Category Archives: Non-fiction

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.]

Review: YesterCanada, by Elma Schemenauer

YesterCanada, by Elma SchemenauerYesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure, by Elma Schemenauer (Borealis Press, 2016)

Author Elma Schemenauer has researched and brought to life 30 intriguing tales from Canada’s past, in a selection as broad as our nation’s geography. Stories feature First Nations tribes, visitors, and immigrants, in settings from British Columbia to Newfoundland, and range from as early as the 1200s to the 1900s.

Vignettes, with accompanying photos, range from the light-hearted to the tragic, and from fact to myth. There is lost gold, murder, shipwreck, even a mysterious infant floating down a river to safety. Meet a hermit, a priest, a prime minister’s wife, a bride imported from France. Read about courageous men and women, others bent on what their neighbours called fools’ quests, and about legends, mysteries, and drama.

Stories are told in an accessible and engaging tone, making YesterCanada an ideal book for adults and young adults alike. It would also be a good choice for reading aloud to older children, to cultivate an interest in the lesser-known details of Canadian history.

Elma Schemenauer has written many books for adults and children, and edited hundreds more. For more about the author and her work, visit elmams.wixsite.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Review: A Traveler’s Advisory, by Marcia Lee Laycock

A Traveler's Advisory, by Marcia Lee LaycockA Traveler’s Advisory, by Marcia Lee Laycock (Small Pond Press, 2015)

These fifty-two “stories of God’s grace along the way” include tales of travel by air, on land, and on water. They’re drawn from the author’s experiences in Canada (including the Yukon), the US, and more exotic locales like Papua New Guinea.

Marcia Lee Laycock writes with a clear, practical style, sharing travel anecdotes and drawing common-sense spiritual parallels for life’s journey. The readings are a good length for a daily burst of inspiration that’s relevant to readers – be they seasoned travellers or homebodies.

A Traveler’s Advisory is a great little book to keep handy for a quick pick-me-up or as a discussion starting-point for a group.

Canadian author Marcia Lee Laycock is known for her devotionals as well as for both contemporary and fantasy fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit marcialeelaycock.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Save

Save

Review: A Confident Heart Devotional, by Renee Swope

A Confident Heart Devotional, by Renee SwopeA Confident Heart Devotional, by Renee Swope (Revell, 2013)

Subtitled “60 Days to Stop Doubting Yourself,” this devotional book presents daily Scripture readings and encouraging messages to affirm women in their God-designed identities and to “help you take hold of truths that will unfold the plans and promises God has for your life.” [Kindle location 148]

The author shares candidly from her own experience as well as from other contemporary women and Bible characters. She is honest about the struggles many women face, and about the effort involved to retrain our thoughts to follow God’s truth instead of the self-doubt and insecurity that come so naturally.

Each day’s reading ends with “When I say… [whatever fear or negative thought we’ve looked at that day], God says… [a Scripture-based truth to counter it].” I found this a helpful way to reinforce the day’s lesson. A person could write these on index cards for easy reference, if there was a particular issue that required concentrated effort.

My favourite lines:

What if we stopped listening to our hearts when our feelings don’t tell us the truth and instead we chose to believe God’s words more than our own fears and doubts? [Kindle location 569]

Anytime we bury a hurt alive, it will keep rising from the dead to disturb us. [Kindle location 839]

This is a valuable book for any woman who struggles with self-doubt, even if only occasionally. It’s so easy to pick up wrong thoughts and allow them to diminish us, and taking time to restore our outlook can only be a good thing.

Renee Swope is a bestselling author and Proverbs 31 Ministries radio show co-host. Her mission is “Leading women to live confidently in Christ.” For more about the author and her ministry, visit reneeswope.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Save

Review: Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez

Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen HernandezScrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez (John Wiley and Sons, 2012)

This is probably the only reference book I have ever read cover-to-cover. It’s definitely the only one that’s ever caused me to cheer.

I’m posting a photo of my own copy, complete with page markers, instead of the standard cover shot, to show how many important things I want to be able to easily find. (The index will take me to the proper page, but will I find the specific line that I need?)

Most users would follow the expected method of looking up their immediate question in the index and reading only the relevant sections. I did that a bit when I first bought the book, but didn’t find it as helpful as I’d hoped even though that’s what it’s designed for. I think I wasn’t very good at defining my need well enough to search for the solution.

Scrivener is considered by many writers to be the best thing since the word processor. Now, after using the program for a few years, having worked through the tutorial, learned from some excellent free webinars and one of Gwen Hernandez’ paid courses, I decided to read Scrivener for Dummies to pick up some advanced knowledge – and to refresh myself on some of the basics I’d missed along the way.

Honestly, the cheering? That was for the discoveries about some of the program’s features. But I found the author’s explanations very easy to understand. She’s funny, too, which definitely helps anyone reading very far.

This is an approachable resource, intelligently laid out and with clear examples and screen-shots. Each section is self-contained, pointing to other sections where needed, for the person who dips in for a specific answer instead of reading straight through.

The book covers both the Mac and Windows versions, and while Scrivener has made some changes since 2012, enough of the material is the same. If you find something in the book that you want to do but your version of Scrivener handles it differently, if you can’t figure it out by poking around in the program, either the Literature and Latte forum or a Google search will find you the answer.

Gwen Hernandez is a romantic suspense novelist and Scrivener teacher, offering interactive online courses. I found her Compile course very helpful, and she was patient to answer our many questions. For more about the author, visit gwenhernandez.com. For more about her Scrivener classes, visit scrivenerclasses.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Save

Save

Review: Raise Your Gaze, by Peter A. Black

Raise Your Gaze, by Peter A. BlackRaise Your Gaze, by Peter A. Black (Angel Hope Publishing, 2014)

Subtitled “Mindful Musings of a Grateful Heart: Fifty-Two Articles and Words to Bless,” this is an encouraging collection of some of the author’s inspirational columns as published over the years, plus a selection of brief verses of blessing.

The content is arranged to follow the calendar year, beginning in the winter of a new year and moving through the seasons to Christmas. As such, it’s suitable for a weekly reading plan, or of course to be enjoyed in a shorter span of time.

Articles range from slice of life and personal experience to nature-inspired lessons and profiles of worthy but often unsung heroes. Many pieces end with a portion of Scripture which ties into the day’s thought.

Peter A. Black is a Canadian-based writer and former pastor, and the author of Parables from the Pond. He is now on his 21st year of writing his weekly column for The Watford Guide-Advocate, and considers it “a door of opportunity to present a Christian perspective and an inspirational moment for those who care to read it.” He’s also a contributing blogger and regular commenter at The Word Guild blog.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Save

Save

Review: The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN

The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RNThe Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN (Spire edition, 2009)

I picked this book up years ago from a sale bin ($3 well spent) for reference “someday.” The cover offers help to “manage hot flashes, increase your energy level, understand hormones, reduce mood swings, and live with new purpose.”

What it doesn’t say is that this is a book for Christian women. I was delighted to find, along with the practical physical information, advice that integrated the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Each chapter addresses a relevant topic with compassion, humour, and a sense that the author and/or the women she quotes have “been there” and survived. Chapters end with health tips and a quick checklist where readers can make a note of the one thing that impacted them most in the section. So often we finish a book like this and have already forgotten the things we meant to put into practice.

The book includes tips on vitamins and natural supplements that may help manage various symptoms, always with the caution to consult with a health-care professional before making any changes.

My favourite part of the book focuses on how we may need to change our thinking (and the way we talk to ourselves) – renewing our minds as Romans 12 instructs. New to me was the candid assessment of how long it takes to regularly practice a new thought pattern before it becomes habit. Most of us give up way too soon.

Prayer is also mentioned as an integral part of a healthy journey through menopause. My favourite line:

My personal prayer for this season is to have a heart of contentment and an attitude of surrender at all times. [page 72]

Women struggling with specific symptoms may find help in the nutritional, exercise and supplement information. They’ll definitely find encouragement, a laugh or two, and reassurance that they’re not alone. And that menopause is not a sickness – it’s a natural part of life.

Danna Demetre has a background in health care, personal training and fitness. Her stated mission on her website is “transforming lives: body, soul & spirit.” Visit dannademetre.com for more about the author and her books, and to explore the free content she offers to help women find balance in their lives.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Beginner’s Guide to Intercession, by Dutch Sheets

The Beginner's Guide to Intercession, by Dutch SheetsThe Beginner’s Guide to Intercession, by Dutch Sheets (Vine Books, 2001)

What I appreciate most about this insightful and practical book is its emphasis on prayer as a way to draw nearer to God. Intercession rises out of that, but the essence of prayer is relationship with God. It’s not about bringing Him our wish lists.

Through Scripture, personal examples and the experiences of others, the author shares key principles of intercession. This isn’t a “name it and claim it” book, but one that points to the Holy Spirit leading people to pray for those things He wants to accomplish. Some of the stories have miraculous endings – but they’re results of God’s direction in prayer, not formulas to follow to get whatever we want to ask.

Easy to read and understand, each chapter builds on those before. The book challenged and equipped me to deepen the intercession part of my prayer life, and to ask to see what (and how) God is calling me to meet with Him about in prayer.

Dutch Sheets’ website tagline is “Teach – Awaken – Restore”. He’s an author, speaker and teacher, and you can find more about his books and ministry at dutchsheets.org.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter ScazzeroEmotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2006; paperback version 2014)

The subtitle says, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” The book implies that this may be the key reason for lack of growth in our churches, and for people drifting away from church. While I think there’s more to the issue than that, there’s no denying that emotional immaturity will be the root of the problem for some or many believers.

In alerting readers to areas of our lives that haven’t grown well, the author offers the chance to allow God to “re-parent” us so we develop according to the ways of His Kingdom instead of perpetuating the behaviours and attitudes we learned in our formative years.

The first three chapters reveal “The Problem of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality,” and the rest of the book addresses “The Pathway to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” Part of that pathway is recognizing the impact of our family history, choosing what we want to keep, and choosing to grow away from what’s unhealthy.

The author advises adopting more of a contemplative approach to faith, listening to God and to our emotions, and establishing daily rhythms of prayer and devotional times. He encourages us to “practice the presence of God and to practice the presence of people” [page 180].

We do come into Christianity with assumptions and attitudes formed by our families and by the world around us – and we don’t often apply our spiritual regeneration to these areas because we don’t even see them. It makes sense that we need to discover and grow into our true identity in Christ, and I found some helpful insights in the book.

For more about Peter and Geri Scazzero’s ministry, visit emotionallyhealthy.org.

[Review copy from my personal library.]