Category Archives: Non-fiction

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.]

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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.]

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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.]

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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.]

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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.]