A Traveler’s Advisory (review)

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A Traveler's AdvisoryA Traveler’s Advisory by Marcia Lee Laycock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In A Traveler’s Advisory, author Marcia Laycock takes readers from the Arctic Circle to the jungles of Papua New Guinea and home again. Each of the 52 meditations draws spiritual lessons from a travel experience (sections are titled “In the Air,” “On the Road,” “On Vacation,” and “Far Away Places”) and make practical applications to life.

Written in Marcia’s characteristic warm, easy-to-read style, they make for fascinating and uplifting reading. Some of my favorites:

– Most fun: “Sea Shells and the Process of Faith” (p. 111)—hunting for sea shells on a Papua New Guinea beach.

– Sadly relatable: “A Wrong Turn to the Right Place” (p. 34)— going in circles is not fun!

– Would make my bucket list: “Angels in the Badlands” (p. 71)—a visit to the Passion Play in the Alberta Badlands.

– Most scary: “Doubts in the Storm” (p. 41)—being stuck on a highway from the Yukon to Alaska in a snowstorm.

– Most beautiful: “Small Miracles” (p. 87)—a hike through the Sepik area of New Guinea.

– Most weird: “An Appreciation of Light” (p. 73)—a trek through some skeleton-filled caves, a relic of cannibalism, in New Guinea.

Through these devotions we discover that God’s voice, help, direction, comfort, and protection can find us wherever we are.

A Traveler’s Advisory would be a wonderful volume to read while on holiday. Or if home-bound, enjoy these travels vicariously from the safety and comfort of your reading chair. Your life will be enriched and your appreciation for the Earth, its inhabitants, and the God who made them enhanced.

I received a copy of A Traveler’s Advisory from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Abundant Rain Journal (Review)

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Abundant Rain Journal: A Devotional Journal for Writers of FaithAbundant Rain Journal: A Devotional Journal for Writers of Faith by Marcia Lee Laycock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marcia Laycock’s Abundant Rain Journal is a devotional journal that will be of special interest to Christian writers. Each of the 30 one-page meditations deals with some aspect of the writer’s life.

Laycock’s own experience as a writer makes her very aware of the discouragement, creative paralysis, tendency to procrastinate, and feelings of “what’s the use?” that can easily overtake those who work with words and ideas. She has used that knowledge to create a book of readings that will give Christian writers everywhere an inspirational shot in the arm.

Each devotion is paired with a short question and a blank ruled page inviting the reader to interact with the ideas just read.

As a writer myself I found many of the entries both a challenge and an encouragement. I like how Laycock uses typical writerly experiences like waiting for a shipment of books to arrive, or getting a rejection as illustrations. From her experience of writing in a variety of genres, she is able to relate to the writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry alike. Though I read the book quickly the first time around, I plan to go back and respond to many of the journal prompts. Some of my favorite quotes:

“The gift of language is God’s instrument in our hands” – p. 46.

“As writers, we have all been given a spur–the gift of communication–to use for the sake of others and for the sake of our most faithful God” – p. 50.

“We borrow language, words, images, the stuff of writing. It’s up to us to acknowledge the original owner, to offer back to Him what we have done with what we have borrowed” – p. 54.

If you’re a Christian writer who is looking for a devotional that is sympathetic to your avocation, you’ve found it in this volume. For those seeking to establish a habit of  writing regularly, the journal question that accompanies each meditation could function as a writing prompt. As well, I think this book would make an excellent devotional component for Christian writing groups.

I received a gift copy of Abundant Rain Journal from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Glimpses of Paradise (review)

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Glimpses of Paradise: A Novel of the 1920sGlimpses of Paradise: A Novel of the 1920s by James Scott Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We first meet the main characters in Glimpses of Paradise, 17 year-old Doyle Lawrence (athlete and poet) and 16 year-old Zenobia (Zee) Miller (want-to-be movie star), in the spring of 1916 in Zenith, Nebraska. Doyle, fascinated by the unpredictable and colorful Zee, tells his brother later that evening that he’ll marry Zee someday despite what their lawyer father will say. For her part, though Zee senses his attraction, she wants only to be in the movies.

Their ways soon part. Doyle enlists in the army and goes off to war. Zee runs away from her straight-laced preacher father to chase her dream.

This historical tale by James Scott Bell (first published in 2005) explores many aspects of the years from 1916 to 1925—the war itself, the fate of returning soldiers, the rise of Hollywood’s popularity, and its seamy underside. Concurrent with these secular movements is a spiritual stream personified by the historical preacher R. A. Torrey (a preacher and Bible teacher who helped found Biola University). His sermons and writings play not a little part in determining Doyle’s and Zee’s fates.

I thoroughly enjoyed this substantial novel. I’ve read many of James Scott Bell’s books on the writing craft and it is interesting to see how he puts his advice into practice. His characters are complex and believable. His facility in describing action contrasts, in this book, with quiet moments like the one war-damaged Doyle experiences on returning home after combat:

“He found himself fixated on one brown leaf cloning to a branch. It looked stubborn, alone, like a solitary prayer unheard” – Kindle Location 1553.

What I appreciate most about this book, though, is its unequivocal Christian message, not only as explained by Dr. Torrey but lived out in the choices and destinies of his characters.

If you like fat, informative, and interesting Christian historicals, try this tome of Americana. It won’t disappoint.

Glimpses of Paradise is part of my own Kindle collection.
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The End Begins (review)

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The End Begins (cover) The End Begins by Sara Davison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s October of 2053. After a series of terrorist attacks, for which a fringe Christian group has claimed responsibility, Canada is under martial law. For feisty Meryn O’Reilly, soldiers storming into the service of the Kingston church she attends is just the beginning of trouble in Sara Davison’s futuristic romantic suspense The End Begins.

For his part, Captain Jesse Christianson isn’t exactly comfortable with enforcing orders to detain and question “… every adult in the building.” This day he lets Meryn leave with only a warning. But the memory of her spunky attitude and defiant blue eyes won’t leave him alone.

More trouble follows for Meryn when she secretly orders Bibles and begins smuggling them to whoever she feels needs them the most. Inevitably the ordered and predictable life she knows becomes something else altogether in the Christians-are-lepers social climate. Meanwhile Jesse fights his own war between duty and desire.

Davis’s story gave me an appreciation for the freedoms we still have. At the same time it made me consider a lot of what ifs, like, what if it was illegal to be a Christian? What if it was against the law to own a Bible? What if obeying God meant committing civil disobedience? The End Begins is a gripping story of a fictional future I hope the Christian church doesn’t have to face any time soon. And, as the title implies, it’s only the beginning. This is the first book in Davis’s The Seven Trilogy.

The book ends with a set of discussion questions making it a good choice for book clubs.

The End Begins is part of my own Kindle collection.

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Messy Grace – review

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Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing ConvictionMessy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction by Caleb Kaltenbach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Caleb Kaltenbach’s story of how he came to faith in Christ while being raised by two lesbian moms and a closet-gay dad is fascinating in its own right. The biblical teaching on homosexuality and the church that he weaves through the telling make this a must-read for 21st century Christians grappling with current cultural norms of sexual identity.

Though Kaltenbach never strays from supporting what the Bible says about homosexuality (he spends an entire chapter reviewing what both the Old and New Testaments say), neither does he minimize the difficulty of living by its culturally unpopular position. The word “messy” probably occurs more than any other adjective in the book. Again and again Kaltenbach reminds us that God’s dealings with all us flawed, sinful people is a messy business and a church’s grace-filled response to people within the LGBT community will be no different:

“Messiness is what happens when you try to live out God’s perfect grace as a flawed person in a flawed world” – Kindle Location 212.

The book is easy to read. Kaltenbach’s tone is one of a fellow traveler who is on the road to the same place as the reader. The narrative and teaching parts are interspersed in such a way as to maintain the story’s pace and keep our interest.

In my opinion, several aspects of Messy Grace make it an important book:

* Kaltenbach’s unique perspective of having grown up in and thus understanding of the LGBT community. His mom and her partner routinely took him to parties, marches, and Gay Pride parades. Both sets of parents were devastated when he “came out” as a Christian—an experience he likens to what LGBT folks experience when they come out to their families.

* Kaltenbach’s exemplary treatment of his parents. Even though he didn’t approve of their lifestyle, he never broke off his relationship with them, but instead loved and supported them through their ups and downs.

* The pastoral perspective Kaltenbach brings to the issue. As a pastor himself, he makes a passionate and compassionate case for the church to welcome, love, and care for members of the LGBT community. In this department he also challenges pastors and church leaders to think through their responses to twenty questions that pose difficult but relevant scenarios: E.g.:

“Would you allow a same-sex couple to attend your church?”

and

“If a man who had a sex change to be a women started attending your church, could that person attend your women’s ministry?”

and

“What is the plan for the student ministry staff and volunteers when a teenager comes out or expresses same-sex attraction?” – Kindle Location 2365-2390.

Messy Grace is moving and timely. Kaltenbach’s insistence on supporting the truth of Scripture while maintaining a loving attitude toward LGBT individuals is an example of how the church can break down walls of denial, isolationism, verbal abuse, hatred, and fear—even though the process is guaranteed to be messy.

I received Messy Grace as a gift from Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing a review.

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The gift of people

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HACwithCinnamonCoverSOne of the things I love about writing is having pieces accepted for publication. One of the things that I don’t love is the publicizing and marketing that’s needed when those publications are books. But I know I need to do my part. So when the newest Hot Apple Cider anthology (Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon) came out this fall with two of my poems in it, I decided to suck up my angst and pull my share of the marketing weight. After all, there are 61 of us and if we all do a little…

A virtual launch on Facebook was stretching! Each of us authors who signed up hosted a half hour—probably the most hectic half hour I’ve ever spent on Facebook as I tried to keep the conversation ball rolling even as I introduced a contest and answered questions. Let’s just say the refresh button of my browser got quite the workout.

Then one of the local anthology contributors scheduled an actual bookstore launch  for last Saturday.

My biggest fear for both of these book events was that no one would show up. That I’d be talking to myself on Facebook and the three of us authors would end up as our only audience at the bookstore.

I did all I could to publicize it—invited local Facebook friends and sent emails to family not on Facebook. And prayed!

Saturday came and hubby and I arrived at the store a good 15 minutes early to find the bookstore cafe, where we were to read, full of diners and nothing set up. (Maybe this would turn out even worse than I dreaded!) So we sat down and had a coffee along with everyone else. What else was there to do?

But the store person was on it. Eventually a table appeared. We got our books set up. A cousin I had contacted was there and she said more were coming. Several friends from my poetry society showed up.

When we were finally ready to introduce the book and do some reading from it, a healthy crowd had assembled. The hour and a half of the launch passed before we knew it—a success because family and friends did come out.

House of James book launch with Rose Seiler Scott and Bill Bonikowsky.

House of James book launch with Rose Seiler Scott and Bill Bonikowsky (Photos by Bill B.)

And so today I celebrate the gift of people in my life—my husband who’s game to go on these bookish escapades with me, my friends, especially the ones who know what goes into making books and appreciated the importance of a launch, and extended family who supported me by coming out and doing a little Christmas shopping too!

Plus I thank the Lord. I can just imagine Him, smiling indulgently down on me after one of these high maintenance episodes and murmuring: “O ye of little faith.”

Join us at Reading, Learning, Writing

Join us at Reading, Learning, Writing

This post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning

Fit for Prayer (review)

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Fit for Prayer (Fit for Faith)Fit for Prayer by Kimberley Payne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Fit for Prayer—Learn How to Fit Prayer and Physical Activity Into Your Daily Routine, author and lifestyle coach Kimberley Payne promises to help us “… gain insight into how to incorporate prayer and fitness into your daily routine”- Fit for Prayer, p. 5.

The book is divided into three sections. Chapters 1-3 talk about exercising our bodies. Chapters 4-6 deal with prayer. Chapters 7-8 are a self-test and action stops to take to incorporate exercise and prayer into daily life.

Though in Chapters 1-3 Payne doesn’t describe specific exercises in detail, the fourteen exercise strategies she lists (in Chapter 2) would benefit a person following any exercise program. Her example of an exercise goal plan (Chapter 3) is clear and the blank goal page along with five exercise-related questions would help anyone get started exercising regularly.

In the how-to-pray section (Chapters 4-6) Payne follows the chapter that defines prayer and its benefits (Chapter 4) with a chapter on what prayer consists of using P.A.T.H. as an acronym (praise, admit, thank, and help – Chapter 5). The last chapter in the section (6) describes how to set prayer goals.

The final section of the book, a multi-page True and False self-test (Chapter 7), is followed by “Action Plan,” (Chapter 8). That plan contains ordinary prayer strategies (like “Keep a prayer journal of answered prayers”) and strategies that combine prayer with exercise (like “Pray while walking” – p. 33).

Though short (only 36 pages of content) in Fit for Prayer Payne manages to deliver a practical and inspirational manual designed to motivate readers to cultivate physical and spiritual health simultaneously.

This is another book that would be useful for women’s groups and individuals. I expect I will be consulting my copy again in the soon-upon-us resolution making time of the year.

I received Fit for Prayer as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review. Visit Kimberley Payne’s website to check out other lifestyle materials she has authored and is offering as books, e-courses, and free programs.

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