Wednesday, January 27, 2016

40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole

40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast.

What if Lent wasn't meant to be just a period of duty-bound deprivation? What if it could be a season of preparation, where a time of renunciation helps set our soul right and readies it for Resurrection fullness?

It is Alicia's conviction that we need to recover this second view of Lent, and that if we did, it would become a meaningful part of the cycle of faith.

Lent: waiting, watching, wondering, making space inside to holding the hard things and the sacred sadness. And then, we awaken to Easter-day fullness, where death gives way to life everlasting and everything is rewritten in light of an empty tomb.

Alicia's heart is captivated by this mystery, and her writing spills over with awe. This is definitely an accessible and enriching read.

Many of her forty chosen "fasts" resonated strongly with me.
For example, one day she suggests we fast from trying to find quick-fixes. Some things do not reach resolution in a hurry, some aspects of life never tie up in a bow,  some things have no fix at all- they simply have to be lived with.

Another day we fast from noise, intentionally choosing silence for a while. The list goes on, of course- we fast intimidation by standing against fear. We fast apathy- the world's pain is overwhelming, and we grow numb to survive it all, but we need to somehow keep our swift compassion for others.

Basically, all these "fasts" are chances to correct an unhealthy way of dealing with yourself, to refocus your relationships with others, or to catch a new glimpse of your God.

As Alicia says, Lent "frees me from the sticky stuff of self-consciousness, increases within me the sacred stuff of God-consciousness" and therefore "fills me with unspeakable joy."

Yep. I think a Resurrection should involve unspeakable joy.

I thank Thomas Nelson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my opinion.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stephanie Rische's new book.....

I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See: My Misadventures in Dating, Waiting, and Stumbling into Love

A true-life story, told with an eye for irony and a finely honed sense of humor will always appeal to me. And Stephanie has a lot of those stories in this book, which could be called "Close Encounters of the Dating Kind." It's not another how-to-be-single manual, and it isn't even mostly stories about her blindingly bad dates. Instead, it's largely thoughtful reflections on what it means to have a real, satisfying relationship with God- when you're happy and want to share it, when you're in need of protection, when you have dreams and you're unsure if it's time to take the ax to them.

The frame of the book is eight blind dates, dates with guys whose identity must be protected by invented monikers such as "The Professor," "The Linebacker," and "Mr. Very." These evenings-gone-wrong put Stephanie through all the single person questions- Am I invisible? Or just plain all wrong? And what do I do about it? Is there a firecracker I could drop into God's ear, to let him know I'm serious about this singleness thing? He was the one who decided it "wasn't good for man to be alone" anyway!

The whole time she's being serious, she's not taking herself too serious. If you're looking for a book on life, and Jesus, and community, written by a struggling single since happily married, then stop right here, you've found it.

If you're looking for a book on life, community, and Jesus, but written by someone who's (as far as I know) still single and still writing from those particular trenches, then try Kate Hurley's "Cupid is a Procrastinator."

Heck, try both books.

I thank Tyndale Momentum for providing me a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Amish Christmas at North Star~

Amish Christmas at North Star: Four Stories of Love and Family

I was eager to dive into this Amish Christmas novella set, anticipating some relaxing and lighthearted reading. I got what I'd been looking for, that's for sure.

I appreciated the first selection, by Katie Ganshert, because she found a very unique way of associating her heroine with Amish country. Elle McAllister never imagined that she could have lived an Amish life, but when an investigative reporter calls her and tells her he might be able to find her birth mother, will she go along with his plans? This story is sweet and quick-paced. It was neat to see what Katie would do with a novella, after having read several of her full novels.

The next story up is by Amanda Flower. She injects a wee dose of mystery, set around a death at an Amish stable. The best part, in my opinion, was the friendship between Amish Eden and English Gina. Everything wraps up tidily at the end.

The third selection is by Cindy Woodsmall, a beloved author of Amish fiction. She tells her story mostly from the male point of view. Kore Detweiler is convinced that his girlfriend deceived him and betrayed him when she called off the wedding. Savilla had helped him find his faith to begin with- why would she abandon his love for her? Of course, there's more to the story than meets Kore's eye....

The last story, by Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark, was my favorite. It's a story of love lost and found again between two young people who needed to figure out who they were and what mattered most. And it's a sibling story, spending equal time on Sam and Andy, two brothers who will be best friends for life.

I thank Waterbrook publishers for providing me with a review copy for my honest opinion.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Every Little Thing~ Deidra Riggs

Every Little Thing

It seems like maybe we're realizing that it is the "little" things that matter. The ordinary. The common. The familiar. The obvious-to-the-point-of-being-invisible. The unheralded happenings that may make us smile or drive us crazy, but either way they put the color in the lines and curves of our larger life.

After all, what is a "good life" except X number of accumulated days lived well? Day after day, the little things: forgiving and being forgiven, picking our way through the forest of choices and trying to choose right, prizing healthy relationships over all else, being open to hearing God instead of just our stubborn selves.

In "Every Little Thing" Deidra Riggs explores that truth- God made you to live well, and you don't need any other raw materials than the life you already have. "God is in the wilderness," she writes. "Go there. He will meet you right in the middle of your wild and worn and weary places. Take off your shoes. Tear off your pretense. Skip over the polite conversation. It's you he wants. Simply you."

This is a book for anyone who feels a little closed in. A little desperate. A little worried that maybe it all means nothing, maybe it's not enough, maybe you aren't going anywhere worthwhile after all. This is a book for someone who needs to hear some truth- that we are coming into something good, and something of God is coming to us.

I wish I could describe "Every Little Thing" more thoroughly, but it's not the kind of book that lends itself to a bulleted list of topics. So if I've piqued your interest, do try it.

I thank Baker books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Catbird Singing~

Catbird Singing (Book II)

 If you read "Under the Heavens," book one of the Amish Horses series, then you already met Lenny Gingerich. This young man spent a summer with his Amish relatives, learning more than he ever imagined about living and what makes a good life. Lenny connected with the Plain way and the folk who follow it, and when the summer ended he promised to come back again.

Well, Lenny didn't keep his promise until circumstances all but threw him back into Amish country. He's a little bit older now, and that means he has new lessons to learn. This time, the lessons include girls. Specifically a girl named Leah, who reminds Lenny of a catbird- sometimes they sing sweetly and sometimes they yowl!

 Most Amish fiction is told from a female point of view, so it's refreshing to have Lenny as our main character. This is a coming of age story, as Lenny and the other young Amish people have to decide what path they want to take. Amid his adventures on the farm and in town, Lenny demonstrates responsibility and integrity. 

If you're looking for an engaging series to follow starring young people pulled between the mainstream way and the Amish life, look no further than "Amish Horses." 

I thank BookCrash for providing me with a review copy. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Unleashed~ by Eric Mason

Unleashed: Being Conformed to the Image of Christ

Conformed to the image of Christ. Renewed by the word. Transformed by the Holy Spirit.
These phrases have such weight to them, such significance. They promise that there is a purpose for our existence and a good destination for the journey of our life: to become like God.

The question is, how does this happen? People have wrestled for years with this idea of sanctification. How does God mold our hearts to be like his own?

This book by Eric Mason continues the discussion, and Eric takes a very practical approach. He returns to the idea of the spiritual disciplines and talks to us about how Scripture reading, prayer, and the act of walking through hard times in the company of others all serve to soften our hearts and strengthen our wills.

We want to be men and women of character, fidelity, purity, and peace. This book is a short primer on some of the ways God works those virtues into us.

God can change for the better by replacing the lies that damage us with healing truth, and he can show us his goodness and so that we can know it and find it and share it in our human relationships.

I thank B&H publishing for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.