Monday, April 20, 2015

Cookie Love by Mindy Segal.

"Cookie Love," a new cookie cookbook by Mindy Segal of Chicago's HotChocolate restaurant and dessert bar.
I was so excited about getting a review copy of this. I requested it with my sister, an avid baker, in mind. This is our combined review.

A cookbook should be made to last for quite a while. (Cookie Love seems to be. A weighty tome, bound in hardcover, with sewn binding so that it lays flat on the counter, or on your knees when you're reading in bed. Yes, cookbooks make good bedtime stories.)
A good cookbook should make you hungry as you read it. (Yes. Indeed. Hungry for raspberry rugelach!)
It should have lots of photos. (Check. Full color and full page.)
The narration- recipes and introductions- should be detailed and conversational. (I loved the personal stories she included. What's the first cookie Mindy distinctly remembers eating? A brownie krinkle, the day her kindergarten teacher came to lunch. When did get get serious in the kitchen? Age thirteen, when she received a KitchenAid mixer as a Hanukkah gift.)

Mindy is serious about baking. It's art, craft, work, love, and science. That's why this book is such delightful reading, and why it will lead to delicious kitchen adventures. There are recipes for every kind of cookie. Drop, sandwich, shortbread, biscotti, thumbprint, and all of them have been taken to new heights. You'll see expected ingredients used in unexpected ways, and you'll see unlikely ingredients used to make new favorites.

Does she call for some things that you may not have right in hand? Yes, occasionally, but there's usually a good reason for it. Goat butter adds a "mild tang," sorghum syrup adds a "rounded sweetness," and Cyprus salt is "assertive and crunchy." Could you stick with cow butter, Grandma's molasses, and Morton salt? Probably. But when you're ready to try something different, Mindy will encourage you.

The stated purpose of this book is to arm you with foundational technique and then turn you loose on the world, reading to do bold, beautiful things in the name of baking. "Make my recipes your own," says Mindy. "Riff on them... make some mistakes in the process."

I think that even if you never follow one of these recipes to the letter, you will find simple, awesome ideas to incorporate into your kitchen. One I've gotta try? Freeze a sheet of peanut butter and break it into the dough, so each cookie has "a ribbon of peanut flavor running through it."

There's an appendix called "My Cookie Pantry." This section is fun and informative. She introduces us to seven different chocolate products; she talks about the nuances of butter and milk and eggs, and she describes the properties of various flours and leavening agents and salts and sweeteners.

After that is "Tools of the Trade." She talks about what she uses and why it works. Evaluate your own pantry or use this chapter as a gift-list for your favorite baker. She's convinced me to supplement my plastic spatulas with a bench scraper.

The book closes with "Tricks of the Trade," to answer your "How did she do that?" questions. There's hints and instructions for using a double boiler, dipping cookies, working a pastry bag and a few other things that expand your repertoire.

In my house, I think this book will get quite a bit of wear. I read with pen in hand, marking what I'm craving for myself and what might ship well to a cousin in Florida.

Mindy says it more than once: Making cookies is a generous act. Create them, enjoy them, share them. And, she insists, the best part is the smile when people try one.

I thank the authors, and Ten Speed Press, and Blogging for Books for providing me with my review copy.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mary Colbert's new book.

13 Women You Should Never Marry: And How Every Man Can Recognize Them

I think I would have titled this book "13 Women You Should Drop Everything and Marry." That way, we could have focused in directly on the positive qualities, and looked at their opposite negative traits in passing. This book, 13 Women You Should Never Marry, does get around to the good traits, but it works its way there from the negatives.

What good qualities do we want to manifest, and find in others? We want to be content in Christ, able to choose joy for ourselves. We want to keep problems in perspective. We want to love others based on our status as Beloved of God, not based on those people's performance. We want to speak words of life and affirmation. We want to see the best in others and point it out to the world. We want to be safe people, who can be trusted with broken hearts and painful secrets.

Mary Colbert makes me want to be that kind of woman. Despite the focus on a negative trait in each chapter, she shows how desirable the good qualities are. So I think, overall, this could be a helpful book. The author does try to see most of the negative traits in context, with a sympathetic eye, even as she calls them out as red flags.

For example, she reminds us that a critical person may have grown up heavily criticized, a negative person may have had a lot of bad experiences, an angry person may really fear rejection, etc. For every one of these mindsets, there is help to be found in Christ. But it isn't the role of this book to guide women to help, so much as to warn men away from the women. I understand both sides of this.

Any woman, with the right guidance and care, can overcome any of these attitudes and grow into a wonderful, healthy soul. And yet, I wouldn't want my hypothetical brother to marry an unhealthy woman with the goal of "fixing" her. We'll all be marrying a sinner. The only question is, are they moving toward wholeness, holiness, and happiness, or will we have to drag them? I think this question will require a lot of soul searching. Where does 'bear one another's burdens' come in? Is it right to look for a spouse who appears to be carrying light burdens to begin with?

There are some valuable things to be learned here. All of the negative traits are ugly, and they drain away life. And we all manifest them, over and over in various degrees, throughout life. Are we willing to own them, to look them in the eye, to choose goodness and wisdom instead?

I thank Worthy Publishing for my review copy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Everyday Grace~

Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships with the Love of Jesus

Relationship. What does the word make you think of? For me, I'd say there's a hundred things that come to mind. In a relationship we're chosen, seen, and heard. We have security, acceptance and loyalty. We experience generosity, hospitality, and welcome. We find honesty, vulnerability, and kindness. 
We get to give and receive all of these things, and that's what makes relationship so wonderful and life-giving.

{Of course, we also get to give and receive pettiness, slights, offense, bitterness, criticism, anger, tension, and a host of negative drains that us dry. The human condition guarantees broken relationships.} 

We dream about the wonderful experiences, and yet we know the hard ones all too well. So who hasn't read a few books on the subject, hoping to get some wisdom and insight to make the whole thing smoother?
Likely that's why you picked this book up, because you want to learn more about relationship grace. 
Prepare to be surprised and refreshed!

*Everyday Grace* by Jessica Thompson is a great read, because it isn't a book focused on what we should do. 
Relationships are already based too much on performance- the last thing we need is a "Try harder!" 
This book doesn't say try harder- it says "Look, meditate, and rest. Christ has done everything." 

This is one of those books that saturates your soul with the goodness of the Gospel. It awes you, because it magnifies the Lord- turning on the zoom lens, as it were, and showing you Christ's beauty up close. It floods your mind with the knowledge that because He's so good, we're so very safe. Because He is perfect Love, we're securely loved. Because He laid Himself bare on the cross for us, we know we're perfectly understood. Because He is our High Priest, He is interceding for our every sorrow and every happiness. Looking at the evidence of His care that this book presents, we see that there's nothing but hope. 

We see the way Christ relates to us, and then we look at how these truths resonate in our human/human interactions. Christ is our Friend, our Older Brother, our Savior. 

And oh, this book will spur you to praise Him!

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy, provided in exchange for an honest opinion. You folks have published some awesome titles recently- Timothy Willard's Longing for More, Matt Papa's Look and Live, Peter Chin's Blindsided by God, Jeff Kemp's Facing the Blitz, and Jessica Thopmson's Everyday Grace. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Facing the Blitz~

Facing the Blitz: Three Strategies for Turning Trials Into Triumphs

{Thank you to Kirk Farrell for the review.}

In the 60's, 70's, 80's, I was much more of a professional sports aficionado than I am now. It was Bill Russell's Celtics, followed by Bird, Parish and Michale. The Pittsburg Steelers and now to a lesser extent the New England Patriots. 

I knew of Jack Kemp, a quarterback, politician, and head of government housing and urban development. The author of Facing the Blitz, Jeff Kemp? Nope, never heard of him. 

This book has enough about sports and Jeff's own professional career to tickle the interests of died in the wool zealots or casual observers like me. 
However his message, his book, has more to do with Christian faith than it does with sports.  His breakdown on pages 95, 96, and 97 are worth the price and time it would take to read the book. 

Jeff Kemp breaks it down to two mindsets: What can I get? vs What can I give? Will I be a consumer in life, or an investor? 
Me, I've been both. Shamefully often a consumer, occasionally an investor. 

Go and get this book. It's a touchdown. For an extra point I'm going to re-read it. 

Thank you Bethany House for providing me with a review copy.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Savor~ Living Abundantly

Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, as You Are

The packing box was weighty when the UPS man handed it to me. I saw the HarperCollins label, and my eyes grew wide. Could this be it, the book I had been waiting a month for? I quickly cut the tape and pulled the flaps open. There, among the crunched paper, was Shauna Niequist's "Savor."

In the words of my Dad, "That book's got one heck of a cover." Indeed. This devotional is linen bound, and the page edges are dyed indigo. 
This looks like the kind of book that would make a superb birthday present- the recipient would be oohing and aahing as soon as they saw it.

And the subtitle? "Living abundantly where you are, as you are." That conjures up images of freedom, acceptance, grace, and peace.

OK. So we've established that this book looks and feels beautiful, but I don't use my books as decorations. 
What's inside the cover? That's what I wanna know.

I was new to Shauna Niequist, so I did a wee bit of Googling. She's written three other books: Bittersweet, Cold Tangerines, and Bread and Wine.
A Starred Publishers Weekly review used the adjectives "humorous," "contemplative," "brave," "poetic," and "profound." 
And now I can see why. 

You see, Savor is 365 devotions, with a portion of them coming from her earlier works. This was perfect for me, because now I know that I want the full-length editions of her books on my shelf. Similarly, a long-time Shauna fan may want to add Savor to the collection because the devotional format presents the familiar material differently.

And what is the material? A whole bunch of lovely meditations on what it means to be human. As I read, I found myself thinking about so many things, asking myself little questions, and wanting to grab my favorite people and ask them questions too. 
"What takes your breath away? What makes your heart beat faster? What private anniversaries do you grieve on dates you'll never forget? What memories do you cherish? Whose arms do want around you? What wrenches you to the core? Whose smile helps you face the world? And.... what tastes so good to you that you close your eyes to eat it?" 

Shauna strikes an excellent note in her writing. It's urgent- live now, open your eyes, be present, stir the soup, kiss that beloved one- and it's reflective too. It's personal- after all, her inspiration is her life!- but by paying attention to her particulars, she somehow reaches the rest of us. 

I was lamenting to my mother as I read that this will probably be sold as a "Woman's Book." It turns out Shauna already addresses this. I found an interview where she said she doesn't write for women, she writes for people. Like Timothy Willard's beautiful devotional was not only for men, Shauna's is not only for women. If you're a man and I catch you reading this, I'll smile, because you'll be absorbing good thoughts from your sister Shauna.

Let me close with a few quotes from the lady herself. 

"I want to make God glad that He gave life to someone who loves the gift." 

"Sacred and surprising things happen when we gather around a table and share food made with love and by our own hands."

"In many cases, change is not a function of life's cruelty but instead a function of God's graciousness." 

"This is it, in the best possible way. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets. This pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of us will experience."

Thank you Shauna and Book Look Bloggers for providing me with a review copy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Sparrow in Terezin.

A Sparrow in Terezin (Hidden Masterpiece #2)

A Sparrow in Terezin, sequel to The Butterfly and the Violin, the second Hidden Masterpeice Novel.

Despite dehumanizing treatment, victims of the Holocaust left behind works of art, some of it created within the death camps. Kristy Cambron is writing a series of books about these "Hidden Masterpieces," imagining a story for each artist. 

The way Kristy brings her characters together is something to behold. Just like in life, all the steps and stops add up, and leave you facing your enemy, facing your friend, facing yourself. And when various characters meet, they must decide whether to help or harm, give or ignore, recognize fellow humanity or close their eyes. 

Along with the compelling history lesson we receive as we follow Kaja's exodus from Prague, we get a modern day story too. 
If you read book one, you remember Will and Sera. They solved the mystery of a haunting painting in the first book, and when you begin this book you'll find yourself attending their wedding. 

Of course, Sera and Will don't immediately experience wedded bliss. There's another mystery for them to solve, one that requires delving into history's secrets for answers and wisdom.

These two books belong together, read in order, because they forma panoramic view of several stories. They are an excellent example of redemptive storytelling- these books are accessible, respectful tributes to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Summer by Summer, a Novel.

Summer by Summer

This story begins with starry skies above a tropical paradise. Belize is an amazing place to work as a nanny over school vacation. 
And 18 year-old Summer hopes that this experience will help bring about a new beginning for her. She doesn't expect it to work a miracle, but she does hope for light at the end of the tunnel. 

You see, Summer is jaded and wounded from an experience that scarred her deeply. Even the people closest too her don't know the depth of her turmoil. And she certainly never intended to unpack her baggage with a stranger.
Especially not one like Bray. 

The college-age son of her employers, Bray is everything Summer can't stand. He unsettles her, and she tries to avoid him.
On his part, Bray thinks that Summer hides behind a guarded persona because she is afraid of life.
And she may dismiss him, but he finds himself unable to ignore the genuine, complex girl he catches glimpses of. 
Deep down inside, he believes they aren't so different after all. At the very least, they should give each other a chance! 

An uneasy truce made between them is soon tested when an island adventure goes wrong. 
They had hoped to "survive" the summer's tension, and suddenly they're working together on actual survival. 
Be prepared for suspense! 

Without giving anything away, this is a book you won't want to put down. Stranded on a lush-and-lethal island, Bray and Summer find themselves working together, protecting each other, and eventually understanding each other. 
And for Summer, that might be the scariest thing of all. 

This is a story about losing somebody you love, and somehow learning to hope again. 
Heather Burch avoids cliches and pat "answers," opting to explore emotions and feelings in a realistic way.  

This story reminded me of another worthy Young Adult read, Nicole Quigley's "Like Moonlight at Low Tide." 
If you're looking for two captivating-and-meaningful beach reads this summer, these are the two I suggest.

I thank Blink YA Books and BookLook for providing me with a review copy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hearts Beneath the Badge~

Hearts Beneath the Badge

 "Love is silent. Hate is loud. I don't want our love for law enforcement to be silent any longer. That is why I wrote this book."
 ~ Karen Solomon 

Perhaps now more than ever, we need a book like this. "Hearts Beneath the Badge" is exactly what it sounds like- an attempt to introduce readers to some of the human beings who wear those distinctive uniforms. 
Those badges mark cops in the eyes of the world. For some of us, when we see a uniform we know help is nearby if we need it. We see cops as the protectors and servants in our community. 
There are other people see cops in a much less positive light, and that same badge marks officers to receive unkind treatment or outright hatred. 

Either way, it's easy to loose sight of their individual humanity, and just see them as cops, for good or for ill. 
Yet as long as we have this simplistic view, our law enforcement officers will never be respected, honored, or properly supported. 
There really are hearts beneath the badges, and there's a life story of family, friends, and goals behind each LEO. 
Some of their stories would be too painful to tell, but others certainly need to be told. 

Karen Solomon has brought a valuable collection of stories together in this book.
She interviewed both male and female officers, some of them young and just starting out {Ray and Damien} and others retired and looking back on a full career {Walt and his wife Jan.} 
Some of them worked in cities, where gunshots and blood trails were common events, and some in quieter areas where barking dogs received a full investigative response. {That reminds me of my town. Two weeks ago a local officer was dispatched to deal with loose pigs in the road. And he handled it with such a good attitude!}
Some went into police work because of a mentor's example, others because it made sense after time in the military.
Some of them chose to relate a lighthearted account, others described a tragic moment that they can still see in Technicolor.
The common denominator between every LEO she profiled was their desire to help people and their attempts to live a life of integrity and courage. 

There will be times when you're reading when you set the book down for a moment and regroup. 
Some of these stories will hit you hard as a reader, and I tried to imagine living through them as a direct participant. 

You'll hear several messages ringing through this book, good ones to consider as we relate to our police.
People do not become cops to harass citizens, or to be called heroes. They don't want to be put on a pedestal, but they don't want to be judged and convicted by public opinion either. 

They do hard work because somebody has to: there's precious few pleasant calls coming in to 911. They appreciate community involvement, and many cops try hard to reach out to their neighborhoods. They don't want to distrust everybody, but they do have to be cautious. There may be no such thing as a routine call- things can turn bad very quickly, or on the rare occasion, it can end very good. 

In a lot of places, departments operate on shoestring budgets and officers respond knowing that there may be no backup, and minimal equipment is provided. Shifts can be long and lonely, and the hours and stress all take a toll. And for most officers, the people they go home to experience the effects right along with them. That's right... an entire family is involved in law enforcement along with their officer.
Karen skillfully illustrates the role of family in a LEOs life, by including the testimonies of wives and girlfriends, and highlighting the experiences of children who grow up proud of their police officer parent. 

Obviously, people who already appreciate LEOs will be drawn to this book, and they'll find it a rewarding read. However, as Karen Solomon points out, this is a book for the unconvinced or the hostile, too. If you think cops are out there to make your day difficult, or that police departments are a drain on the taxpayers, perhaps this book would challenge those preconceived notions.

As Karen says about one man, but paraphrasing for every officer, "Their job does not define them. They define their job."  

God bless our law enforcement and all the people who love them and support them, and may this book help us civilians reach a better understanding of them and their work. 

I thank Karen Solomon for providing me with a copy of Hearts Beneath the Badge, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chasing Sunsets~

Chasing Sunsets (Angels Walking #2)

Karen Kingsbury's second novel in the Angels Walking series shares the same awesome premise as the first- sometimes angels come to earth in human form. 

In this case, the angels are trying to preserve two lives. The first is Marcus Dillinger, a pro baseball player with a passion for helping inner city kids. The second is Mary Catherine, a woman who inspires passion and joy in everyone she meets.  

It's Mary Catherine's heart- the spiritual one- that grabs Marcus' attention. She's so gracious and generous, she's the kind of woman he wouldn't deserve. 
And it's Mary Catherine's heart- the physical one- that keeps her from allowing love a foot in the door. 
Her heart is diseased, and she knows that she may not see thirty years of age. Because she understands her condition, she lives by a chosen motto: It's not how many days you live, it's how much life you have in your days. 

Enter their common mission field: a group of youth, who will be sent to prison if this intervention program fails. And while Marcus and MC pledge to do their best, there are also two angels watching over them.

First, I've gotta say that letting one angel come as a policeman is the neatest thing. Especially because Karen Kingsbury's family experienced a moment of prayer with a policeman during a family crisis, and later on nobody could identify him. Was he, perhaps, an angel walking?  

Second, Marcus and MC are such likable characters. How can you not cheer for them? 
{And if you read the first book, you'll be meeting up again with your old friends Sami and Tyler.} 

This book is deeply inspirational, because it showcases the power of prayer and reality of miracles. 
I love a story of healing. God absolutely can and does do miracles. 
However, I would not want to read a series where every patient was healed, every relationship restored, every home rebuilt- because that's not the world we have today. 
Sometimes, I need to read a story where the healing doesn't come, and the author somehow shows me that the Love doesn't waver and the Glory doesn't depart. 
I'm glad that Karen balances these realities- Yes, God moves in our world, yes, things that happen hurt us badly. His presence and our pain are not exclusive of each other. 
So you'll see moments of miracle in this story, though the prison system and the hospital hallways still exist, and characters will learn to live with strength in a broken world.

There's a fine old song by the country group Alabama, called Angels Among Us. 
I'm going to close by sharing the lyrics. 
"I believe there are angels among us/
Sent down to us from Somewhere up above/
They come to you and me in our darkest hours/ 
To show us how to give, to teach us how to live, to guide us with the light of love/
They wear so many faces, show up in the strangest places/ 
Grace us with their mercy in our time of need/
Oh, I believe there are angels among us."   


Thank you Howard Books for my review copy. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Against the Flow by John Lennox

Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism

This book begins with a strong hook, expounding on the opening chapter of Daniel. 
Imagine this young Hebrew, a worshipper of the Almighty God and a citizen of a oppressed nation. His intelligence and sensitivity mark him for his captors. They want to submerge him in their culture and seduce him with their philosophies. They're going to train him in all their arts and sciences and install him in the Babylonian court. 

Right there you can feel Daniel's tension and hear the questions in his soul. "How will God preserve, redeem, and deliver His captive people? How will I serve Him and how can I trust Him when he allowed me to be torn away from my family and home?" It's black and white text on a page for us today, but for Daniel it was sweat and blood and sleeplessness. 

Often, our time/space distance from Biblical events obscures both the relevance of the message and the humanity of the narrator. Oxford Professor John Lennox sets out to show us the book of Daniel in a new light, by revealing the significance of one life dedicated to God. By mining the book of Daniel for all the wisdom it contains, we can learn a great deal about how to live "against the flow" in our day.

How did Daniel hold fast to the faith of his fathers when he was totally surrounded by a pagan people?

How did he speak so courageously, and so winsomely, to guards and governors? He presented the truth unflinchingly, yet with utterly respect, and powerful men were moved to consider his minority position. 

How did his personal fidelity fuel his counter-culture stance?  We can see that he was a man of prayer, and he sought to close the gaps between his convictions and his integrity. Paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling, Daniel walked with crowds and kept his virtue, he talked with kings and didn't lose the common touch.
This man epitomized being "in the world and not of it." 

We have no reason to believe that he was an unpleasant, bigoted person who condemned and shunned left and right. Instead, we see a steady witness, whose hard-words-softly-spoken were valued by the establishment of his day. We see a man who knew the score about the world he lived in, and who made his decisions with the character of God as his reality.

Indeed, there is much to learn from Daniel. And this book is a great start.... it's 400 plus pages of fascinating history that spans multiple empires and conquests and kingdoms, as well as commentary on how we can live today. Human dignity, the meaning of history, how to live as God's ambassadors, the nature of the kingdom of heaven, the reality of revelation, the power of predictive prophecy, the invasion of the supernatural into the natural, the synergy between mind and brain... all these concepts receive treatment in this book. 

And the ultimate purpose of Daniel's Scriptures and Professor Lennox's scholarship is to point us to a living God, one who is intensely personal as He meets with his people, and who gives the centuries their meaning.

I'll close with a quote from the book of Daniel, CEB translation. This is God addressing Daniel: "Do not be afraid, man greatly beloved; all will be well with you. Be strong, be strong." 

Thank you to Monarch Publishing and Litfuse Publicity Group for providing me a review copy. It was much appreciated.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5th 2015

 "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 
He is not here, He has risen!"
~ Words recorded from the first century AD, as being spoken from angels to women. 

"So we come down to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
It's so petty; it's so trivial; it's so local; it's so earthbound; 
it's so unworthy of the universe."
~ Prof. Dawkins, debating Prof. Lennox 

Never-the-less, whenever that crystal clear word "resurrection" shall be heard and understood, a prior word must be heard and perceived: "Death." It must be seen that in the midst of life, even in blooming and healthy life, there is a yawning chasm, a deep pit that cannot be filled by any art or power of man. Only one word is sufficient to cover this chasm, to fill this pit: "Jesus is victor!" That is,  resurrection. 
~Karl Barth

"The resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; 
they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the Universe. 
That is the story. What are we going to make of it?"
~C. S. Lewis  

Love is the victor. Death is not the end. His life and our lives through him, in him.
Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction that the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream. Christ our Lord has risen. ~Frederick Buechner

Above all else, I want Easter to be true because of its promise 
that someday I will get my friends back. 
I want to abolish that word irreversible forever. 
Death be not proud, wrote John Donne. God will not let death win. 
~Philip Yancey

"I am the resurrection and the life..."
~Jesus of Nazareth

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

No More Perfect Kids~

No More Perfect Kids: Love the Kids You Have, Not the Ones You Want

Jill Savage and Kathy Koch have a theory- every parent has two sets of kids. 

The first set is the ones you always dreamed about, the Perfect Kids. 
The second set are the Imperfect Kids, the ones you sometimes don't even recognize as your own. 
You envisioned a reader, you got a fashion designer. You hoped for an aspiring doctor, he wants to me a mechanic. 
You want to pass on your love of people, she's an introvert. You adore music, the stuff screaming from his iPod is a din.
"These are mine?" Yes, they're wonderful, but they're nothing like you dreamed of! 

So what is a parent to do, when dreams and reality are sometimes far apart? 
How do you surrender those dreams and embrace the real live children you've been given? 
Thankfully, Jill and Kathy understand all about this. And they've written this little book, packing all 270 pages full of practical wisdom, to help you engage with and love your Imperfect Kids. 

This book is framed around seven questions, questions rarely voiced but ever-present in the human heart.
Each chapter looks at why children feel this way, and then talks about parental responses that will help the child as they grow. 
These basic questions keep reoccurring through life, and you may find that you're still asking them today- openly or unconsciously.

One: Do You Like Me? "Of course, I love you!" No. Do you LIKE me? As one girl observed to Dr. Kathy, love was almost a guarantee. They're her parents, after all. But she didn't feel liked. And liking is a combination of being wanted, seen, heard, and received with compassion.

Two: Am I Important to You? We spend a lot of time asking this question one way or another, in each relationship we're part of. You know you're important when someone cares about what you're Doing, Thinking, and Feeling.

Three: Is It Ok I'm Unique?  What makes us unique will often drive us crazy until somebody helps us find a hidden strength in the middle of it. 
When Dr. Kathy was young, she didn't want to be tall. It took creative parents providing good opportunities to help her appreciate her height.
This chapter reminded me- You have to dig beneath the surface of an annoying complaint to see if there's a genuine concern that the person is afraid to share.

Four: Who Am I? {Could have been subtitled "The Scariest Question in the Universe." How the heck do we begin to answer this one?} 
Perhaps we've made the question too large and intimidating. Jill and Kathy show that we can help kids by providing positive identity statements often.
"You are God's, and you are Loved" is a great start. "You are a loyal friend and a clever problem solver" is a great addition. Whatever you come up with, it all boils down to "You are a unique and unrepeatable miracle!" 

Five: Am I a Failure? This question is most terrible when you're afraid to ask it, when it just rolls around inside your head. Everybody needs a safe listener, who can hold a heavy question like that. We can build up the truth that nobody is a failure by learning how to process mistakes in a healthy way. 
The purple marker stain is a good place to begin- focus on solving the problem, and if it's unsolvable, give grace to yourself and the kid.
This chapter also addresses the Big Stuff- the mistakes no parent wants to see their child make. The ones that change their life. Even then, Jill and Kathy insist, God is present in it all. 

Six: What is my Purpose? Again, let's start small and local. You can help your child experience purpose by giving them chances to make a difference. It sounds too simple, but in my experience it works. Whatever chance you have to help somebody or serve somebody, let the kids help meet those needs. 

Seven: Will You Help Me Change? If what we see in the kids around us are areas requiring growth and maturity, then we'd better be prepared to help them achieve it. Helping somebody else change presumes that we ourselves are committed to healthy choices, vulnerability, and honesty. As always, coat the process liberally with grace. Neither adults nor children find change easy- children's struggles just happen to be more evident. 

Jill and Kathy may have written an indispensable book, here. It could certainly set you on track to "Loving Your Kids For Who They Are."

I thank MP Newsroom for my review copy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tracie Peterson's Steadfast Heart~

Steadfast Heart (Brides of Seattle, #1)

Tracie Peterson writes historical novels that combine detail with grand scope. 
In this case, the details surround two young ladies- Lenore and Abrianna- and the grand scope is the matrimonial environment of the late 1880's. 

If you've read her books before, you've probably been eagerly anticipating a new series. A Steadfast Heart starts off the Brides of Seattle saga. 

This story contrasts the wealth and opulence of Seattle's Upper Crust with the poverty of the alleys and docks. Lenore must decide whether to live a blind life of privilege, or a whether to move through the world with clear-eyes and out-stretched hands. 

Of course, the man she marries with have much to do with the shape of her future. Will Lenore sacrifice her principles and marry an economically and socially "suitable match," or will she keep a steadfast heart and look first for a man of quality?

I must say that Abrianna was my favorite character- solidly commonsense and extremely dedicated to her humanitarian work. However, we readers can tell that she's shutting herself off from love, and I hope the next book will show her opening her heart. 

I'm going to be passing my copy along to a friend who adores Tracie's books... I'm sure she'll have found a new favorite. 

I thank Bethany House for providing me with a review copy. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Easter & Why Christmas?

Why Easter?

Oh, this small Easter Bible study will lead children to some big truth! If you follow the prompts, you'll discuss concepts such as:
Why was Jesus a man of sorrows?
What does it mean that death has lost its sting?
Pilate seemed to be in control, how was Jesus the real victor?
What does it mean to boast in Christ and the power of His Resurrection?

This book provides a devotion for each day in the four weeks preceding Easter.
You read aloud the verses selected, and then Barbara Reaoch has written three or four paragraphs that help expound upon or explain the meanings. And then you talk it all over with the kids!

Each week also focuses on one of the great hymns, such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," drawing insights out of the verses. Sing-along theology. What could be better?

I would pair this book, with all its clear Biblical teaching, with Plough Publishing's Easter Stories.
Then children would have truth in study time and in story time. Both books together would expand the reader's understanding of Easter and fill us with Resurrection hope.

I thank Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Why Christmas?

As with the complementary volume "Why Easter?" this Christmas devotional introduces children to grand truth. There are Bible verses to read, and then a short meditation to ponder on.
And then you discuss it!
"Angels appeared to shepherds. Why lowly shepherds? Nobody cared about them. But God did. Because they were poor in heart, and we can be too."

There's so much to talk about here....
How does the very name Jesus show that He is our promised Savior?
What does it mean that Jesus was the Word long before He was born in a manger?
Where does the book of Micah tell us that He will be born in Bethlehem?
What does it mean in Isaiah when He is called Immanual, God-with-us?

There are four carols/hymns in this book as well, and we explore some of there verses.
Why does Silent Night tell us that He is "Jesus, Lord at Thy birth," and how is He the Everlasting Light that shone in Bethlehem?

If you approach Bible study in a gentle, affectionate, inquiring way, I think any child could enjoy it.
So open your Bibles together, and let's find out Why Christmas?

I thank Cross Focused Reviews for my copy of this book.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Oxford Inklings~

The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writings, Ideas, and Influence

"The Oxford Inklings" by Colin Duriez is a manageable collection of mini-autobiographies of the renowned men who made up the Inklings. 
These men were C. S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others of academic and literary fame. 
Collectively, these men soldiered, authored many books from theology to poetry, and instructed at some prestigious British and American Universities. 

They were friends first, and critics of each other's work when relevant, and they all were believers of Christ or came to be.
Ravi Zacharias' question "Can man live without God?" could have been answered by any of these fellows. 

If you're a fan of C. S. Lewis, I can recommend this book. Eric Metaxas, a modern philosopher and theologian, holds educational forums under the name "Socrates in the City" where brilliant minds gather to inform regarding various topics. These gatherings are a chance to question and dialogue. 
I can't help but think that's a lot like the Inklings, who gathered to eat, drink, and think. 

I thank Lion Hudson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 
This book will be joining Mr. Duriez's other book "An A to Z of C.S Lewis" as well as a whole host of other Lewis-themed titles, on my shelf.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Shifting Sand~

On Shifting Sand

The afternoon that I began reading this book, my town received its first genuine spring rain- cool, sweet, persistent. 
The noise of falling water made a strange counterpoint to the scenes I was imagining as I read. 

The Oklahoma Dustbowl- a world without rain, where the sky darkens with flying sand and grit filters through every sheltering wall. 
That is Nola's world when this story begins. She is a thirsty woman living in a parched place. 
The earth doesn't seem to produce life here- instead it chokes it out, sweeping across the plain and suffocating everything in its path.

If you read the plot summary, you saw that into this shifting land comes a stranger. He's a friend of Nola's husband, a drifter named Jim. 
Stated baldly, Jim and Nola have an affair. 
Now, I'm guessing there's going to be two reader reactions. One is "I can't read that. Adultery? I don't want that kind of story. It's not Christian." 
Reaction two is "I won't read that- Christian fiction can't possibly handle that realistically and gently."

Let me tell you, Nola's story is complicated. She's impossible to figure out, and I think that's why some reviewers aren't "liking" her. 

She had a hard childhood, ruled by a suspicious and dominating father and her Half-Breed Indian mother dying early.
She's married to a man of sterling kindness and integrity- a preacher none the less. 
She's surrounded by a church family, but she is truly a loner. 
Her children are deeply loved, but sometimes she's scared of their pure affection. 

She's the shamed girl seen as sinner by her father, she's the beloved bride of a man so decent she feels undeserving, she's trapped in a situation she can't redeem, and sometimes it seems she's the jailer to her own prison. She's all of these and more. 

When she finally encounters Jim Brace, and takes the steps that bring her to him, she isn't even sure why she does it. And neither are we, the readers.
That's part of why she felt so real. 

Maybe, like St. Augustine hinted, we really do look at ourselves from the back. Maybe all our motives are so tangled with fears and desires that only God can cut them apart. Maybe we really can't face ourselves. 

Let's shoot straight here- infidelity is ugly. And yet... isn't that me to the core? An infidel? 
Perhaps not I'm transgressing bodily in a marriage, but I'm as faithless as Nola is. I'm unfaithful to my God and I'm forgetful of what He has made me. 
I trade in His living water for cracked cisterns of my own shaping. Considering the whole counsel of Scripture, I think the wasting-away Denola Merrill is a perfect canvas on which to paint a vision of radical Grace. And that's what Allison Pittman has done. 

So read this book to take you back to a period in history that I do not want to ever live through. 
And read it to take you inside a woman who doesn't understand herself, and who realizes that restoration and cleansing must come from Outside and Above. 

I thank Tyndale House Publishers for my review copy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sand in my Sandwich~

Sand in My Sandwich: And Other Motherhood Messes I'm Learning to Love

Sarah Parshall Perry begins this book by saying that she's part of a "culture of confession"- a group of people who believe that telling the truth about themselves is part of finding the Truth that will renew the world. 

These men and women are writing a lot of books these days, and I'm benefitting from reading them. 
Their writing walks the line between memoir and meditation, expressing authentic faith amidst musing, struggling, and wondering. 
(Peter Chin's Blindsided by God, Sara Hagerty's Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, Amy Julia Becker's Small Talk, Naomi Zacharias' The Scent of Water, and Andrea Raynor's Incognito, for example.) 
I think it's a good sign. We must learn to be real with ourselves and our lives, because how else can we offer a real God to the world? 

So... Sand in My Sandwich. Looking at the cover, you might assume this is a fluffy, funny book about preschoolers and how difficult it is to take them to the beach. (That's what I thought, anyway.) 
Nope. The first few pages place you right there in the Perry's home, a home bursting with energy and potential and laughter and lessons to learn and rivalry and harmony. It's a home with skinned knees and difficult moments, and grace given and love expressed. And you feel this pouring off the pages.    

Sarah and Matt have three children- Noah, Grace, and Jesse- with both sons on the autism spectrum. 
{They also have every pet animal possible, from dogs to hermit crabs to guinea pigs to horses.} 
All of that adds up to life spilling over- sometimes lovely, sometimes messy, often both at once. 

Sarah has captured that quality of life, that the good and the hard often come as a packaged deal. 
And as she guides us through a few of her days, she reminds us that as challenging as it all is, it's worth it. 

She says she often asks her husband "Can you believe how good this all is?" 
And his answer is no, he has a hard time believing it and he never could have imagined it. But it's so good.

I thank Revell for providing me with a review copy.

Ps.... for those of you who think Parshall sounds like a familiar name, it is. Sarah's Mom is Janet Parshall, host of the radio show In the Market.
Janet's steady voice brings us the news of the Body worldwide, and keeps us up to date on the work of God's people to spread His love.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Between the Dark and the Daylight~

Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life

Between the Dark and the Daylight lies the place of uncertainty, longing, loneliness, concern, and knowledge of our finitude. 

It's not a place we want to go on a sleepless night. But Sister Joan Chittister argues that it isn't a place to ignore or run away from. 
Instead, it's where we can find ourselves. When paradoxes are embraced and insight is found within the tension, a soul "grows, expands, centers, and becomes its most radiant self." 

Here are a few quotes from various chapters to give you a taste of this book. 

The Mirage of Security~
"Risk, the willingness to accept an unknown future with open hands and a happy heart, is the key to the adventures of the soul. 
Without risk we live in a world of small dreams and lost possibilities."

The Success of Failure~ 
"We are not born to be miserable. We are born to be fully alive, to be happy, to give our gifts to the world with the joy that comes from doing our best and having it mean something to someone else." 

The Energy that Comes from Exhaustion~
"The important choice in life then, is to choose our stresses carefully. The good ones enliven us and give life to those around us. The bad ones give nothing to anyone, least of all ourselves." 

The Struggle between Guilt and Growth~
"Holiness depends on choices that have been tested by opportunities."

Each chapter is a few pages in length, crafted with an economy of words. Pithy is a good description of them- powerful thoughts expressed concisely.
The ideas hit you, and force you to re-read sentences.
And along the way, as she lays bare her own meditations, she quotes other minds that have wrestled with the same basic life.

"Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone... 
And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."~ Paul Tillich

"Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life." ~ Daisaku Ikeda

I thank Image Books and Blogging for Books for providing me with a review copy.