Category Archives: Non-fiction

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.]

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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