Tag Archives: Nonfiction

Unplugged (And Some Upcoming Book Reviews)

I’m not sure how we’re going to fit all our crap in my car, but once we figure it out, we’ll be off for a week of somewhat posh camping near Lake Superior. We’re borrowing a huge tent (Jonathan can stand up in it) and we bought a super comfy, memory foam-topped air mattress.

However, as ridiculous as it is that the campground has wifi, we’re unplugging for the whole trip—no computer, no phone (except GPS and trip-related research and maybe the long drive there and back), no work. That also means no blog posts because I’ve been so busy I didn’t plan ahead enough to have some extras scheduled while I’m gone. Sorry. I’ll repay you with beautiful pictures and some book reviews when I get back :)

One of my favorite parts of camping is reading by a campfire, and I fully intend to do that A LOT in the next week. To start with, I’m going to work on a few books I’m really excited about . . .

Camping Trip Reviews

I’ve already listened to an audio version of Packing Light, but I loved it so much I bought a copy to read. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.I haven’t read the others yet, but the first few pages seem pretty promising!

If you’re interested, you can get a 20% discount on Interrupted if you order through Tyndale by next Thursday, July 31. They’re currently out of stock online, but I spoke with a customer service representative who said they should be getting more in early next week. He also said you can call and reserve a copy over the phone to get the discount.

Face to Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib and Bodie Thoene

Face to Face with JesusI’m not going to lie—this book was a challenge to read. The author, Samaa Habib, has experienced hardship and persecution unlike anything I’ve ever even heard, and her experiences are hard for this skeptic to believe. She grew up Muslim in a middle eastern country torn by civil war, converted to Christianity, and shared her faith in all circumstances—with her family, with strangers, with people who planned to harm her. Her family endured no food, no electricity, and no safety as the Sunnis and the Shiites fought in the streets around them. She put up with physical and emotional abuse from her father and brother for leaving Islam and escaped death many times until she was killed in a church bombing.

But her story doesn’t end there. Though she died and saw Jesus, and He sent her back to reach others for Him. And though He healed her body beyond what anyone would have believed possible, He didn’t do it instantaneously. She had a long recovery.

The persecution Samaa and her family experienced as a result of following Christ surprised me, as did the number of people who were receptive to Gospel presentations. In my reading, I discovered I had a lot of preconceived notions of Islam and Muslim countries that I didn’t realize I had. How refreshing to have those upended!

Face to Face with Jesus challenged my cynicism regarding people who die and come back to life. It’s so much easier to believe stories Samaa’s when you know the circumstances and can discern the heart of the person who experienced it. Her story allowed me to do just that. The writing was decent, but it was the way the story of the bombing was intertwined with the stories of the war and how each of Samaa’s family members came to Christ that pulled me in.

If you want to have your faith (and your comfort) challenged, Face to Face with Jesus is a good place to start.

*I received a copy of this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review. These opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

The Wayfinding Bible

Wayfinding-Bible

 

I’m sad to say I’m just now getting this review up. I’ve had the Bible for . . . let’s just say it’s been a long time. But with no deadline, it was easy to push it off until later. So without further ado . . .

First things first: this Bible is a paperback, but it looks nice. The design is simple, clean, and pretty. (But don’t worry—it’s not too feminine for a guy!) It’s the New Living Translation, which is a paraphrase, not a literal translation, but I love that it gets me out of my NIV bubble and helps me to read with fresh eyes. It’s probably my favorite version to read from.

Right away, I loved the concept of this Bible. It has three main “routes” you can take through Scripture:

The Flyover Route—54 readings that give you an overview of biblical events

The Direct Route—215 readings that help you understand how the whole Bible fits together

The Scenic Route—386 readings that give you a new appreciation for God’s Word as you read familiar and unfamiliar passages

A fourth route, the Thru-Hike is listed in the back and takes you through the Bible chronologically.

And each reading isn’t just Scripture. Book introductions, historical markers, and other features provide background info, summaries, and maps to give you further insight into the text.

What I loved most about The Wayfinding Bible was the layout. Most reading-plan-focused Bibles I’ve seen have weird organization and passages are often re-arranged to fit the reading plan. But this one isn’t like that. While it looked confusing at first, a quick read of the User’s Guide in the first few pages made it easy to navigate each route (sorry—pun intended). And if you don’t want to follow any of the reading plans, you can skip around however you like and the “routes” don’t get in the way. Props to whoever designed it—it’s no small accomplishment!

If you zip through your daily Scripture to reading only to realize you have no idea what you just read (that’s me more often than I care to admit), The Wayfinding Bible would be a great tool to keep you on track. The frequent summaries and other features make it easy to follow along and keep tabs on what’s going on.

And if you’re looking for a Bible with a reading plan, go with this one! The four different reading plans will give you a deeper understanding of the scope of the Bible.

*I received a free copy of The Wayfinding Bible from Tyndale in
exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher.

Ten Great Dates by Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp

Ten Great DatesLast night I finished reading Ten Great Dates: Connecting Faith, Love & Marriage by Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp. I chose to review it because it looked more interesting than the other three or four nonfiction options Bethany House had available. Unfortunately, while it has some good stuff in it, I was disappointed.

Ten Great Dates—written by two couples who have a lot of experience with marriage mentoring, counseling, and conferences­­—sets out to “help you connect faith, love, and marriage in ways that result in spiritual connection—all in the fun, guilt-free, safe format of Great Dates” (pg. 9). It was a quick read that contains some good marriage advice, and I like that it focuses on incorporating your faith into your marriage. I also liked that it included some Bible study questions to get you reading what the Bible has to say. But there were quite a few things I didn’t like.

The concept is interesting—plans for 10 different Dates with your spouse—but it wasn’t laid out the way I expected. Based on the back cover copy, I was expecting more ideas for the actual date activities/locations, but the focus was on what you should discuss. The most specific instructions for a date activity was were to “go to a nice restaurant” and “find a quiet place to talk.”

The authors used a lot of personal stories to illustrate their points. While examples like that can be helpful, I thought there were too many stories, and they were so long it was easy to forget the point. I grew bored with them and found myself skipping those sections.

The tear-out sheets at the back of the book are designed to guide the conversation for each Date—each person is supposed to get a copy and prepare for the Date by answering the questions. I knew after reading just the first one that my husband (who is a committed Christian and usually a good sport) would never agree to do all ten Dates. By the time I finished the book, I didn’t want to do them either.

Ten Great Dates could be helpful for couples who aren’t married yet or who became believers after they got married and haven’t figured out how to incorporate their faith into their marriage. But if you’re already married and doing things like praying and reading the Bible with your spouse, there are better marriage resources out there (Love & Respect, Sacred Marriage, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, and The Five Love Languages to name a few).

(P.S. It would probably go unnoticed by most people, but the ridiculous amount of exclamation points drove me crazy. One page had four in just two short paragraphs—that’s more than I would allow for an entire book.)

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Summer Reading List Reviewed

I like to take the summer off from doing book reviews so I can read whatever I want. Granted, many of the books I review are books I want to read anyway, but it’s nice to be able to read without a deadline looming over me or the constant questions in the back of my mind as I read (What do I like (or not) about this book? Why?) That said, I can’t resist posting about what I did read (I did a bunch of mini-reviews last summer, too).

This summer I read quite a few books, though not as many as I would’ve liked. I did stay on track to read 24 books in 2013. I got sidetracked by crocheting. Usually that’s a cool-weather hobby, but it carried over into summer this year. Instead of reading my Kindle the other night, I made a cover for it.

Kindle-Cover-1

 That’s only one example. I’ve just had an insatiable need to create pretty things.

Anyway, here’s what I read (mostly in the order I read them in):

Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks: A Novel by Kimberly Stuart
This one wasn’t exactly a summer read—I read it in May when we were on our way home from Ohio. It was a quick, enjoyable read about a twenty-something girl who finds herself navigating a rocky relationship with her mother in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy. Of course there was some romance thrown in—with someone other than her live-in boyfriend who doesn’t “believe in marriage.”

redeeming love

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
This book ruined all other Christian fiction for me. Seriously—if this book supposedly changed the direction of Christian publishing, why on earth is there so much crap out there? No offense to Christian fiction authors (especially the good ones), but why aren’t more Christian books this good? Even after I finished it, this gold-rush era retelling of Gomer and Hosea haunted me for a good part of the summer. It wasn’t just a good story—it showed me the depth of love and forgiveness God has for us despite our near-constant rebellion. This is a must read. Seriously—stop reading my blog and go read it. Now.

Stopping Words that Hurt

Stopping Words that Hurt by Dr. Michael Sedler
I broke my no-book-reviews-in-the-summer rule for this one. Not because of the writing (it’s not awful, but not fantastic, either), but because of the subject—how to stop what Sedler calls “evil reports” (what you’d probably call gossip). It was a problem I was struggling with, and I wanted to know what to do. This was a great resource. You can read the whole review here.

A Heart DeceivedA Heart Deceived by Michelle Griep
Miri Brayden, who depends on her brother for support while also hiding the fact that he’s losing his mind, takes in Ethan Goodwin, a man she doesn’t know is running from the law, and life takes some unexpected turns. This was one of the best books I’ve read in a few years.

The Subversive Copyeditor

The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller
Rather than focus on only the nuts and bolts of copyediting, Saller, who edits the monthly Q & A  for Chicago University Press, focuses on the relationships by addressing the most common conflicts copyeditors encounter while editing. She also offers some great practical “best practices” when it comes to managing email, tracking projects, and making changes to a draft. That said, I was reading the Kindle edition of the book and was surprised by the mistakes and bad formatting—extra spaces, words run together, misplaced side bars, and typos. A little disappointing for a book about editing . . .

No Safe Harbor

No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig
I read this book thinking it would would be a great cure for my “book hangover” when I finished reading A Heart Deceived. The main character, Cara Hamilton, an Irish girl with no other family keeping her in Ireland, moves to New York in an effort to find her brother, whom she believed dead until he sent her a letter. But when she arrives, he’s nowhere to be found and she has to find a job and a place to live. Unbeknownst to her, she’s not the only one looking for her brother and the others searching for him plan to use her and do whatever it takes to find him. It was a good story, but I felt like there was something not quite right about the story. I still haven’t been able to put my finger on it.

The Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
This book got me excited about attacking our student loans and car payment with “gazelle intensity,” as Dave Ramsey calls it. The Total Money Makeover is Dave Ramsey’s step-by-step plan for getting rid of debt and building wealth. My favorite part was the numerous testimonies from people who have followed his plan and experienced real life change—what an inspiration to follow through! I’m sure I’ll post more about the process as we continue to pay down our loans and plan for the future.

There were a few books on my list that I didn’t get to—The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Developmental Editing by Scott Norton, but I’ll get there eventually.

Stopping Words That Hurt by Dr. Michael D. Sedler

Let me preface my review of Stopping Words That Hurt by saying it was a good book. Really.

But I hated it. Finishing it was agony. But not because it was bad.

I hated it because it was convicting. Every time I opened it, it reminded me that I really struggle with what the author, Michael Sedler, called “evil reports,” which he defines as “When an individual maliciously injures, damages, or discredits another’s reputation or character through the use of words or attitude.” As hard as it was to read the book and face my sin head-on, that’s why I chose to review the book in the first place. I knew it was a struggle that needed to be challenged if I was going to change my habits.

Sedler did a great job addressing the topic, and he did it in a non-confrontational way by explaining the importance of not listening to others’ evil reports rather than “accuse” the reader of spreading evil reports of their own. I don’t know if he did it that way intentionally, but it was effective.

This was not my first Sedler book—I reviewed When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up earlier this year. And like that book, I felt this one had chapters that didn’t quite tie in with the rest of the book, like the “What Happens When Fear Talks” chapter. It related to the topic, but I struggled to understand the correlation with the main topic. That aside, all the information was still good and helpful.

If you struggle with sharing gossip, or if you spend a lot of time with others who do, this book is a great resource. Sedler spends time explaining why language can be destructive, how we can recognize evil reports are coming, and what we can do to avoid them. He also does a great job pulling in biblical examples that help you see his points from a more practical angle.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers/Chosen Books in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher by Chad Norris

signs-wonders-and-a-baptist-preacher

Author Chad Norris writes, “I simply want to explore whether or not it is possible to operate on this planet in the way that Jesus commanded His disciples to operate . . . I want my normal to match Jesus’ normal” (pg. 24).

That’s what his book, Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher is about. In it, he shares his journey from wondering why he wasn’t seeing the same types of miracles the disciples saw to performing those types of miracles on a regular basis.

Norris’ book has the potential to be a game-changer for other Christians who are asking the same questions. Not only does he write about the need for these miracles, he sheds light on why we don’t see them more often. And he presents the reader with this challenge: “Our goal should be to have the courage to release the love of the Father and Son in whatever situations we find ourselves” (pg. 182).

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around some of the things Norris covered in the book. I’ve been challenged to examine my prayers, my level of intimacy with God, and the things that hold me back from living a life of outrageous faith.

I can’t say that I’ve seen any miracles take place as a result of reading this book, but I have noticed a change in the way I think about God. And I’ve been praying differently. I’m excited to see what comes of that. Especially in light of what Norris said: “When I really started believing that I had been given authority to do the Father’s works by my King, I started to see the Kingdom manifest quickly” (pg. 129).

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Pocket Your Dollars by Carrie Rocha

Pocket Your Dollars Review If I had to sum this book up in one word, it would be “conviction.”

Jonathan and I went into our marriage having already talked about money quite a bit. We had listened to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace talks on our trips between Indiana and Minnesota. And when we got married, it was the two of us living in (almost) the cheapest apartment we could find on one income for a year and a half while I finished school online. But we had a budget that we stuck to, and we tracked our expenses. And though we had to be careful, I never felt like we didn’t have enough. We managed to tithe, save for a new-to-us car, take several trips to Michigan, and spend a few days in Duluth for our first anniversary.

And then I started working full-time at the church, Jonathan switched to his job at the paper, and all of our careful planning went out the window. We could afford to be not-so-careful, so we stopped tracking our spending. We moved into a nicer apartment. We bought a Sleep Number bed (this was much-needed). And our monthly budget meetings? Those went out the window. While I think it was valuable for me to shed my “spending guilt” during those first few months (all I ever heard growing up was that we didn’t have any money, so the money I did get to spend was on cheap stuff), I regret that we stopped being so intentional with our money.

I’ve been thinking for awhile that we need to tighten things up and be more intentional about paying off debt and cleaning up our expenses, and I think Pocket Your Dollars was the kick I needed. The book is broken into three parts—“The Five Attitudes That Must Go,” “Skills You Need to Change Your Attitudes,” and “Now That You’re Ready, Some Simple Budgeting Advice.” Each section was helpful in a different way. Rocha uncovered the underlying attitudes that cause us to over-spend and under-save, shared the tools needed overcome those attitudes, and offered practical tips for creating a spending plan and saving money.

In part one, each chapter is on a different “attitude” and ends with a helpful quiz that allows you to identify if you struggle in that area because, let’s be honest, it’s not always easy to see things like that in yourself.

I was really impressed with this book. While I had heard much of it before from Dave Ramsey, I found myself getting excited about the changes we could make to our financial situation. It’s not full of jargon or boring, impractical information like these books sometimes are. Rocha included lots of great examples that just about anyone can relate to. Her writing style was easy and conversational, and because she was sharing out of her own experiences with debt, I never felt like she was talking down to me as the reader. It was more like listening to a friend give advice.

If you’re ready to have your saving and spending habits challenged, or if you’re ready to get to it and make some changes, read this book. It’ll be a motivating first step on your journey to financial freedom.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You by David Murrow

David Murrow, who also wrote the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, wrote What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You to help women understand what makes our men tick. He even spends some time explaining why they often won’t tell us themselves.

For the most part, I found the content of this book helpful. Murrow covers every aspect of men’s lives, at least briefly—the book is divided into sections about body, soul, and spirit. I gained new insight into my husband’s heart and now have a better understanding of why certain things are important to him—and why other things aren’t.

Some sections seemed a little over the top, so I asked my husband if he’d be willing to listen to what Murrow said and give me feedback. I could tell it made him a bit uncomfortable, but he complied, and we actually had some really good conversations.

One of the sections was about men holding the roles of “provider” and “protector.” Murrow spent several chapters explaining why men have taken on these roles and illustrating how they can play out in day-to-day life. My husband thought some of the information in this section was a little extreme, and we both agreed that some of it was probably over-simplified for the sake of making a point.

The other section I struggled with was on the topic of men being visual. No wife wants to hear that her man notices other women, so I was a little resistant at first. And some of his examples! In one story, he talked about following an attractive woman around the grocery store. Because I couldn’t imagine my own husband doing such a thing, I talked to him about it. We came to the conclusion that many of the ideas Murrow presented in the chapter were accurate, but the grocery store example was an extreme case. It may be true for some men, but not necessarily all.

If you want to have a better understanding of your husband, I recommend this book. Just keep in mind that Murrow over-simplifies and provides some extreme examples—most likely in order to help women recognize their own husbands within a broader spectrum.

And if your husband would be willing to talk about some of the things discussed, I recommend having those conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable. The conversations I had with my husband were, by far, my most valuable takeaway.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael D. Sedler

Recently I’ve found myself in quite a few situations where I didn’t know if I should speak my mind or shut my mouth, so when I was given the opportunity to read When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up by Dr. Micahel D. Sedler, I jumped on it.

Though it’s not a new book—it’s been repackaged and reprinted, and the cover boasts that over 200,000 copies have been sold—the advice Sedler gives is timeless. Using biblical, historical, and personal examples, he makes suggestions for a variety of scenarios, everything from keeping quiet when a friend makes a poor decision to respectfully letting your boss know you have concerns about the way he’s conducting business.

Some of Sedler’s stories and examples seemed a bit off-topic, but I finished the book knowing I had just received sound biblical guidance for future conversations. And I’m confident that, the next time I’m not sure what to say (or not say) in a given situation, I can pull When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up off my shelf and make a sound decision. I may have to spend some time studying up though, because I won’t always have the luxury of time to refer back to the book, and there are quite a few different lists of dos and don’ts.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who . . . well, just anyone, really. It’s great for employees and employers, for parents and children, for pastors and church members, for husbands and wives, for friends. If you need guidance for communicating concerns or staying silent, or even if you need help coping with anger and resentment that comes as a result of hard conversations, read it.

I liked this book enough that I’d do a giveaway for my copy, but alas, it got drenched and is now ruined. At least I got to finish it : )

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.