjoy this book of saving the written word and priceless artwork (between gasps and held breaths).

The descriptions of the countryside, the people, and the old manuscripts vie with the heart-pounding tale of saving cultural objects for future generations.

In this age, when we hear about IS and other extremist groups destroying the heritage of their people, it is refreshing to know that some treasures have been preserved. History is not entirely wiped clean.

The book is compelling: it tells a good story in an interesting way. As a bonus, you'll gain insights into Africa, terrorism, and the communities that resist and fall along the way. Highly recommended.