Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An Open Heart by Harry Kraus

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Having lived in a part of the world where spirits and spells are commonplace, I found this book fascinating. Not everything can be explained by rational and scientific methods.

Cardiac surgeon Jace Rawlings finds himself in the middle of confusion, accusation, and danger. He has left his wife and messy accusations behind in the USA to work in Africa, where he grew up. But things are not as they seem on the surface. Though he remembers the levels of power and the value of bribery, he tries to maintain his integrity to "get the job done" as a heart surgeon.

Through one heart-stopping adventure after another, Rawlings opens his heart to what is Real and True. An exciting and enjoyable read, especially for those interested in Africa and the role of altruism and compassion care in non-Western settings.

Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out by Philip Nation

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Articles and books on spiritual disciplines and discipleship are proliferating as they trend. I wasn't expecting much in addition to what I've already read. But I was pleasantly surprised - and this book was a valuable addition to my research for teaching Spiritual Formation.

Nation notes that most programs that engage the spiritual disciplines are centered around fulfilling human needs and the human search for God. In contrast, he asks, how would a God-centered approach look? Spiritual disciplines as "a practice of our relationship and theology?"

The desire of God is to love us. And our purest desire is to love him back. We worship as a central and joyful activity. Moving from there to getting to know God through scripture, prayer, and the traditional disciplines of fasting,

The author defines the disciplines and explains how God draws us to himself through them. He gives practical examples of how the disciplines can be integrated into church, home, and professional life. This is worth a place in your library.

No Baggage A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Would you travel to Europe without a suitcase? And without a carry-on? Without a plan of where to stay and who to meet?

Clara and her boyfriend did - and most of the time I couldn't tell if I was in a very intriguing novel or an amazing travelogue. I let the mystery take me through a read on my Kindle (limited book info while you're reading). Then I looked up Clara = seriously, a real person? when I was done.

The choices people make and the limitations of "normal" choices are blown wide open in this account of stepping onto a plane for foreign lands and unknown adventures. If you like travel, if you're a reluctant explorer, or somewhere between, this book will surprise you on each page.

Part philosophy, part religious ambivalence, part risk-it-all to see what happens ... I kept thinking, "What a tale!" I'll read it again to make sure my imagination wasn't making this up.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondō

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
"Hey, have you guys heard about the new Japanese organizing book by Marie Kondo?" My daughter-in-law asked us last week. Her enthusiasm was palpable.

I'd heard the buzz about the "KonMari" organizing method from friends and read reviews. I've watched a few videos online, too. It's not complicated but it sure is specific - which brings a measure of sanity to the "too much already" that occupies many of our homes.

I love DIYs and how-tos. With the book in hand, I keep thinking, "I could have used this concept and this process when ..."

  • I moved into a college dorm and there was not enough room for everything I thought I needed = crowded!
  • we  married and the house filled up with my stuff and my new husband's things = messy!
  • our kids were small and toys and little clothes littered the drawers, closets, and living room floor = chaos!
  • we downsized to move to another country = pressured! This most recent wave of organizing might have benefitted most from the method. I gave away a lot of things I loved and now miss. (Doing KonMari  would have changed what I held and what I let go.)
The sketches are easy to follow and minimalistic in the Japanese style of "essentials only." The text is clear and simply worded, especially if you hang out with Japanese friends. Kondō writes as though she's in the room, giving personal advice.

My recommendation is that before you hire a professional organizer, buy the book and let Marie Kondō talk you through your stuff. You may find you need less than you thought and don't like your things enough to dust, vacuum, and sort through them over and over.

And that breathing space in the corners of your rooms, those empty shelves in the closet, and the room for pots and pans in the cupboard? It shouts: "Welcome! You've been KonMari-ed." Have fun with this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I (Still) Believe by John Byron and Joel N. Lohr, eds.

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
How does research and biblical scholarship affect the faith of famous academics? Often, we assume that studying about God will undermine our relationship with God. But is God big enough to handle serious questions? Can he be examined and shown more marvelous and mysterious than anticipated? Can belief remain strong when the queries are intense and the quest to know is fierce?

The editors ask well-known researchers why they went into biblical scholarship, whether their faith was threatened or enhanced by their studies, and how their lives in the community of faith (Church) has been affected by their findings.

If you study theology, you'll recognize the names: Walter Brueggeman, James Dunn, Gordon Fee, Andrew Lincoln, Bruce Waltke, and more. Come meet them up close and personal ... and be prepared to be inspired and challenged. I was.

Seeking the Star A Chilton Crosse Novel by Traci Borum

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Winter is here, the weather is cold, and some people have no place to call home. When a stranger comes into town, kind villagers take him in.

This was a nice Christmas story, full of sentiment and human goodness. I enjoyed the glimpse of a fictional community and its quirks and kindnesses. Reminiscent of other "small town" series, it caught my attention during a week when I had a few hours to indulge in wholesome entertainment.

I'd recommend it as a minimal-effort romance for lovers of all things British. You'll come away with a smile of satisfaction at the happy ending.

Smart Girl by Rachel Hollis

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A light-hearted mix of literature, self-instruction, event planning, and romance. It was a fun read, not too intellectual or demanding. Rachel Hollis is an experienced author and blogger who knows how to keep conversation flowing and relationships moving.

What if 'the one' is standing right in front of you? Sending signals you can't read? And willing and able to love you while you're still working hard to make it happen. The ending was sweet and satisfying.

I'd read it on the airplane to anywhere and have a smile on my face when I was done.

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This little manual is a how-to treasure about getting to the point in coaching. Not everyone has time for long meetings, extended coaching sessions, or long-winded discussions. Stanier asks how - in 10 minutes - could a manager or boss change a habit or sharpen the focus of a coworker or employee? 

Change is possible and positive change will extend to personal life, relationships, and work. In an easy-to-read format, Stanier gives seven tips to master habits of good coaching by asking seven essential questions.

I'll use this in my life coaching practice and recommend it to other coaches and managers. I especially liked the links to videos at the end of the sections, a bonus for those who learn by hearing and watching rather than reading.

The Listening Life Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
Many of us feel guilty because there's no time or "head space" in our busy routines to hear God. Some of us have never felt like we've personally heard his voice. Yet we know that we do not serve mute idols or a God who is disinterest in his creatures.

So how can we foster attentiveness to a God who wants to speak to us? Who cares enough to engage his children in conversation and direction?

McHugh writes beautiful poetic prose that made me pause, over and over. Here's an example: "Genesis opens on a scene of deep, ancient silence. When God's voice breaks in with "Let there be light," how do you hear it? Is it a rumbling vocal thunderclap, a sonic boom of speech that scatters the seas and jolts the land into place? Do you hear it as the voice of an artist who thoughtfully and quietly paints words on a silent canvas? Perhaps you hear a whisper, the nudge of a Creator who feels no need to shout."

Aaaaaahhh. Considering that little paragraph takes my breath away.

If your soul is longing to listen to God-with-us, this is a must-read. Enjoy it while you learn to set aside the distractions and begin to recognize the God who speaks.

The Unexpected Christian Century The Reversal and Transformation of Global Christianity, 1900-2000 by Scott W. Sunquist

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
Sundquist explores how the twentieth century Church goes from the late nineteenth-century motto of "Winning the world in this century" to secularism in the West and booming revivals elsewhere. The topsy-turvy outcomes emerge from secular philosophies and capitalism, the expectations of growth and prosperity, the collapse of European empires, and the self-satisfactions and disappointments of humanism.

I loved the history lessons, the observations on people movements, and the perspectives of God's overarching ability to direct, empower, and send his people onward with Good News.

Well worth the time for any fan of Christian movements, church growth, church history, and cultural transformation. Definitely a must-read for students of anthropology, missions, and culture.

Songs in the Key of Solomon: In the Word and In the Mood by Anita and John Renfroe

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Looking for a devotional to do with a spouse who hates having devotions together? Feel like you're drifting apart? Just plain out of ideas on kindling romance in your marriage?

This combination of scripture, sound ideas for marriage, and fun exercises will keep both mates engaged and your marriage growing.

This was an interesting mix of know and do. The book includes simple ways to get ready for the short devotional (drink that cup of coffee together in bed or snuggle on the couch), a short reading of scripture, an explanation and example, a few questions to ask each other, and ideas for future date nights.

I recommend it for those getting bored with the routines of marriage or frustrated with a spouse's inattention. Shake it up - and have fun together.

The Lavender House in Meuse by Gail Noble Sanderson

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Every once in a while, a book grips me with its descriptions of the setting, the people, the story, and the transformations in character and location .... 

Ok, so this was one of those books. I was sorry to see an end to the story of a privileged daughter, educated and cultured, whose world is turned upside-down by WWI. She volunteers as a nurse, experiences loss and hardship, and comes to grips with her own healing and restoration. 

I liked the way the book took me from place to place and time to time. i felt, smelled, saw, and tasted what the author wrote. I'll read it for a second time as a second visit to the lavender house, which for me is high praise indeed.

Step by Step by Candace Calvert

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Sometimes we make assumptions about the people around us. We move forward thinking we know someone. We hold back, wondering about their motivations. Or we avoid them, based on past interactions.

When a widow and her professional mentor examine their friendship, anything can happen. Sometimes moving away and moving on isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I enjoyed this book: light reading, a good story with unexpected twists and turns, and people trying to find their way amid the complications of their histories and futures. Recommended for a cold winter night in front of the fireplace.

I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See: My Misadventures in Dating, Waiting, and Stumbling into Love by Stephanie Rische

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Eight awkward blind dates. I'm still laughing by the descriptions of the fumbles and distractions of trying to find a mate.

Rische beautifully exposes the dilemma of the single Christian gal who "thought she'd be married by now."

I laughed and laughed. And I certainly empathized with the hurdles and hassles of getting to know the opposite sex in a culture that has taken away the family and village support system where it used to happen.

Whether you're looking for a mate, cautious about dating, or wondering if anyone feels the awkwardness of the adventures (and misadventures) of dating, this is a good read. I recommend it highly to single girlfriends!

Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Hmmmm. It was a good story about what happens when your life is turned upside down and success becomes a memory overnight.

I kept turning the pages. The plot was compelling. I hoped for a happy ending for the music star and event planner. The families and relationships were believable and the characters mostly likeable.

I admit my disappointment at the graphic love scenes (skipped more than a few pages), which didn't add to the unfolding of the romance for me.

All in all, readable and probably a good book to throw in a bag to pass the time on a long trip.

Keeper of the Stars by Robin Lee Hatcher

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Ready to read a romance novel that's clean, thought-provoking, and keeps you engaged? This book on grief, forgiveness, and moving into the future is set into a good story. You'll enjoy getting to know the characters, find it easy to follow the plot, and be sorry when the book is over.

I felt like I was visiting friends in a small town. I grew to like and respect the people and was genuinely interested in what would happen next. There are a few surprises that keep you turning the pages. Enjoy - great book to read while on a trip.

I'd happily read another by Hatcher.

The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap By John Koessler

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
In a culture where more is better, Koessler calls us to reflect on priorities as Christians. Were we created to be producers? Consumers? Worker bees?

Or does God value the relationship between us? Does he seek to nurture wholeness, well-being, and the full development of his creatures?

If he cares more about relationship and growth, how is such formation and transformation accomplished?

It took me a while to read the book. I had to pause to consider the implications of rest as "both a location and identity." Koessler combines theology, culture, and scripture to examine what a life at rest would mean, and how it can be attained. Good exercises and reflections end every chapter.

The 30-Day Faith Detox: Renew Your Mind, Cleanse Your Body, Heal Your Spirit by Laura Harris Smith

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
If you're interested in a spiritual, physical, and mental bootcamp, this may be the book for you. It includes diet, disciplines like fasting technology and other distractions, and getting motivated to exercise body and spirit.

It's a bit hardcore. I don't have time right now to adhere to a rigid exclusion of food and actions. But it's a book I'd appreciate during a sabbatical or an eased schedule.

If you need clarity and focus on spiritual disciplines during Lent or just need to reboot your Christian walk, this program may provide impetus and clarity. It's specific. Direct. Prescriptive. Informative.

Think Like an Artist and Lead a More Creative, Productive Life by Will Gompertz

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
If you've ever wondered why artists create - and why their vision and drive is unique, here's an eye opener. Gompentz, an experienced critic and art writer, examines the traits of successful artists - past and present.

The 10 chapters kept my attention and gave new understanding on diverse subjects like: understanding failure as experiment, enterprise and entrepreneurship, curiosity and invention, and more.

I found his views fascinating and educational. Is every artist an enterpreneur? A go-getter? Disciplined? No, obviously there's a lot of luck in being at the right place at the right time with your voice or paintbrush ...

but the broad ideas of success in the arts will be an inspiration and perhaps motivator for those seeking expressing (or a career) in the arts.

Worth reading and exploring.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Remember My Beauties by Lynne Hugo

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Heartbreaking, energizing, and somehow reminiscent of Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons. This was a page-turner, though I didn't like many of the people in the story. I was surprised time and time again by sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, parents, and children who thought so differently than I do: it kept my attention.

If you drove past this horse ranch in your car, you'd miss the fine-tuned details and personal portraits offered by Hugo. I found the crazy family startling with every turned page. If you want to peek inside someone's window and be grateful for the messes in your own circles, you'll love the conversations and activities.

Create vs. Copy by Ken Wytsma

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Do you ever feel like you're in a rut? Like your recent attempts at work / home / play have no spark or newness? If you've lost your edge or are just bored with what you're doing, you're sure to find ideas here to shake up the same-old same-old grind.

Wytsma gives reasons to be creative, as well as personal sources and resources where creativity may be found.

I didn't like the cover - but after that, I would recommend the book for those in leadership who are seeking to call a team beyond the known and usual.

The how-tos (DIY exercises that can be done alone or with a team) are fun and instructional.  Enjoy this book.

The Midwife's Dilemma by Delia Parr

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This completely old-fashioned novel caught me by surprise. It reads like a Laura Ingles Wilder novel - with an adult woman as the heroine. I haven't thought recently about the prescriptions of society about two hundred years ago, but oh my - things have changed! Instead of "anything goes" (like today), in the 1830s, culture and neighbors ruled people's expectations and behaviors. Not everyone complied of course, but there was a price to pay for any indiscretion or stepping out of bounds.

Beautifully written, this romance transports readers back to a time when details of life were carefully dissected and examined under the fine lens of gossip and neighborliness. If you long for a "kinder and gentler era," this will be an eye-opener and reminder that each time comes with its own joys and burdens.

It's a love story, a historical picture, and satisfying entertainment.

Art Students League of New York on Painting by James McElhinney

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
If you're wondering why to paint or how to get started, you'll be inspired by this collage of painters and teachers. Each instructor is showcased in several paintings, which gives an impression of each personality and interests (besides techniques).

The subtitle is "Lessons and Meditations on Mediums, Styles, and Methods." The wide variety of paintings and styles makes it an interesting coffee book, as well as adjunct text. As other reviewers have mentioned, there are enough nudes included to make this an adult book rather than one left out for family perusal. That said, serious artists as well as novices are sure to find new ideas and techniques.

I like the three section approach: 1) lessons and demonstrations; 2) advice and philosophy; and 3) interviews with contemporary artists. Each part draws you into the visual conversation that is a painter's craft: seeing the world, interpreting it through the internal lens, and then thoughtfully adding paint or pastel to a surface for others to observe and internalize.

Well worth the time and money, though I didn't love the font used.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Print heaven" or Modern Printmaking: A guide to traditional and digital techniques by Sylvie Covey

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
Covey knows her stuff. I love printmaking, so when I saw this book at Daniel Smith (Seattle), I couldn't resist it. A bunch of us gathered around after a printmaking workshop and a few splurged after we all oohed-and-aahed. (Then I remembered that the publisher was sending a review copy. What a beautiful BONUS!)

This book covers the global history, the whys, and the how-tos of relief, intaglio, lithography, mixed media, and new printmaking techniques. Covey includes global traditional and updated instructions.

I wish I'd had it years ago: her pictures and careful lists walk you through the whole process - from materials (and substitutions), to paper and ink, to the basics and beyond.

I could have done a lot more with so much variety and clear direction. I enjoyed my instructors - but at home in a printmaking session, I'd occasionally forget the next step. No more!

This bright, beautiful textbook brims with techniques and artwork. It will be helpful for artists seeking to understand the process as well as printmakers, from beginner to expert.

Yup. Buy it if you've ever been interested in printmaking. Most highly recommended.