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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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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Spring 2018)

Think outside the box this spring by reading up on God’s creation– both the supernatural and yourself!

The Unseen Realm, by Michael S. Heiser~ I had questions and lots of them.  Of course I knew the answers are in the Bible, but there are many things I didn’t understand.  It was so frustrating!  Then I heard a Bible scholar interviewed on the Moody program, In the Market with Janet Parshall (which you can listen to for a limited time here).  What he had to say was so informative, interesting, and outside the box that I actually tried calling into the program with a question to ask but couldn’t get through because the lines were lit.  Since that didn’t work, I set about to order his book through the library.  I spent countless hours reading, rereading, and copying two composition notebooks full of reference notes.  Even the footnotes were as fascinating as the rest of the book.  I read it so much I was thoroughly wore out with the thing by the time I reached Chapter 42!  And then I went exploring through his website, blog, articles and podcast because he has even more amazing footnotes.  Is this book about spiritual warfare?  That is what I thought it was before I started reading it, but it is not that exactly.  It is more all-encompassing than that.  I would say it is rather more the story of created, spiritual beings and the world’s history from a biblical perspective from the beginning to the end.  Is it about weird, alternative doctrine?  No, you don’t have to worry about that.  Heiser may not always side with traditional teaching, but he always backs his statements up with rock-solid exegesis and his extraordinary knowledge of Hebrew.  I felt in awe of the creativity and majesty of God while reading his explanations of various bible passages.  There is one area where I would disagree with, and that is over the question of whether the Flood was a local or global catastrophe (I side with global).  Although I don’t sense that he specifically intended this, I sometimes felt like God was portrayed as someone who was continually disappointed in His plan to be in relationship with people and kept moving to the next best plan down the list.  It didn’t feel in keeping with the truth of God’s omniscience.  However, I admire his goal of taking the academic out of the stuffy halls and bringing it to the ordinary Christian.  I will be on the lookout for more books by him, and hope there will be soon! [*Note: If you have a hard time getting your head around intense bible study, you may prefer Heiser’s easier version of this information in another book called Supernatural.]

It’s Just My Nature!, by Carol Tuttle~  Remember the old Color Me Beautiful style system from way back when?  All you had to do was match certain colors up to the season you were diagnosed with and you were told you’d be magically transformed.  I devoured that book in my teens and have ever since been interested in color analysis and other systems and classification for personal fashion style.  I love the idea of being one’s own unique personality!  Of course, there are the new 12 or 16 color seasons now.  But I stumbled across Carol Tuttle’s website and videos and learned of a different way to look at things.  Instead of matching colors, her system is more 3-D in that it takes into consideration a person’s inherent energy.  The end result is an honoring of not just the person’s appearance, but also of the way they process life.  One of my resolutions this year was to explore this new ‘typology’ to better understand myself.  I’ve never gone through Carol’s Dressing Your Truth program as far as purchasing anything or setting up an appointment in person, but I enjoyed reading her book and watching her videos online for free.  I love seeing the transformations that come about after someone has worked with her!  (After going through the process, I believe I am a Type 2.)  It’s amazing how it really does involve more than just outer looks and delves into a study of the way we approach and think about life.  I loved getting better acquainted with myself and it even broadened my understanding of how I viewed myself in the past.  Although I don’t subscribe to all of what Carol teaches, I believe one could comfortably embrace most of her energy profiling program.

 
 

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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

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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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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Winter 2017-18)

A new year; what will it bring?  Curiosity, intrigue and surprises are in store for us this winter with these books!

Escape from Colditz, by P. R. Reid ~ This book has long been on my mom’s shelf.  She and I share the same interest in stories of WWII, including POW experiences and especially escape attempts!  I remember the Steve McQueen film The Great Escape was a favorite of mine from around age 8.  So of course this was on my reading list!  The problem was that I was confused because it goes by several different titles, has different editions, sequels, compilations—which do I choose to read?  As it turns out, I wish that I had gone with Reid’s later edition, “Colditz: The Full Story”.  His first history of Colditz was written a mere few years after his experiences and he did not have more details until much later.  I will be getting my hands on that version [as well as several films on it], but yet I can recommend these books by Reid because they make for great reading. Reid appears to keep a light “stiff upper lip” attitude toward his captivity, yet I’m sure things were rougher when suffering the reality.  I originally thought this would be a detailing one large escape attempt, rather like the one from the famous Stalag Luft III (The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill).  Instead, I quickly found it to be a narration of the author’s experiences at the fortress Colditz and the numerous failed and successful escapes made from there.  More like Hogan’s Heroes though much more serious, real, and dangerous.  The prisoners’ innovativeness, and ability to laugh and create entertainment even in a sparse atmosphere was enjoyable to read.  No matter how many avenues were thought of, tried, discovered, foiled and so on, they could always come back with another idea to escape.  Reid said there were basically two types of prisoners—those who succumbed to their imprisonment, and those who could deal with the depression that accompanied it and so put all their energy toward escape plans.  Which one would you be?   

A Curious Faith, by Logan Wolfram ~ I’m still finishing up the last chapters of this book, but it certainly has come to me at the right time.  I’m immediately drawn to any book with the word ‘curious’ in the title (for obvious reasons), but add the topic of Christianity on top of that and I’m all in!  I have been gleaning so much from it and copying out large passages of quotes.  This definitely is a great book to start the new year off right.  Worry, waiting, fear, control, decision making, spiritual dryness, and disappointment are a part of every human’s life.  But in the context of a curious following after God, how do we deal with these everyday things well?  How do we endure and trust with joy and childlike faith?  I think if you have these questions, you will enjoy author Logan Wolfram.  She writes simply yet eloquently.  She has really helped to make has certain Scripture come alive for me.  I can’t wait to finish this and highly recommend it to my sisters (or even brothers) in Christ!   

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2018 in Non-Fiction Books I'm Liking

 

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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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