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My 1ST BOOK CLUB! & Book Review: “Sensible Shoes,” by Sharon Garlough Brown

16204594Genre: Christian fiction

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com:] “Sharon Garlough Brown tells the moving story of four strangers as they embark together on a journey of spiritual formation: Hannah, a pastor who doesn’t realize how exhausted she is. Meg, a widow and recent empty-nester who is haunted by her past. Mara, a woman who has experienced a lifetime of rejection and is now trying to navigate a difficult marriage. Charissa, a hard-working graduate student who wants to get things right. You’re invited to join these four women as they reluctantly arrive at a retreat center and find themselves drawn out of their separate stories of isolation and struggle and into a collective journey of spiritual practice, mutual support and personal revelation. Along the way, readers will be taken into a new understanding of key spiritual practices and find tangible support for the deeper life with God.”

My Book Review: I first heard of this book on Midday Connection, where it was once recommended for one of their on-air book clubs.  It never really seemed to appeal to me as far as reading genres go.  No excitement, no adventure, intrigue, etc.  But a lady from my church whom I highly respect and who is also in charge of our women’s ministry had an inspired idea to start a women’s book club throughout the summer with this book for discussion.  It turns out, she personally knew the author Sharon Garlough Brown, and contacted her about visiting our church in October around the time the third in the Sensible Shoe trilogy was released.  Well, how could I pass on something this neat?  I signed up for the book club discussions, and got a copy of the book.

The book’s publisher, IVP, is not in the habit of printing fiction books. Their attention is directed toward non fiction (usually in the contemplative genre) that help people grow in their spiritual walk.  But when Brown approached them with her manuscript, they decided to change their rules for once and publish it.  They felt strongly that even though it was fiction, it taught great spiritual disciplines.  Through the emotional medium of fictional characters, biblical truth can be effectively taught in a way non fiction can’t.  This is what has meant so much to fans of the Sensible Shoes club.  Truth climbs in the back door of our heart and helps us see that we truly are God’s beloved and we long to walk more closely with Him, overcoming the walls and barriers that have closed off life for so long.

At first, I had a hard time getting into the story.  It still wasn’t my thing.  It was well written, but just not exciting.  One of the main reasons I had joined was because I knew that the topic of contemplative Christianity would be brought up, and I wanted to learn more about it.  I had come to the right place.  The four female characters in the book—Mara, Charissa, Meg, and Hannah—meet one another at a spiritual retreat center, where a wise spiritual director introduces them to disciplines that help them grow in their walk with the Lord.

a71db3c4fc05f755450487872d6e06fdThere are probably some of you reading this review and already the hackles have gone on the back of your neck. You’ve heard about this strange “pagan form of New Age religion” called contemplative Christianity and you’re scared to death.  I’m glad the author addresses those concerns in her book.  It takes a mind fully bent on discerning truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and not someone who gets creeped out because of something new or outside of the comfortable box to embrace this book.

90 women showed up at our church to begin the book club discussions. Even our pastor picked it up to read and got into it.  We split the book up into 3 chapters at a time and got together in smaller groups at a local log cabin retreat center (WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!).  We talked about the characters and how we identified or didn’t identify with them, and also about the spiritual disciplines taught along the way, and what God was teaching us through them.  It was my first time being a part of a book club, and I really enjoyed the conversations.

As far as the story itself went, I finally started to get more into it around 2/3 of the way through. The plot gained some suspense and I wanted to know what happened next.  I would probably say I identified the most with the character Hannah, though not in the way some in my group supposed I did.  I knew God was wanting me to dig through some stuff I kept on wanting to shove under the rug.  I would like to go back through the book again and incorporate the spiritual disciplines into my routine.  It’s definitely something I want to explore more deeply.

004October came and we had our big shebang at the end of the bookclub. when Sharon Garlough Brown came to visit our church. Unfortunately, the even started at 9:00 in the morning.  Um, no.  I don’t do mornings well.  I got myself around the earliest as best I could and arrived an hour and a half late, but was able to sit in on the last half hour of her lecture.  Amazingly, it was exactly at that spot in her speech that I needed to hear.  She was talking on Romans 8:31-39 and it was like it was just for me!  I took lots of notes.

We broke for lunch and reconvened later for music worship and then Sharon came on stage again to talk, mainly about her inspiration and background for writing the book. Then it was Q & A time and giveaway time.  At the end of the afternoon, Sharon sat at a little card table with a flower in a vase and we lined up to get our copies autographed by her.  That was so much fun!  I even got my picture taken with her, but I don’t post my pic on the net.  I’ll just post the one I took of her signing books.

Sharon Brown was a lovely person to meet, and such a regular-body, too. I found a video of her promoting her series, and more can be found on Youtube:

It seems these books are the type of thing you read and pass on to someone else, and they spread and grow among friends. I even recommended it to my uncle!  I lent mine to another friend who appreciated it, but also said she felt like the problems the characters dealt with were gotten over ‘too quickly.’ She has a point– there are usually no quick fixes in life.  But at the same time, a story arch has to fit within a certain page structure.  Then too, there are two more in the series, so who knows what will occur in the next segment of their journey?

This is a highly recommended novel, because of how it causes one to examine their heart with God at the helm. If this scares you, I encourage you to give it a try in small parts anyway.  A book won’t bite, and it gives the brain something to chew on.

Did you love this book? Why or why not?

I would also recommend:

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Non-fiction Books I’m Liking (Summer 2018)

The human world is marvelous and dangerous at the same time.  Time to learn about ourselves, and take more precautions and self-care than just slapping on the SPF this summer!

Think Before You Like: Social Media’s Effect on the Brain and the Tools You Need to Navigate Your Newsfeed, by Gup P. Harrison ~ We live in a scary world, but the internet is a whole ‘nother ballgame.  I’m not one of those sorts to take risqué pictures– of say, their feet– and post them on the internet.  But I do need to be aware of who is out there prowling for my information, how they do it, and why they do it.  This, so I can be a critical thinker and make conscious decisions about what I post and why.  So, when I saw this book displayed at the library, I checked it out immediately.  One thing I appreciated about it is that the author handles lots of information in a reader-friendly format.  The last book I read on the realities of the modern tech world (The Aisles Have Eyes, by Joseph Turow—which I do recommend) was not so accessible for the average layman like me.  I felt it went as deep as one could wish into the subject matter.  If you are on the internet (which you probably are if you’re reading my blog), you need to be informed about what you’re *really* doing to yourself.  Big Brother isn’t coming—it’s already here.  The author says he isn’t for urging paranoia, however I felt paranoid.  If you are apt to worry yourself sick, I wouldn’t recommend this.  For all other citizens of planet earth, please stop the self-delusion and rid yourself of ignorance by reading this book. 

Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone, by Tara M. Owens ~ Sometimes, I am disgusted with humanity, including my own.  Do you ever feel this way?  Not thin enough, put together enough, clean enough, curvy enough, tall enough, smooth enough…  I felt so discouraged that I decided to order this book on inter-library loan, hoping it would help me somehow.  I knew I needed soul-help.  I have not yet finished it, but I know God is working with me through it.  It is not one you just voraciously inhale, but one you reflectively process through.  I’m taking a lot of notes, and I love the devotional exercises at the end of each chapter.  Owens takes her time getting to her point in each chapter, so that you often don’t understand where she’s going with it until the end.  But I’m finding I’m okay with that.  I doubt that I would find myself in the same denominational church as the author, but there are things to learn from Christians across the board.  So far I have not had any major bones to pick with her about doctrinal issues.  If you are a lover of spiritual formation, I’m sure you will enjoy this.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Lavender & Old Lace,” by Myrtle Reed

7622682Genre: classic; romance

Plot Summary: Set at the turn of the century, career woman Ruth Thorne is on leave from her job as a journalist to stay at her aunt’s house by the sea.  While there, she uncovers a mystery in the attic concerning an old wedding dress, some newspaper clippings, and a lantern she is instructed to leave by the window every night.  How do all of these things tie together?  Who is the reclusive neighbor dressed in lavender and old lace?  And who is that charming young fellow down the lane?

My Book Review: Another sweet, light vintage read for me this year, simply dripping with mystery, lace, and romance.  I think I probably wanted to read this just because of the title.

I loved the character of Miss Ainslie the most! This is the reclusive older woman who lives next door to Ruth’s aunt, and the two used to be close friends.  I simply loved the description of her eclectic house and garden, and it made for a beautiful atmosphere.  Any scene which took place with Miss Ainslie had my attention.  The following is one of my favorite quotes I took from the book:

“The world had seemingly given up its beauty to adorn Miss Ainslie’s room. She had pottery from Mexico, China, and Japan; strange things from Egypt and the Nile, and all the Oriental splendor of the India and Persia.”

I also enjoyed the witty, humorous banter between Ruth and her lover. However, the book felt somewhat unbalanced as their romance took place too fast.  Then halfway through the story, Ruth’s aunt came back home from vacation dragging her long lost man behind her and that plot twist just felt too painful.  I was expecting Aunt Jane to be a mature, interesting person and looked forward to meeting her, but when she was introduced to the story I found her to be pitiful and short-sighted.  I would have felt sorry for her new husband, but I didn’t much like him either.

As much as I liked Miss Ainslie, she was also to be pitied as she goes through her daily ritual of being true to her own long lost love with no compensation after decades of loyalty. I found the whole story too unbelievable and miserable.  Honestly, I was glad when I was done with it.

If you like the hopelessly romantic stories of L. M. Montgomery, you may find some enjoyment out of this. Otherwise, I personally did not enjoy it and don’t particularly recommend.

You can listen to this book for free here.

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Melting of Molly,” by Maria Thompson Daviess

8449780

Genre: classic

Plot Summary: Molly, a young widow, has a problem: she needs to lose weight and fast!  An old beau is renewing his acquaintance by coming back to his old hometown where she still lives, but she looks nothing like she did 10 years ago.  The only one who can help her attain her goal is the next door doctor.  But he likes her as she is.  What’s a girl to do when several men start to pay her more attention?

My Book Review: This was a fast, enjoyable read!  I originally discovered it on Librivox (listen to it for free here) and soon after found an old copy of it at a library book sale.  I found it cute that, in a story about a girl on a diet, a bookworm chewed a neat little hole through the edges of the pages.  🙂

The story takes place in the Gibson girl era, where things were not much different than they are today in that a woman’s worth was often judged on the dimension of her waistline. Only they had corsets back then to help them out.  Molly is a delightfully funny character, honest and vain, but thoroughly woman.  I loved the old illustrations throughout the book as well.  And the doctor was a swoon!  Perhaps one can see the ending from the start, but poor Molly can’t and it’s fun to watch her transformation when all the time she has a good man’s unconditional love.

This book is a simple read. Don’t expect too much out of it.  But if you are wanting to get into a cute little love story, this entertaining novel will probably satisfy.  Just ask the bookworm.

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “In Sheep’s Clothing,” by Susan May Warren

1247812Genre: suspense; Christian; contemporary; romance

Plot Summary: [from goodreads] On the run from the murderer of her best friends, missionary Gracie Benson is all alone in Siberia. What she doesn’t know is that she has in her possession a medical secret that will save millions of lives — or cost her’s. Trying to keep her alive is an FSB agent, a man pursued by his own demons, including a killer who destroyed his father’s life. He and Gracie find themselves in a decades-old mystery of betrayal and Cold War secrets. Only with the help of their friends — a group of Americans and Russians committed to freedom — can they outwit the old guard . . . and save Gracie’s secret, as well as her life.”

My Book Review: One of the things I often look for in a book is a setting in an exciting far-off place with a little intrigue, mystery, and suspense.  Of course, some romance along for the ride doesn’t hurt, either!  This book has all of those elements and it was an entertaining read.  One of the things that made it interesting was that the author has had past experience in being a missionary in Russia with some exciting adventures of her own, just like the heroine Gracie Benson she writes about.

Although I wouldn’t consider Warren’s writing style the best I’ve ever read, I did enjoy the plot twists. The pace kept moving and kept me interested to find out what would happen next.  I also loved reading about Russia (ehnd verking on my Rrrussian ehccent!).  The Cold War has always intrigued me and although the story is set in the modern day, it doesn’t escape the effects of that era.

e24f5c8ea9477d8016e3c1681a56cd1cOne thing I didn’t like was how the romance part of the story develops so quickly over the course of 2-3 days between Gracie and FSB agent Viktor. For the longest time Gracie fights her attraction (but doesn’t do too well of a job of it).  This is for the reason that Viktor is not a believer in Jesus and as a missionary she doesn’t believe in being unequally yoked.  That makes sense to me as a Christian.  It’s really hard to maintain a relationship when two people don’t believe the same fundamentals.  I realize that most of Warren’s audience will probably be Christian, but for anyone who isn’t this teaching comes across as arrogant if not explained well.  I felt the book missed an explanation.  To top things off, SPOILER ALERT Viktor eventually comes to faith in Christ and so –how conveniently- can begin dating Gracie.  This is just too gift-wrapped and bow-tied for my satisfaction.  It’s like we’re all so happy he’s a follower of The Way so he can kiss Gracie.  I would have rather it hinted that he and she *might* follow through on a relationship sometime in the future, once the chaos of the plot was over.  It would have been more believable. END OF SPOILER.

There also seemed to be an awful lot of unnecessary characters peppered throughout (in the form of Viktor’s friends), but I was glad to see that the sequel picks up with them. There is actually a trio in the series Mission: Russia”:

  1. “In Sheep’s Clothing
  2. “Sands of Time”
  3. “Wiser Than Serpents”

I enjoyed the action of this first book enough to want to go through with the rest.  So, if you like a bit of drama and romance, I think this will peak your interest!

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Prisoner of Zenda,” by Anthony Hope

2636473Genre: classic; adventure

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “Anthony Hope’s swashbuckling romance transports his English gentleman hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, from a comfortable life in London to fast-moving adventures in Ruritania, a mythical land steeped in political intrigue. Rassendyll bears a striking resemblance to Rudolf Elphberg who is about to be crowned King of Ruritania. When the rival to the throne, Black Michael of Strelsau, attempts to seize power by imprisoning Elphberg in the Castle of Zenda, Rassendyll is obliged to impersonate the King to uphold the rightful sovereignty and ensure political stability.”

My Book Review: This story became an immediate favorite years ago when I first saw the old 1952 film version (starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr) when I was 15 years old.  I was staying at my grandpa’s and watched it over and over.  There was something about the swashbuckling adventure full of danger, intrigue, cloak and dagger, and romance that really had me at hello.  In fact, I believe it was one of the first titles I ever entered into my To-Read notebook that I wanted to make sure I read the novel of someday.  It’s been years for me to get around to it, and I was a little bit afraid that the book would let me down in comparison.

This book is not terribly long or hard to get through. I found that the movie version I loved from the first followed the plot pretty well, except for maybe some scenes removed to make for better film-length comprehension.  The book was exciting and fun to read, though I probably would have enjoyed it a little more had I read it first before the movie.  Some parts, such as the Granger-Kerr chemistry is better than the book.  But it’s a great adventure in a vintagey, old-fashioned sort of way.  I’m always in the mood for impersonation stories, intrigue, and suspense.  And I think the tale’s a bit of a classic in that a hard, bittersweet decision is made at the end that leaves you sighing and wishing…  Sort of like Casablanca.

If this sounds like a story you would enjoy diving into, just know that it is actually the second in the Ruritania Trilogy.  I’ve read the first book The Heart of Princess Osra (see book review here), but the two novels are more standalone than anything.  In fact, The Prisoner… is much more of an interesting read than the first.  I will be reading the third in the series, Rupert of Hentzau at some point in time, and I understand that particular one is a better connected sequel to PoZ.

So grab this book if you want an escape to the mountains of the fictional country of Ruritania, where old castle walls, heraldry, and swordfights await you!

“This is movie magic at its mightiest!…” Ha, ha! 😀

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Nightbringer,” by James Byron Huggins

untitledGenre: suspense; Christian fiction, fantasy

Plot Summary: A group of tourists are stranded at a reclusive monastery high up in the Italian Alps.  But that’s the least of their worries.  A hair-raising screech in the dead of night lets them know they and the monks are not the only ones at the ancient abbey.  What is out there and what is it looking for?  And who is the mysterious hero in their midst who seems to know more than he’s telling?

My Book Review: I became interested in reading another book by author James Byron Huggins after I finished his novel, “Rora” (see my review of it here).  I hunkered down with this adventure in the winter and prepared to be entertained.

This was an easier read than Rora.  The latter dealt with the hard historical account of the Calvinist martyrs in Italy, while Nightbringer was more in the fantasy/supernatural genre.  Although this isn’t the first or the last Christian novel to deal with the subject of the Nephilim, it was the first I’ve read, and I was entertained with the ‘what if’ of what would happen if the descendants of Anak were still on earth.  Of course, if this were truly the case it would very unsettling, but in fiction it makes for great adventure!

The first third of the story was the most interesting to me, as it was able to keep my interest with it’s mystery. But once that mystery was revealed (too early on), the suspense was dropped.  Unfortunately, I felt the author got himself into a rut in the middle of his story.  I was quickly bored reading about one battle after another with the Nephilim beasts and the descriptions that went on page after page.  In every episode, it seemed Cassius (our hero) was severely wounded worse than he ever had before, then quickly recovered and preparing for his next battle, where he was wounded worse than ever before that… and the cycle would go on chapter after chapter.

I can see guys liking this story perhaps more than I did. It has the action, the battles, the hero that may appeal to them.  But it is not a serious work of fiction, and definitely not literary.  If you are looking for something exciting and light, this is for you.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…:

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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