An archive of this Sojourner's Journey – Reflections, book reviews, and other random thoughts

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Book Review: Wendell Berry and the Given Life

About the Book:

We drive to work on the stored energy of ten thousand years of sunlight. Our daily bread seems to generate miraculously from store shelves. And our communities can be connected with a billion ones and zeros over fiber optic cables. For us, the idea of being a creature can seem passé. Yet in this lonely world of mastery, in a time so dominated by human desire and design that it has been dubbed the “anthropocene,” the human age, many of us feel that we are missing some essential truth about who we are.

The glimpses of this truth come when we lose cell reception on a long hike in the forest and our eyes are lifted to the simple marvel of trees. We feel this truth when we take up a shovel and sense the satisfying heave of dirt as we plant a modest garden. We hear this truth when we tune out the traffic and listen to the song sparrow’s melody, eavesdropping on a beauty that serves no human economy. In all this we hear a whisper of the truth that we are creatures—and we long to live in this reality. But how can we, when we have moved so far from our life source in the soil?

For the past 50 years, Wendell Berry has been helping seekers chart a return to the practice of being creatures. Through his essays, poetry and fiction, Berry has repeatedly drawn our attention to the ways in which our lives are gifts in a whole economy of gifts.

Berry presents us with the sort of coherent vision for the lived moral and spiritual life that we need now.  His work helps us remember our givenness and embrace our life as creatures. His insights flow from a life and practices, and so it is a vision that can be practiced and lived—it is a vision that is grounded in the art of being a creature.

Wendell Berry and the Given Life  articulates his vision for the creaturely life and the Christian understandings of humility and creation that underpin it.

My Thoughts:

In some ways I loved this book and in other ways I found myself frustrated with it.

To begin, the author sought to cover a great deal of ground.  Each one of the chapter themes could have spanned many books and so we are given a very brief look at what the Sutterfield considers the core of Berry’s thoughts on a topic.  In some cases this was perfect, giving a glimpse into an idea that you can then go and explore for yourself across Berry’s writings.  In other cases I found that it made the topics seem somewhat idealistic and that there simply wasn’t enough space to fully round out the discussion, particularly as it comes to application to the world in which we live.

I deeply appreciated the theme of the given life: what it means to receive and what it looks like to be given in return.  I also loved the reflection on what it means to be creatures, living within the limitations placed upon us by the Creator.

As I always do with Berry’s work, I struggled with the emphasis on place and roots.  While so much of it appeals to my soul, that’s not the life I’ve been called to as an emissary of the gospel to foreign lands.  I do love the idea of place and roots and living within my “watershed,” however I always wish more discussion was given to the reality that not all “wander” because they are discontent or irresponsible, but because God calls.

The places where I found myself frustrated within this work is where we were presented with a beautiful ideal without enough space to really flush out what that can look like in the wide world.  Without that discussion I found my thoughts to easily drawn to how short we fall of even our most preciously held ideals about how to live, which opened a doorway to guilt rather than hope.  Perhaps that was just me, but I did find that such a brief overview of so many lofty topics wasn’t as beneficial as I had hoped in answering the question, “What does it look like for me to live the given life?”  Perhaps that wasn’t the question that the author was seeking to answer.  Perhaps the book was intended to be simply informational.

Is it a good book?  Yes.  I think it is especially helpful if you know very little about Wendell Berry and his vision.   But for myself, I suppose I was hoping for a bit more depth wrestling with integration and application of the given or “creaturely” life.

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I was given a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which is given in the review above.

 

 

Book Review: A Stranger at Fellsworth

About the Book:

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Book Review: Behind the Scenes

About the Book:

Miss Permilia Griswold may have been given the opportunity of a debut into New York high society, but no one warned her she wasn’t guaranteed to “take.” After spending the last six years banished to the wallflower section of the ballroom, she’s finally putting her status on the fringes of society to good use by penning anonymous society gossip columns under the pseudonym “Miss Quill.”

Mr. Asher Rutherford has managed to maintain his status as a reputable gentleman of society despite opening his own department store. While pretending it’s simply a lark to fill his time, he has quite legitimate reasons for needing to make his store the most successful in the country.

When Permilia overhears a threat against the estimable Mr. Rutherford, she’s determined to find and warn the man. Disgruntled at a first meeting that goes quite poorly and results in Asher not believing her, she decides to take matters into her own hands, never realizing she’ll end up at risk as well.

As Asher and Permilia are forced to work together and spend time away from the spotlight of society, perhaps there’s more going on behind the scenes than they ever could have anticipated.

My Thoughts:

Before you dive into “Behind the Scenes” be sure to check out the short novella “At Your Request” that introduces you to the characters involved in the story.  (This novella is currently free on Amazon.  That is subject to change at any time.)

The thing about Jen Turano is that all of her books are delightful and I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that I love about them.  The stories are often dramatic.  (I typically don’t care for dramatic).  And yet, I love Turano’s books.

Perhaps I love Turano’s novels because she keeps things light.  Even deadly peril is introduced with a decidedly comic twist. I do enjoy a good laugh and there is more than one good laugh to be found in “Behind the Scenes.”

Perhaps I love Turano’s writing because her characters are so genuine and particularly unique.

All in all, I can simply say that I enjoyed reading “Behind the Scenes” and I hope that you will too.

– I was given a free digital galley of this novel to review in exchange for my honest opinion. –

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Book Review: An Uncommon Protector

About the Book:

Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.

When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.

Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.

But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

My Thoughts:

This was my first book by Shelley Shepard Gray and I wasn’t expecting a whole lot more than a light and quick read for a Sunday afternoon.  I found myself very happily surprised.  While the plot remained rather predictable, the characters were fabulously well rounded.  They had hopes, dreams, doubts and the author gave us a good look at the pasts that formed them as well as the current motivations that drove them.

The book was also clean.  There was attraction without the indulgence seen rather often these days in romance novels.  Underlying themes of community and worth were also beautifully woven into the story.

I also liked that the civil war references didn’t particularly vilify either side, but gave a well rounded reality to the fact that good people can end up on opposite sides of a war for any number of reasons.

In summary, I enjoyed An Uncommon Protector and would recommend it.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: The Captive Heart

About the Book:

The wild American wilderness is no place for an elegant English governess

On the run from a brute of an aristocratic employer, Eleanor Morgan escapes from England to America, the land of the free, for the opportunity to serve an upstanding Charles Town family. But freedom is hard to come by as an indentured servant, and downright impossible when she’s forced to agree to an even harsher contract—marriage to a man she’s never met.

Backwoodsman Samuel Heath doesn’t care what others think of him—but his young daughter’s upbringing matters very much. The life of a trapper in the Carolina back country is no life for a small girl, but neither is abandoning his child to another family. He decides it’s time to marry again, but that proves to be an impossible task. Who wants to wed a murderer?

Both Samuel and Eleanor are survivors, facing down the threat of war, betrayal, and divided loyalties that could cost them everything, but this time they must face their biggest challenge ever . . .Love.

My Thoughts:

I wasn’t entirely sure that The Captive Heart would be a book that I would enjoy, but I decided that it was worth a try.  I’m glad that I took the time to read this novel.  The setting was interesting, ranging from England to Carolina.  I was concerned that the revolutionary war theme might take over the story (I am not a fan of war settings for novels), but it was just an interesting aside and not the main point of the story.  The characters were well rounded and the love story well developed. Overall, it was a satisfying novel.

Book: Really Woolly 5 Minute Bedtime Stories

_240_360_book-2037-coverAbout the Book:

Find your favorite Really Woolly® storybooks combined into one beautiful book that you and your little ones will love to use at bedtime. With a simple 5 minute format, the Really Woolly 5-Minute Bedtime Treasury will allow you to spend quality time with your children before they drift off to sleep and won’t leave you exhausted when they beg for just one more story.

My Thoughts:

It’s not so much a storybook as it is a collection of prayers and devotional thoughts.  It looks like it would be very engaging and encouraging for children, filled with thoughts that would bring them sweet dreams.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: The Shattered Vigil

cover94449-mediumAbout the Book:

Victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. Jorgen, the member of the Vigil assigned to Frayel, has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves.

Just when the Vigil thought they had quenched the menace from their enemy in Collum, a new threat emerges: assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. The orders of the church and the rulers of the kingdoms, fearing the loss of the Vigil’s members altogether, have decided to take them into protective custody to safeguard their gift. On Pellin’s orders, the Vigil scatters, leaving Willet to be taken prisoner by the church in Bunard.

In the midst of this, Willet learns of the murder of an obscure nobleman’s daughter by one of the unseen assassins. Now he must escape his imprisonment and brave the wrath of the church to find the killer in order to turn back this latest threat to the northern continent.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book in a series.  Or the third if you count the prequel.

Prequel: By Divine Right
Book one: The Shock of Night

You need to read both the prequel and the first book to have any real hope of deeply engaging with this novel, but I can assure you that it will be worth it.  Carr is a masterful writer, one of the best fantasy fiction writers that I have read in years.  His work is layered, symbolic, descriptive and focused.  His characters are real and engaging.  There was one point, between books one and two, where I was concerned about where the story line was headed.  I was so deeply invested in the tale I wasn’t sure my heart could take it if it all went awry, but I’m happy to say that my fears were unfounded.

These novels seem a bit darker to me than his The Staff and the Sword series, which were also brilliantly written.  Yet, the darkness isn’t gratuitous, it’s appropriate.  It the dark of any epic tale, the dark we find within, the dark we find without and the journey toward the light that overcomes.  I would say that these novels might not be for everyone and that they are not geared for younger readers.

I’d give Carr 5 stars for The Shattered Vigil.

I received a free unedited digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to write a positive review.  I loved it so much that I’m buying the edited version.  This is a series that belongs in my library.

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Book Review: A Different Kind of Happiness

differenthappinessAbout the Book:

How to Love When You Don’t Feel Like Loving

Everywhere we look, we see evidence that love is in short supply. Terrorists and political corruption, school shootings and troubled marriages, impatient online sniping and character assassination–all point to the fact that we do not know how to love one another as Jesus commanded and modeled. We put our own interests and happiness first, despite the fact that the greatest happiness comes through sacrificial love.

In this book, Dr. Larry Crabb shows readers how to understand the deep and perfect love we are shown by our Creator and Redeemer, and how to pour that love into other people. This love is about more than being nice and serving others. It’s about relating to others in such a way that they feel heard, seen, and valued. This love sacrifices and suffers and keeps loving, even when doing so is costly. This kind of love, says Crabb, is the kind worth fighting for in all of our relationships, and A Different Kind of Happiness shows how to make it a reality.

My Thoughts:

I’ve taken my time reading through this book.  As I’ve attended Dr. Crabb’s School of Spiritual Direction and listened to him teach over the last five years I had a head start on much of the content in this book.  And yet, there was so much to absorb, so much to wrestle through in my own life that it took me three months to make my way through A Different Kind of Happiness.

In some of his books Dr. Crabb spends a good deal of time repeating his theme over and over again in new ways to really drive his point home.  In this book, I felt like the writing was constantly moving forward with little of the repetition that I expected.  Perhaps that is why I slowed down in my reading: I didn’t want to miss a thing.

I especially loved the second half of the book that focuses in on seven questions and their answers (both the answers the Bible gives and the ones that we frequently hear from the enemy).

This is a challenging book, a book for anyone who wants to love like Jesus.  It is a book that is desperately needed in a world where we have (at large) forgotten what true love looks like.  And it is a book that helps us find the great joy and happiness that real love brings, even when it comes with a significant cost.

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Book Review: Far From Cold

51N-cdlNBiLAbout the Book:

This is the extraordinary story of God using ordinary people. Follow Mark and Gillian Newham as they leave Britain for Outer Mongolia, sharing God and discovering ever more of Him along the way.

My Thoughts:

Far From Cold is a modern day missionary biography.  If you aren’t familiar with the genre, the goal is not to tell a person’s entire life story as a general biography would do or to give the intimate details of a life as you would find in a memoir, but instead it is a testimony of what it looked for that person to follow God into foreign lands.  It is a biography of a calling.

Far From Cold highlights the story of two British citizens who leave their home for the wilds of outer Mongolia.  Author Gillian tells lots of little stories about the place and people, stories that intersected with the tale of what God was doing in her own life and the life of her husband.  In fact, I found myself relating it to testimony night at church where one person stands up and tells about the work of God in their life, followed by another person and another.  In the book Gillian invites us into twenty years of testimonies complied in one overarching story of the work of God in the land of Mongolia.

It is an encouraging story that reminds us how God uses everyday people, just like you and me.  I would especially recommend this book for people considering following God into cross cultural missions work as it gives a clear portrayal of the challenges that come with such a calling.  The book is honest about the joys and heartaches of the journey making it clear that Mark and Gillian were just ordinary people who had the privilege of walking with God as He reached out to a people that were far from cold.

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Book Review: Unfrozen, Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You

NotFinalUnfrozenCoverAbout the Book:

[From the Author] I used to believe that I was too much for others: too deep, too intense and too sensitive. I didn’t know how to express my deep thoughts and intense feelings without overwhelming people, so I attempted to become what I believed God and others wanted me to be: good, strong and capable.

My attempts to contain and control my self-expression left me feeling frustrated and inauthentic. I knew I was made for more than a life of holding back, but how could I be me without ruining my relationships? My path through dating, marriage and young motherhood led me through unexpected disappointment, anxiety and depression, despite the amazing people in my life. The pain dug deep, but that’s where I found the real me and a new way to love others with all that I am.

I needed one more nudge to find and release my true voice into the world. That’s when I met Elsa.

Join me in UNFROZEN as I tell the story of the events that led me to stop holding back and release the real me for connected relationships and extraordinary impact.

My Thoughts:

When I first read the subtitle (stop holding back and release the real you) it called to mind a self-help book full of how-to advice.  I’m not a fan of how-to books.  And I’m happy to tell you that Unfrozen is far from being a dry how-to manual.  In this book I discovered a memoir.  A beautiful memoir with an encouraging message.  I love memoirs and the sharing of lessons learned on the journey of life.

In Unfrozen author Andrea uses images and ideas from the movie Frozen to share a message that she has been learning all along her own life’s journey.  Unfrozen is a story of moving from hiding to authenticity, from holding back to letting go, from isolating to deep connection with the world.  Unfrozen is Andrea’s story, framed by Elsa’s story, and it is a story for everyone who is looking to become their authentic self.  Unfrozen is about finding your voice, becoming who you were meant to be and letting the real you take its place to impact the world.

It’s a beautiful book with an encouraging message.  Even more exciting is that the author is also offering a series of interactive lessons so that you can discuss the concepts raised in the book with a mentor, friend or book group, allowing the stories of Andrea and Elsa to weave together with the fabric of your own story and your own authentic transformation. Sharing the journey together really can move you toward the freedom to stop holding back so that you can release the real you.

I received a free digital pre-release copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book discussion materials can be found here.

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