Category Archives: Non-fiction

Review: A Million Little Ways, by Emily P. Freeman

A Million Little Ways, by Emily P. FreemanA Million Little Ways, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2013)

At first glance, you might think a book subtitled “Uncover the art you were made to live” was only for the painters, writers, sculptors etc. But it’s for anyone who wants their life to reveal God in “a million little ways.”

It’s about being close to Him, trusting that He is enough when we aren’t (and accepting that we really aren’t enough no matter how badly we want to be). It’s about discovering those things that give us joy and please Him (not running off to satisfy selfishness, but learning to recognize and embrace the gifts He’s given us to use in our lives).

This is a book about identity, calling us image-bearers of the God who created us and who calls us to reveal Him in our lives. What we do is to flow from who we are in Him.

Our gifts may be what’s traditionally labelled art, but they may also be preparing a meal, faithfully keeping a home, parenting our children. Waiting tables or fixing teeth. Part of the way we “live our art” is by being present in the moment instead of mentally jumping ahead to the next thing.

With honesty and transparency, the author shares from personal experience as she’s learning to apply these truths. As well as our identity and calling in Christ, she addresses topics like self-focus, fear of critics, and the anxiety of trying to manage future outcomes.

My copy of A Million Little Ways has plenty of page markers highlighting personally-relevant lines, and as always I’ve been blessed by the author’s message.

Emily P. Freeman’s website describes her ministry as “creating space for your soul to breathe so you can walk in step with your calling.” She offers a free 7-day ebook, 7 Little Ways to Live Art, and has an audiobook of daily devotions as well as other print books, plus a blog and podcast. For more about the author, visit http://emilypfreeman.com/.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Prayer Warrior, by Stormie Omartian

Prayer Warrior, by Stormie OmartianPrayer Warrior, by Stormie Omartian (Harvest House, 2013)

The premise of this book is that if you belong to Jesus, prayer needs to be part of your life. And if you find yourself praying for specific concerns, you’re probably a prayer warrior.

Consider this a training manual. Building on a foundation of knowing the trustworthy character of God, chapters look at the purpose of prayer, regular “training,” and the importance of understanding our spiritual weapons and how to use them. Specific, practical Scriptures are given, many of which I’ve added to my list to memorize.

I appreciate the author’s perspective that simply being a Christian engages us in warfare, so we’re better off to learn how to pray. Avoidance doesn’t take us or our families out of danger from spiritual attack; it just lowers our guard.

Each chapter of Prayer Warrior finishes with a prayer of application, and the final chapter contains specific sample prayers for a variety of concerns, including family members, health, and global issues.

The prayers in the last chapter are invaluable resources for readers beginning to tackle weighty concerns. They’re easy to personalize by inserting the name(s) and details that have prompted the prayer, and they’re chock-full of appropriate Scriptures.

Speaking God’s Word back to Him is powerful, and it also reinforces the pray-er’s faith. These sample prayers will be helpful in developing our own prayers, and they’ve challenged me to be more alert in my Bible-reading time for verses I’ll want to memorize and/or incorporate in intercession.

Overall I found the writing a bit stilted in the book, and repetitious in places (the author is also a speaker, and speakers need to repeat at times for emphasis), but the content is very helpful and has greatly impacted my prayer life.

Definitely a keeper, and I’d like to upgrade my digital copy for a print one.

Stormie Omartian is known for her books on prayer, including The Power of a Praying… series and study materials. To supplement the material in Prayer Warrior, she’s written a companion study guide and a free 7-day devotional ebook. For more about the author, her books, and her prayer ministry, or to share a prayer request, visit stormieomartian.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: GraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons

GraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons | daily devotionals, artwork, gift bookGraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons (Harvest House Publishers, 2017)

We tend to experience life in seasons, not necessarily in order, and often repeating. Whether you find yourself in winter, spring, summer, or fall, this beautiful interactive devotional book will minister to your spirit.

The gentle artwork and photography quiets the soul and invites readers to slow down, drop their defenses, and be open to receive God’s Word. Many of the Scriptures are familiar, well-loved passages.

Some verses are printed in text, others are hand-lettered as art, and others are set out for readers to pursue in their own Bibles. Many verses are ones I’ve loved over the years, and others I’d like to go back and memorize to keep with me.

Each day’s devotional finishes with a prompt for reader response: to identify a person to encourage, a fear to release, blessings to give thanks for, etc. Readers may want to have a journal handy, because this book is too pretty to write in although the spaces are there.

I had the privilege of reviewing this hard-cover book (no ebook option, that I can see), and it’s beautiful, with thick, glossy pages, suitable for display on your coffee table (provided you’ve written your personal responses elsewhere!). The one thing it lacks is an attached satin ribbon bookmark.

I do confess being disappointed to see the book was printed in China, since the publisher is North American. It’s still very expensive, with $29.99 USD ($41.99 CAD) list price, but, that said, it would make a lovely gift for yourself or for a special loved one.

The book has just released (September 2017) and at the moment, Amazon has a significant discount: $14.99 USD / $27.41 CAD. As much as I prefer to advocate supporting local bookstores, this might be a time for online shopping. Check your prices first. (Canadians, I see Chapters-Indigo has it for a few cents more, but with free shipping…)

GraceLaced is the sort of book a person can revisit again and again, long after the first 30-day devotional journey is complete. Related products are a journal and 17-month planner.

As well as being a writer, Ruth Chou Simons is an artist, speaker, and entrepreneur. Her website is at gracelaced.com, where you can learn more about her, read her blog, and perhaps even find your favourite piece of artwork from the GraceLaced book available for sale.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Harvest House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Harvest House.]

Review: When the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior

When the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior #bookreview #memoir #griefWhen the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior (Angel Hope Publishing, 2016)

Nothing can prepare parents for the pain of losing an infant, either during pregnancy or following the birth. Bobbi Junior’s brief memoir about the death of her second child shortly after birth is, on the one hand, one couple’s personal story, and on the other hand, a window on how friends and loved ones can offer support to the grieving parents.

Told in short, conversational chapters, each charmingly illustrated by Ramona Furst, this is a quick read with a good take-away. Readers learn some of the things not to say, and in fact that it’s okay to say nothing but to be present in silence and with tears.

The book includes simple and practical things, too, creative means of comfort that worked for the Junior family and which may work for others. As the author points out, though, every person’s grief is different.

Favourite line:

Like carefully pushing aside a spider web before it could cling to me, I took great care in moving the comment aside before passing it by. I wouldn’t forget it, but I wouldn’t wear it, either. [On dealing with an unintentionally hurtful comment, page 29]

Bobbi Junior is also the author of The Reluctant Caregiver. For more about the author and her work, or to check out her blog, visit bobbijunior.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Serving Up God, by Colin MacDougall

Serving Up God: My Workplace as Ministry, by Colin MacDougall #bookreview #ChristianlivingServing Up God, by Colin MacDougall (WestBow Press, 2017)

This book is subtitled “My Workplace as Ministry,” and its memoir-style vignettes illustrate author Colin MacDougall’s premise that “Your purpose in life, simply put, is to live Christ where you are” [page xi].

With candour and gentle humour, chapters explore various facets of work and relationships: with customers, co-workers, and employees. It’s clear that the author doesn’t consider himself to have achieved perfection. As he “serves up God” in his business, as much as that impacts those around him, they in turn impact him – for the better.

Since most Christians spend far more time in the marketplace than in faith-based settings, books like this are a valuable resource on how to avoid a Monday morning disconnect from the Sunday morning worship.

The book begins with the idea that work is a gift given by God to be given back in worship, and that doing so involves seeing those around us as children of God: not judging, not trying to push people into their final identity as mature believers, but doing our best to help them move one step closer to God.

Employers and managers are encouraged to take time to know and pray for the employees in their charge, to lead by example, and to discipline fairly and always with the goal of helping employees reach their potential. Jesus is cited as the ultimate example of how to be a leader, as well as how to be a follower (in how He followed God the Father).

Favourite lines:

No matter how big or how small you may feel your job is, do it for the glory of God, and who knows the lives you will be able to impact. [page 6]

It’s important for me to recognize that, although I refer to my workplace as my ministry, it is really God’s ministry. I am quite fortunate to be along for the ride. [page 32]

This book is only 110 pages, but it’s filled with wisdom for Christians who want to live their faith on the job. Some sections apply specifically to managers/owners, but employees will find insights for co-worker and customer relationships as well.

Colin MacDougall has an extensive background in management, and at present he and his wife, Joanne, own a thriving cheesecake restaurant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, called Sweet Hereafter. Serving Up God is his first book. For more about the author and his book, visit servingupgod.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Kidney Donor’s Journey, by Ari Sytner

The Kidney Donor’s Journey, by Ari Sytner (Sytner Publishing House, 2016)

When Ari Sytner wanted to learn about live kidney donation, most of the resources he found were medical, and the connections he made often wanted his contact information… way before he was ready to take that step. Persistent and patient research over time did answer his questions and help him and his family to make the decision to donate one of his kidneys to a total stranger, but he knew there should be an easier way.

The Kidney Donor’s Journey is a safe, commitment-free way to learn more about what’s involved physically, medically, and morally. The author emphasizes that, as much as he encourages people to consider live kidney donation, this book isn’t about convincing readers. It’s about sharing the information and starting the thought processes necessary for an informed choice.

Kidney donors tend to be reluctant to discuss what they’ve done, because some sacrifices are best kept private. Nonetheless, Ari Sytner chose to share his story with the goal of raising awareness of the opportunity to save another person’s life (and by so doing to impact that person’s family).

This book is subtitled “100 Questions I Asked Before Donating My Kidney,” although the author laughingly admits that he didn’t really ask if he could get pregnant afterward. That question’s included for women who are investigating the prospect.

Chapters address specific topics, from what prompted Rabbi Sytner to start his journey, to the screening process, to how to tell the various people in one’s life that one’s considering such a thing, and on to the surgery, recovery, and future life.

The Kidney Donor’s Journey is written in a gentle, easy-to-read style, carefully worded for clarity. It’s an approachable resource that tells one man’s story in a way that allows others to discover if they want to go further in the process. Even if they decide against donation, they’ll be better informed on the subject and can share what they’ve learned with those around them.

The book is based on the author’s experience in the US health-care system, so readers around the world will find differences in their local opportunities. Even within the US, there will be differences between states. More personal investigation would be needed anyway, for the reader who wants to go ahead with kidney donation. As the author points out, he’s not a doctor or a lawyer or other official expert. He’s just giving us the layperson’s insider view of his own story.

The back cover of the book tells us that “Ari Sytner is a serial optimist. He is a rabbi, social worker, therapist, inspirational speaker, Huffington Post contributor, blogger, CEO, organizational strategist, consultant and proud kidney donor.” For more about the author, visit asytner.com, and stop by his blog.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: The Forgotten Way, by Ted Dekker

The Forgotten Way, by Ted Dekker | #Christianliving #meditations #Christianity #faithThe Forgotten Way, by Ted Dekker (Outlaw Studios, 2015)

Most readers know Ted Dekker for his Christian fiction, but The Forgotten Way is a collection of 21 non-fiction meditations on “The path of Yeshua for power and peace in this life.”

With detailed reliance on Scripture, the author invites readers to discover and believe the Truth (about God and ourselves), the Life, and the Way. The readings focus on who God is, how He sees us, and how we can begin to believe His truth about ourselves instead of clinging to our temporal, human perspective. Beginning to believe this helps us live as His beloved children in this world without investing our identity solely in the world. This liberates us from a great deal of fear.

Readers are well advised to take time to read every Scripture end-note as flagged in the text, since they often have additional insights attached. There is a companion study guide, which includes the same Scriptures and a few application questions, but it’s more useful to see these quotations and notes in context of the specific portions of the meditations to which they refer.

The Forgotten Way stretched my thinking, and while I gained much, I’ll be following the author’s closing advice to go back and read the book again for a deeper understanding. There were a few minor points I didn’t entirely agree with, but that may be due to the particular words used. A second reading may help.

I did read carefully, and prayerfully, alert for anything that would lead me astray (although having heard Ted Dekker speak, I already respected him as one who seeks truth). Although the concepts are expressed in a different way than I was used to, there was no sense of treading dangerously. Instead, key points matched what I’d heard stated other ways by other teachers.

The individual study bundle comes with brief audio clips expanding on each day’s meditation, plus a few longer podcasts addressing key topics. I saved the longer ones for the end and haven’t yet listened to them.

The Forgotten Way is available for individual or group study. For more details or a taste of the contents, see theforgottenway.com/welcome. It’s not available in stores, and for those shopping outside the US, the shipping is quite expensive. I opted for the study pack, and while I didn’t feel the study guide book added a lot to the experience, I’ve valued the audio resources, and I’d recommend going for the study pack if possible.

Ted Dekker is a New York Times best-selling author of intense Christian fiction and more recently, historical fiction from the time of Christ. For more about the author, visit teddekker.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: As the Ink Flows

As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers and SpeakersAs the Ink Flows, by Glenda Dekkema, Melony Teague, Carol Ford, Claudia Loopstra, and Marguerite Cummings (Judson Press, 2016)

As the Ink Flows is a collection of ninety devotions from five Canadian writers and speakers. The contents are divided by topic: “the craft, inspiration, know yourself, well-being, personalities, and faithfulness.”

The devotional component of each entry is the standard Scripture quote, devotional thought, and prayer, but what sets these devotions apart is the application portion. Each one includes a question for reflection and a writing prompt for the day.

This is an approachable resource that will encourage Christians who work with words, while encouraging them to build from a foundation of faith. It’s useful for writers and speakers in both the Christian and the general market.

Working through the reflections and writing prompts will enrich writing projects already in progress, and will inspire new ones. As the Ink Flows is suitable for individuals and small groups.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. WeilandCreating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2016)

Often writing-craft books focus on one element in isolation. Not this time. Creating Character Arcs intertwines character change with story structure and theme.

The author asserts that “the Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes.” Through the plot, and interactions with other characters, the character will discover and ultimately accept or reject the truth that counters the particular lie. (Except in the flat arc, where he/she has a good grip on the truth in question and instead effects change in those around him or her.)

The book delves into different types of arcs: positive change, flat, and negative change. I appreciate the point-by-point way the author walks through the stages of each arc, with illustrations from well-known books and movies, and then asks specific questions to help writers discern what those points can look like in their current projects.

Later chapters address deciding which type of arc is right for your story, the importance of “impact characters,” how many characters should actually have arcs, and character arcs over the course of a series.

My copy of the book is heavily highlighted. The questions and illustrations helped deepen my understanding of my current work in progress, and I plan to work through the relevant sections for future projects.

K.M. Weiland’s popular website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is a rich resource for writers. She’s also the author of historical and speculative fiction, including the dieselpunk adventure, Storming.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman

Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. FreemanGrace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2011)

This is a book for all the women whose honest desire to be good sets up impossible expectations and leads to hiding behind facades and fearing to be found out. Anxiety grows, and we struggle in our own strength instead of learning to rely on God. Hence the subtitle: “Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life.”

The author says, “Somewhere along the way, I got the message that salvation is by faith alone but anything after that is faith plus my hard work and sweet disposition” (page 13). Many of us fall into that trap, and Grace for the Good Girl can help us reset.

One of my favourite lines is about giving ourselves “permission to sit down on the inside and live like I have a God who knows what He’s doing” (page 65).

The book is in three sections: the hiding (in which we find out how we’re not alone in this after all), the finding, and the freedom of being found. It ends with a small group leader’s guide for an eight-week study.

Emily P. Freeman writes with transparency and candour about her own struggles, and shares the stories of other “recovering good girls.” The book is easy to read and encouraging. It points us back to relying on the character and grace of God, and to learning to live by faith instead of by feeling. It addresses core issues like anxiety, identity, emotions, and self-reliance, and while you likely won’t recognize yourself on every page, don’t be surprised to relate to at least a few of the stories.

The “try-hard life” is exhausting. Grace for the Good Girl points to freedom. Emily P. Freeman has also written A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. For more about the author and her ministry, visit emilypfreeman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]