Category Archives: Non-fiction

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.]

Review: Make Love, Make War, by Brian Doerksen

Make Love, Make War, by Brian DoerksenMake Love, Make War, by Brian Doerksen (David C. Cook, 2009)

The title of this one may be a little intimidating, but look at the subtitle: “NOW is the time to worship.” Songwriter Brian Doerksen challenges Christians to adopt an intentional lifestyle of loving and serving God.

Each chapter begins with one of Brian Doerksen’s songs. Part memoir, part expansion on the themes that sparked the songs, this is an honest reflection on circumstances both joyful and sad. Topics include a Christian’s identity, the importance of gratitude, the Father’s love, hearing God, the importance of controlling our thoughts, and surrender.

If you’ve ever thought contemporary praise music was too upbeat to the point of ignoring the pain in life, you’ll appreciate the author’s perspective. As well as songs declaring God’s praise, he’s not afraid to write worship songs for the hurting. After all, songs of lament hold a valid place in the psalms. Lament, says the author, is different from simply complaining. After laying out the trouble before the Lord, a lament expresses the singer’s choice to trust God even in the hardship.

Favourite lines:

As we worship, our hearts are healed by the faithfulness of God, because that’s who God is. [Kindle location 331]

The names that our parents give us and the labels others slap on us are not as important as who we are in the Father’s eyes. [Kindle location 364]

Sometimes our greatest act of worship is just hanging on to God in the middle of the storms of trouble that threaten to engulf us. [Kindle location 1946]

As a bonus for readers who write music (or who’d like to), each chapter ends with practical songwriting tips.

Brian Doerksen is an award-winning Canadian songwriter and worship leader. For more about the author and his latest projects, visit briandoerksen.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Worship Changes Everything, by Darlene Zschech

Worship Changes Everything, by Darlene ZschechWorship Changes Everything, by Darlene Zschech (Bethany House, 2015)

Note the subtitle of this book: “Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Moment of Life.” Worship Changes Everything is about far more than the music we sing on a Sunday morning.

The book is divided into two sections: The Heart of Worship and The Hands of Worship. First, it focuses on God’s nature and our response to Him from our hearts, and then the bulk of the chapters explore how we can live our worship in all aspects of our lives.

Those aspects include things like service and mission, but also our words and attitudes, suffering, money, and relationships.

The author shares personal examples as illustrations, but the book’s teaching basis is clearly Scripture. She includes numerous quotes from the Bible as well as some from respected teachers.

I found much in these pages to encourage and challenge me. Practical and biblical, Worship Changes Everything is a book I’d recommend to anyone who’d like to live closer with God.

Favourite lines:

Praise is our stance of faith. Praise is a weapon. Praise announces God’s reign in our hearts. [p. 60]

Our attitudes are transformed as we decide to let go and let the Holy Spirit do His work in us. This means replacing negative thoughts and mindsets, arresting our attitudes that we know will not be of benefit. [p. 113]

Darlene Zschech is most known for her contributions to contemporary worship music, but she’s also the author of books on Christian living. For more about the author and her ministries, visit her website: darlenezschech.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman

Simply Tuesday, Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World, by Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2015)

Subtitled “Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World,” Simply Tuesday calls readers to live in the everyday moments without the pressure to perform or to push on to the next big thing. Even the cover art, a quiet bench with birds and dragonflies, calls us to slow down.

Sections consider our home, work, relationships and souls, as well as a vision for what’s ahead. Readers are invited to find ourselves and our loved ones in the present, and to be present to Jesus with us. The book is part memoir and part an exploration of Christian living, shared by one who’s still learning through life (as opposed to one who’s nailed the answers).

It’s approachable and easy to relate to, an invitation to embrace and celebrate our smallness instead of condemning ourselves for our humanity. My favourite lines:

What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them. (p. 47)

True belief is movement toward God even in the midst of confusion or frustration or fear. (p. 78)

I can’t prevent storms from coming, but I can decide not to invent my own. (p. 209)

Emily P. Freeman writes with a transparency and a conversational style that will be familiar to anyone who follows her blog. Something I hadn’t noticed in her blog posts that made the book a little harder for me is the fluidity with which she shifts from past to present and back again. We do this in conversations, to add immediacy: “Fifteen years ago, I’m working at a local high school… It’s morning and the bell rings…” (p. 206) In printed form, I find this jarring. Maybe it’s the editor in me.

Simply Tuesday offers refreshment for anyone struggling in the try-hard life while her soul aches for a simpler pace and a bit of fresh air. It’s not anti-performance or opposing busyness. Instead, it’s a glimpse of what life might look like if we began to nurture the small things in our lives and if we accepted ourselves as who we are instead of always pushing to be more than we are. Highly recommended for weary souls.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Love Triangles, by Bobbie Ann Cole

Love Triangles: Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today's Israel, by Bobbie Ann ColeLove Triangles, by Bobbie Ann Cole (Scrollchest, 2015)

Part travelogue, part memoir, and part biblical exposition, Love Triangles is a an insightful read for Christians. The book’s subtitle is Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today’s Israel.

Bobbie Ann Cole and her husband went to Israel as short-term volunteers, and stayed for a few years as immigrants. Love Triangles paints a picture of a land of beauty as well as danger, rich in heritage and full of meaning for a Christian wanting to know Jesus better.

Bobbie Ann is a Messianic Jew, and her husband, Butch, is a Christian. She talks about Jesus’ birth and death and certain instances of His life, and shows the extra layer of meaning which His Jewish culture would have given them. In some cases she expands the stories with some prayerful “what if” imaginings, for example Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. The book is clear that these are wonderings, not facts, but it does make a person stop and, well… wonder.

I’d like to re-read those sections of the book again, to deepen my understanding of Jesus’ earthly life. That’s definitely my favourite thread in the narrative.

The couple’s experiences living in Israel are interesting, as well. I had no idea about the difficulty faced by Messianic Jews, who believe Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah. Bobbie And explains why this is so offensive to other Jews, and reveals that, although it may be changing, the immigration process is designed to accept Jew, Christian, atheist or believer in anything else, but to reject Jews who believe in Jesus.

Love Triangles will entertain and educate… and it will inspire Christians to pray for Jewish believers and for the chosen Land of Israel itself. The book actually ends with some suggested prayers.

Bobbie Ann Cole presently divides her time between Canada and the UK. She’s also the author of the spiritual autobiography, She Does Not Fear the Snow. You can learn more about the author at her website, Testimony Train.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene H. Peterson

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene H. PetersonA Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene H. Peterson (IVP Books, second edition 2000)

Subtitled “Discipleship in an instant society,” this book is as relevant today as it was when first published in 1980. If anything, we need it more now, since the pace of life is increasing.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is a call to Christians to leave the “tourist” mindset and take on the “pilgrim” perspective. Each chapter looks at one of the Psalms of Ascent (sung by the ancient Israelites on their route to Jerusalem) and applies it to an aspect of “long obedience” discipleship.

This is one of those classic books that can benefit any Christian reader. It’s approachable and down-to-earth, designed for everyday folk who want to learn to live, enjoy and thrive in their faith.

It’s a book to keep, re-read, and share with friends. I’ve marked too many lines to share in a review. Here are a few samples:

My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him or myself or my neighbours. [Page 87]

We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. [Page 97]

In this second edition, the psalms and other Scripture verses are from The Message. This edition also includes a new preface and an epilogue.

Eugene H. Peterson is the translator of The Message version of the Bible, and the author of numerous books on Christian living. His Goodreads author profile gives more information about him and his books.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood, an anthology

Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood, an anthology of 5 Catholic bloggersLove Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood, by Anna Eastland, Monique LeBlanc, Bonnie Way, Monique Les and Melanie Jean Juneau, edited by Roberta Cottam (Village Acres Publishing, 2015)

Love Rebel is a refreshing affirmation of the value of at-home motherhood as a valid life choice.

According to the introduction, “The women featured in this book are rebels in today’s birthing and parenting culture.” They’re not angry or defiant like many rebels, and this isn’t a book that attacks the choices of working moms or childless women. These are grounded, articulate and educated women who have chosen to embrace a lifestyle that the majority of North America either devalues or deems impossible.

How many of us who are mothers have struggled with the well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) advice, pressures and expectations of others? These five writer-moms offer support, encouragement and hope.

The essays and poetry in this anthology celebrate large families, small moments, and the courage to follow one’s dream even if that dream is counter-cultural. Selections include survival tips and a “Recipe for creating a strong, flexible mother” as well as candid talk about subjects like parenting with hearing loss and the death of a child.

Love Rebel is an anthology of five Canadian Catholic bloggers, and while Protestants will note a few points of theological difference, they will find more points where they can agree. It’s a short book, and an encouraging read. I wish I’d had a copy of this book when my children were young.

[Review copy provided by the authors.]

Review: Writing the Heart of Your Story, by C.S. Lakin

Writing the Heart of Your Story, by C.S. LakinWriting the Heart of your Story, by C.S. Lakin (Ubiquitous Press, 2014)

What transforms a novel from a good read to one that lingers in readers’ imaginations? C.S. Lakin suggests the key is finding—and writing—the story’s heart. Finding it, she says, requires seeing the big picture, or some level of pre-writing discovery. Once a writer has found this connection point, he/she is in a strong position to weave it through the whole story.

Sections of the book focus on the heart of the story, of the characters, and of the plot, with extra sections on scenes and settings. Each chapter ends with a “think about” assignment, which turns this already-helpful book into a personalized writing course. Most assignments send writers back to their own favourite books to observe how those authors succeeded, and then challenge us to re-evaluate our own work.

If you’re a die-hard seat-of-the-pants writer, you may not value the book as much as I do, but you’ll likely find some things to help in your revision stages. C.S. Lakin is an unapologetic advocate of pre-planning, using the analogy of a mine: if you’re digging for the heart of your story, it makes sense to stabilize the tunnel so it won’t collapse.

I’ve done a prodigious amount of highlighting in this book, and it’s one I’ll go back to again and again to deepen my understanding. My first reading taught me things I’ve been able to apply immediately, and taking time to do the homework will build on that.

C.S. Lakin is a novelist and writing coach. Writing the Heart of your Story is one of her Writers’ Toolbox books, compiling a year’s worth of teaching on her Live Write Thrive blog. It’s available in multiple ebook formats as well as in print.

[Review copy from my personal library.]