Monday, January 25, 2016

Married and Still Loving It by Gary Chapman and Harold Myra

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
We've been married almost 39 years. It has been a lot of fun and we've been on a lot of adventures together.

But there have been days / months / years when we've wondered if we were crazy to be together. Sometimes living with someone - sticking it out - can be difficult. When you or your spouse are not in synch about finances, life goals, raising kids, etc., marriage can feel like hell.

The advice we always give couples is STAY. Assume best intentions from the other person. Work it out. Do what you can to change yourself and to love your spouse.

One study of happiness and unhappiness in marriage startled me during my graduate classes: most of those who said they were unhappy in their marriage (and stuck it out), rated their marriages as happy 5 years later.

I don't recommend staying to "tough it out" for those being abused or harmed or when the spouse is serially unfaithful. It takes 2 people to make a marriage work.

But in a normal marriage of ups and downs (stone grinding on stone, as it were), there will be great days and hard days. Bliss and blessing. Trial and traction.

Chapman and Myra offer hope for happiness and growth through good communication. The qualities of laughter, resilience, and faith show up again and again in their studies of sound marriages. The authors show how to increase and improve those in your marriage. Well worth reading and keeping on the bookshelf to loan to couples who have been together for a while.

Reclaiming Surrendered Ground: protecting your family from spiritual attacks by Jim Logan

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
What does your family struggle with? Does it seem like you're trying to work things out but never make progress? Consider what's underneath. Unseen. Unresolved for you or your spouse ... or between you and those you love.

Logan, a counselor and spiritual mentor, asks us to look at the spiritual markers that are holding us back. Where has the family - especially parents - given way to wrong thinking and wrong acting? Rather than naming our consistent wrong-doing "addiction," Logan asks us to name it as sin - rebellion against God and a stronghold for the enemy of our souls (Satan).

Consider the process of engagement: admitting our sins, repenting and turning to God for forgiveness and the power to move forward.

Whether you're tired of struggling - or just starting the adventure of marriage and family, here's a practical yet spiritual book based in scripture.

Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
One day we'll wake up and realize we're not God. (Ok, so everyone around us already knows that.)

Our time, resources, and energy are finite. We want to be a certain kind of person, but how do we get there? How can we move toward being - while doing?

We evaluate, set goals, prioritize. And hopefully we live mindfully with the limitations - and joys - of being human.

Diaz-Ortiz has put the process of "doing less to be more" into an easy-to-read manual, full of practical advice and ideas. It's like sitting down with a mentor. I'm in transition and will be picking this up regularly as I plan the next months.

Recommended without reservations.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Make Me a Match Baby, Baby\The Matchmaker Wore Skates\Suddenly Sophie by Melinda Curtis, Cari Lynn Webb, Anna J. Stewart

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Three guys. Three stories of meeting the right person. Think cold and dark Alaska, a community bar, and some handsome bachelors who devise an entrepreneurial adventure with the goal of escaping the north to revive old dreams.

Sometimes the best romantic fit is right around the corner. This is light reading, fun to pass the time, and satisfying entertainment.

Read one. Read all three novellas. This women's fiction won't take too much effort - it's the equivalent of a relaxing chick flick.

My Name's Lyman by Lily-Marie Taylor

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Lyman is one person and many. The choices we make - and what happens to us because of those decisions - are explored in many options.

I found the premise confusing at first but the stories were compelling and interesting. What alternative paths would our own personal lives have taken, had we said yes or no at crucial moments?

The stories are diverse, spread across different places and different settings. Get to know Lyman, and you'll know more about yourself.

Overcoming Depression The Curse of the Strong by Dr. Tim Cantopher

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
We've never had it so good, at least in the West. Yet millions suffer depression and wonder if they can ever recover.

Cantopher explains what depression is and many factors that can cause and influence the illness. But he offers hope for those who suffer.

I recommend it for friends and acquaintances who struggle with depression - and I wish I'd had this information years ago, during the 10 years that depression was part of the darkness of my own mornings and nights.

The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read by Michael Berube

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Dissecting stories from a literary perspective means looking at author intention, narrative, and genre (among many other factors). Bérubé, a professor of modern literature, examines successful novels of the last centuries in light of intellectual disability.

Def. Intellectual disability = Impairment in intellectual or adaptive behavior, formerly called mental retardation.

If we read into current stories the limitations of mental and behavioral norms of their characters, how might the stories inform and change us? This is a scholarly book: I hadn't read many of the recent novels the author mentions.

The idea of bringing ourselves and our understanding of what it means to be "functional" or "fully human" to fiction is hardly new. But this perspective - reading degrees and types of intellectual disability into the narrative - makes for an interesting experiment and offers new possibilities for future reading (whether or not I read the books mentioned by Bérubé.)

I'd recommend a look at this fresh perspective for students / profs of modern literature - and for those working with the intellectually disabled. It will be too academic for the casual reader.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Kingdom of Rarities by Eric Dinerstein

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
What happens when you unleash curious scientists on the uncharted natural world? What marvels can be uncovered when researchers explore rare and declining animal species?

Well, if you document their search and interactions like Dinerstein did - and are a good writer, readers get a stunning report that reads like fiction sometimes and like a good adventure novel at other times.

This book encourages the reader to appreciate the animals in their habitats - geography, botany, proximity to humans, etc. I also found myself engrossed in the beauty of God's creation. What a marvelous world we live in! We can hardly imagine the creativity around us, hidden and in full display.

Honestly, as a Christian, I also enjoyed the privilege of worshipping an endlessly inventive, beauty-loving Creator. How kind he is to share his treasures with us! And how much fun it must be for him to watch us unfold and exclaim over what he has always known.

GOOD FUN, very informative, and well worth reading. Belongs in my library for further contemplation and enjoyment.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Silver Suitcase by Terrie Todd

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Grandmother's suitcase. (It has a bit of the ring of the wardrobe in another story.) This one is the comfort and revelation of life beyond what we expect as well. It's the story of second chances.

When things get tough, Benita turns to her grandmother's diary for comfort. The losses of job and her grandmother turn Benita toward blessings and renewal.

This was a satisfying tale of family and friendships. The generations confirm that human nature doesn't change even when circumstances do.

Enjoyable. Recommended.

Wonder of Wonders by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
What a lovely book! Though it's designed for Christmas, the pictures of winter scenes are appropriate for the cold half of the year. The evening prayer, poetry, and thoughts were treasures -

Christmas might be past, but the beautiful photography, the warmth and depth of Bonhoeffer's words, and the  makes this a great coffee table book to pick up and enjoy beyond the festive season.

A Refuge at Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I rarely read historical fiction, but I got into this one right away and enjoyed it to the end.

It put me smack in the middle of the English landscape and culture - in the middle of WWII. The characters and classes of England came alive on the pages. I fell in love with the people and felt like I was seeing firsthand a family and friends affected by the war.

If you like romance, family life, and history rolled into a good story, this is the book for you.

The Restaurant Critic's Wife A Novel by Elizabeth LaBan

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This book caught my interest and was compelling in its picture of life with a career-focused husband and little kids. A career woman turns mom of toddlers - with all the mess and the joys of turning from management outside the home to inside. There were only a few places where my attention wandered.

The author got it right: how many memories this brought back. I went back to the time when my husband was building his career. I remembered why I loved being home and why I was frustrated with my kids. And it reminded me of how precious marriage and family are.

I caught my breath in amazement at the attention to detail. You'll laugh and you may cry - but the book will probably keep you reading to the last satisfying page.

Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context by John Woodbridge, Frank A. James III

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
Looking for an academic but readable history of the Church from the 1300s on? Look no further. Besides clear text, this volume includes charts, artwork, and maps that explore and explain politics, doctrine and policy, and historical context in the unfolding story of the Church.

It's a thick tome with lots of references should you want to keep exploring. I'll keep this one as a reference text for both secular and religious reading; it puts history and religion in context. The particular view of Woodridge and James will provide a background for other reading - whether historical novels, academic papers, or classroom lectures.

Thanks for letting me read and review - I enjoyed it and highly recommend it for scholars and others interested in the development of European politics, religion, and culture.

Let's Learn about Psalm 23 by Catherine DeVries

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A sweet children's parable about the Shepherd in Psalm 23. My grandkids will enjoy this one.

The illustrations are cute, the colors lively, and the characters relatable (grandparents). Ps 23 has been told many ways - but this was a new one for me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Host by Robin Cook

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
What are the implications of today's medical advances?

The book keeps you on tenterhooks thinking of what could happen. It's a medical adventure. Romance, medicine, suspense, and mystery are wrapped up in the story of a nurse and her boyfriend who suddenly falls ill and disappears into a closed extended care center.

I wasn't sure what was coming, which made it all the more fun and a bit of a nail-biter. I won't read it again because the suspense is over. But it was entertaining - and worth taking along to make time pass on the bus or plane.

Delighting in God by A. W. Tozer

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This is a classic. It's been read for decades - and worth reading by current generations.

The more we know about God, the more he becomes part of our heart, the more we can enjoy him. Tozer is known for exploring the depths of the Spirit's work in us, and this is an exciting read.

Transformation is ongoing and vital for our spiritual health. This book emphasizes the pleasures of a relationship with God.

Well worth reading! though it may take some effort. It's not a modern book written for those of us who are used to quick paragraphs and easy reading. But if you persist, you'll learn and grow.

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing A Primer on Contracts, Printing Costs, Royalties, Distribution, E-Books, and Marketing, Fifth Edition by Mark Levine

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review before publication.
Want to write a book? Have something you want the world to know? Of course you've thought about it. (Hasn't everyone?)

Here's your how-to primer, helping you cover the bases after you gather information and get ready to put your heart "out there."

Have fun - this will get you moving toward your goal. You'll use it as a reference over and over. It's professional, up-to-date (5th edition), and packed with practical steps to get your book launched.

"You can do it!" and this book will help.

The Letter and the Cosmos: how the alphabet has shaped the Western view of the world by Laurence de Looze

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review before publication.
The alphabet as architecture, communication, sculpture, and song. This book examines the development and delights of language in the alphabet.

The researcher explores the philosophy, history, and influence behind letter forms, shapes, calligraphy, and standardization. During three millennia of alphabet development, letters themselves have taken on meaning. They've been used to organize ideas, assist memorization, and sculpt how people think. Christians, humanists, and moderns have invested the symbols with their own values.

The alphabet both anticipates and expresses the concepts of its culture. The book is informative. It brought together history and philosophy in the most delightful way. The authors explore how letters contain artistic as well as arbitrary significance.

It's interesting research and a fascinating book. The endnotes and illustrations add to its charm and data.

Everything You Need to Ace American History in One Big Fat Notebook The Complete Middle School Study Guide by Workman Publishing

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.As a Canadian, I've never mastered USA history. So far I get this:

  • There are a lot of states and a lot of capital cities, all of which consider themselves separate and unique under one umbrella.
  • There have been a lot of wars and conflicts, internally and externally: turmoil between north and south, fights between states and federal governments, conquests of local inhabitants by those moving in to take over, and fights around the world for philosophical and political reasons.
  • People come from everywhere but once they're in the US, they consider themselves American and try to keep others from changing their own luck.
  • Americans value independence and DIY. They like to solve problems and move forward.
So a middle-school book summarizing the history of the USA is a treasure - an overview and not too much complexity. There are enough details to tie things together and enough research to make sense. Written by scholars to augment the classroom, it's both interesting and informative.

The Ultimate Guide to Gardening Grow Your Own Indoor, Vegetable, Fairy, and Other Great Gardens by Lisa J. Amstutz

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review before publication.This book is full of visual delights and plant projects that warm up any space. Whether you want to dye a T-shirt, make a craft or art project, or grow something for fun - here it is.

It's a pretty book: good fun to look at more than once. Some projects could be duplicated with silk or plastic plants (in dark rooms) but they're all creative and interesting.

Whether you are feeling winter blues, trying to jazz up your room with a little green, or just crafty, this book will surprise you with ideas.