Tag Archives: non-fiction

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: 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: Feed Your Spirit, by Kimberley J. Payne

Feed Your Spirit, a collection of devotionals on prayer, by Kimberley J. PayneFeed Your Spirit, by Kimberley J. Payne (Kimberley Payne, 2014)

Feed Your Spirit is a short collection of devotionals on prayer. Each opens with a Scripture passage, and closes with a quote on prayer. Each devotional is longer than your standard brief daily reading, and explores an aspect of prayer.

One that I most appreciated was the PATH method of prayer (Praise, Admit, Thanksgiving and Help). Topics also cover prayer walking, gratitude, hearing from God, and the question of “what if God’s answer is no?”

My favourite line reminds me that “Just as His mercies are new each day, His plan for me is new each day.” (Kindle location 296)

This collection of devotionals can be read one-a-day, or in one sitting. It’s free on all ebook platforms. Author Kimberley J. Payne writes about faith, family and fitness. For more about the author or to read her weekly blog posts, visit her website: kimberleypayne.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2013

My favourites from 2013:


Best of the year: also most satisfying series wrap-up:

Most satisfying mystery, and very close to best of the year:

Most can’t-wait-to-read-the-next-one mystery:

Most life-changing (fiction):

Most life-changing (non-fiction):

Most satisfying science fiction (and action):

Most satisfying fantasy novel:

Most satisfying speculative fiction:

  • Mask, by Kerry Nietz

Most satisfying historical:

Most laugh-inducing:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:


Most life-changing posts:

Review: Duke the Chihuahua Writes! by Donna Fawcett

cover art: Duke the Chihuahua WritesDuke the Chihuahua Writes!, by Donna Fawcett (Smashwords, 2012)

Duke is indeed a Chihuahua. He’s, shall we say, mature in years. Bee is an adolescent German Shepherd. Donna Fawcett is an award-winning author of fiction (under the name Donna Dawson) and non-fiction, and a former writing instructor. She’s also a speaker and a singer-songwriter.

When Donna began chronicling Duke’s writing misadventures on her blog, they were so well-received that Duke the Chihuahua Writes! was born. As an eager novice, Duke gets himself into some “teachable moments” on his writing journey. Between them, he and Bee encounter just about everything a new writer needs to learn. Duke even tries his paw at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

In 67 short chapters, the book covers the basics that beginners need to know: research, queries, self-editing, managing submissions, handling critiques and rejections, genres, characters, and more.

Duke and Bee make great company through the book, and readers will have more fun learning vicariously than reading a traditional “do this, don’t do that” instructional approach. The humour is appealing, and some of the author’s word choices are great. For example, Duke is a gentlepooch who, although he drinks cap-pup-chinos, leaves the pawdicures to Bee.

The book’s full title is Duke the Chihuahua Writes! A Self-Help and Slightly Crazy Book on How To Write. It’s available as an ebook through Smashwords. You can learn more about Donna Fawcett on her website. For more about her canine writing buddies, visit Duke and Bee Write or check out their blog.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Picks from 2012

My favourites from 2012:


Most challenging:

Most fun:

Most laugh-inducing:

Most satisfying twist:

Most satisfying mystery:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:

Most likely to re-read:


Favourite movie of the year:


Favourite album of the year:

Review: The God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith

The God of All Comfort cover artThe God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith (Whitaker House, 2003)

If God is indeed the God of all comfort; if He is our Shepherd; if He is truly our Father; if all the many aspects we have been studying of His character and His ways are true, then we must conclude that He is, in Himself alone, enough for all our possible needs. Therefore, we may safely rest in Him, absolutely and forever. (p. 284)

That’s an apt summary of the message of this book. Hannah Whitall Smith challenges readers to consider what the Bible says about God and His nature, and to compare that with what our inner responses reveal we actually believe. It’s not enough to have head knowledge that God is good, for example. We need to develop the heart knowledge that lets us base our lives and actions on the fact.

The version I’ve read has been “revised for clarity and readability” although it keeps the King James Scriptures. The next time I read it, I think I’ll look each one up in a newer translation as I go, for an even clearer grasp of what’s being said. And there are still some readability issues.

For example, Mrs. Smith refers to “comfortable faith,” meaning faith that’s not “uncomfortable” in the sense of distressing us because we have an unhealthy view of God as tyrant, weak or unloving. To my mind, “comfortable faith” implies laziness and stagnation.

I found much to bless, encourage and strengthen me in The God of All Comfort. Some things I didn’t quite accept, and I’m not sure if I didn’t understand them or if I take a different view.

According to the biography at the end of the book, Hannah Whitall Smith ended her days as a Universalist. In general, the teaching in The God of All Comfort meshed well with Scripture and drew me nearer to God, but with her change in mind I’m not too eager to adopt anything blindly (good advice at the best of times).

My copy of the book bristles with coloured flags marking key points. The best thing it did for me was challenge me to intentionally trust God as my Good Shepherd and to consciously rely on His Word.

According to the Wikipedia article on Hannah Whitall Smith, she lived from 1832-1911 in the US and England.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: More Questions than Answers, by Eleanor Shepherd

More Questions than Answers: Sharing Faith by Listening, by Eleanor Shepherd (Resource Publications (a division of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010)

No matter  how secure our faith, we all have questions, issues, things we don’t fully understand.

In More Questions than Answers, Eleanor Shepherd reminds us that honesty about these very things is the beginning of a journey that benefits us as well as the friends with whom we walk.

“When walking with our friends, we encourage them to explore faith with us. We admit that our knowledge of faith is incomplete, but it is growing. We want them to join us as together we test our spirituality and meet for ourselves the ultimate truth, Jesus Christ. We call our journey together spiritual accompaniment.” p. xvii

Spiritual accompaniment is unconditional friendship. Our non-Christian friend is not a project to be discarded if she doesn’t come to believe as we do. Nor is our Christian friend to be set aside if he doesn’t grow as fast as we’d like.

We benefit personally from accompanying others. We learn not to be threatened by questions we can’t answer—God doesn’t vanish in a puff of smoke if we can’t explain Him. Our faith doesn’t vanish either. By honestly and prayerfully facing them, we grow deeper in our faith.

More Questions than Answers is divided into three sections:

The Listening Process addresses the art of listening. It includes basics of psychology, counselling etc, but always at lay-person’s level.

Discovering and Sharing Faith teaches how to go about spiritual accompaniment, illustrated by personal examples. It warns of the obstacles we may face.

Finally, The Source reminds us to listen to and rely on God. There is a short Bible study to develop our spiritual listening skills, and a shorter “Gospel in a nutshell” to help us answer when a friend asks how to become a Christian.

This is a book for Christians who want to be more valuable spiritually in the lives of those around them. It isn’t evangelism-by-the-numbers; it’s investment in the lives of those God gives us.

I appreciate books like this that emphasize faith conversations rather than confrontation, and that teach us to value the whole person.

Canadian author Eleanor Shepherd is a retired Salvation Army Officer now serving with Opportunity International Canada in Quebec. You can catch up with Eleanor at her blog. She also contributes to the Canadian Authors Who are Christian blog.

[Book source: my personal library. A version of this review first appeared in Faith Today Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011.]

Review: More Ready Than You Realize, by Brian D. McLaren

More Ready Than You Realize, by Brian D. McLaren (Zondervan, 2002, 2006)

Brian McLaren’s aim with More Ready Than You Realize is to remind us that “evangelism” isn’t a dirty word, despite the negative connotations it’s acquired over the years. He also wants to demystify it and show us that, as the title suggests, we’re more ready to get involved than we realize.

He explains, “Good evangelism is the process of being friendly without discrimination and influencing all of one’s friends toward better living, through good deeds and good conversations. For a Christian… [it] means engaging in these conversations in the spirit and example of Christ. … Evangelism in the style of Jesus; evangelism that flows like a dance.” (p. 17)

The book tells the story of his spiritual friendship with April, a young woman considering faith. On one level, it’s an easy read. The conversations pull readers in, and we keep turning pages to see what happens. It’s also a book that requires thought as we apply what he says to our own lives.

A key premise is that Christians need to communicate our faith in a way that those around us will understand. Language, worldviews, even styles of communication have changed significantly in recent years as we’ve moved into the postmodern era.

The word “postmodern” itself raises a barrier to me, yet it’s assumed to be part of the reader’s understanding. Worse is “modern,” which I always thought meant “contemporary or up-to-date”. “Trendy,” even. But these are buzz-words of the new culture and so they’re used.

For me, this is a strong reminder of how important it is that I don’t bombard non-Christians or spiritual folk with Christian jargon. Dr. McLaren illustrates how these holy buzz-words will either be meaningless or mean something far different than intended.

More Ready Than You Realize is a helpful book and despite my struggle with the terminology its message resonated with me (oops, is that another buzz-word?).

The Bible tells us we’re to be ambassadors for Christ, that we’re to be involved in God’s work of reconciliation.

Dr. McLaren encourages us to “engage in spiritual friendship… see evangelism as relational dance rather than conceptual conquest, process rather than event, mutual learning rather than sales pitch…” and I find that far more attractive than some of the previous approaches. (In fairness to some of those modes, the book does point out the different cultures in which they began, so we see how they may have  been designed to best meet the needs of the times.)

Integral to this message is the belief that the individuals we befriend (or who befriend us) are of great value, whatever their ultimate decision about God and however long it takes them to make one.

Dr. McLaren challenges us to value the relationships more than the results, and he reminds us that the goal isn’t conversion. The goal is people (ourselves included) loving and serving God and growing in relationship with Him and with each other. The results are up to Him. Our job is simply to serve.

I’d recommend this book to Christians and to those who want to understand them, with the warning that if philosophical language is not your thing, the book may challenge you. The message is clear, and Brian McLaren is an appealing narrator. He speaks to readers as he did to April: openly, non-threatening, and genuinely interested. I look forward to reading some of his other books.

More Ready Than You Realize includes a seven-part Bible study on what it means to be a disciple and to develop others. You can find reviews, a sample chapter and interviews here.  To learn more about Brian D. McLaren, his other books and his ministry, check out his website.

Book source: my personal library