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

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Book Review: Defiant Joy

About the Book:

We are called to live.

And, miraculously, to live with joy.

We all spend a lot of energy reaching for happiness, but we are never quite able to hang on to it. Real life happens, and our circumstances take us on an emotional roller coaster ride. So the Bible’s call to “be joyful always” sounds almost crazy—and out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be.

Joy is meant to be ours, a joy that is defiant in the face of this broken world. This joy is not simply happiness on steroids; it’s the unyielding belief that sorrow and loss do not have the final say. It’s the stubborn determination to be present to whatever may come and to interpret both goodness and grief by the light of heaven.

In Defiant Joy, Stasi Eldredge invites us with courage, candor, and tender vulnerability to a place beyond sadness or happiness. She shows us how to maintain a posture of holy defiance that neither denies nor diminishes our pain but dares to live with expectant, unwavering hope.

My Thoughts:

I can’t even begin to tell you how encouraging I have found this book. Life is hard and our joy gets tested, but author Stasi Eldredge challenges us to be defiant when it comes to handing over our joy. Joy is ours as children of God and we must cling to our birthright. With humor and personal stories Stasi gently invites us to join her on the path of joy and for me it was a journey well worth taking.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is a book I would highly recommend and
I anticipate buying several copies to hand out as gifts.

Book Review: The Rock That Is Higher

About the Book:

We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes… –Madeleine L’Engle, from The Rock That Is Higher

Story captures our hearts and feeds our imaginations. It reminds us who we are and where we came from. Story gives meaning and direction to our lives as we learn to see it as an affirmation of God’s love and truth–an acknowledgment of our longing for a rock in the midst of life’s wilderness.

Drawing upon her own experiences, well-known tales in literature, and selected narratives from Scripture, Madeleine L’Engle gently leads the way into the glorious world of story in The Rock That Is Higher. Here she acknowledges universal human longings and considers how literature, Scripture, personal stories, and life experiences all point us toward our true home.

My Thoughts:

This book is all L’Engle in style.  It is insightful and rambling all at the same time.  In it the author gives us a great deal of auto-biographical insight into her life and her thinking.  She relates her own story to her process of storytelling.  This is not a “how to” book for writers.  This work is not so much about the process of creating a story as it is the process of how she lived her own story and the impact that had upon her work.

 

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my opinion.

Book Review: Moments to Midnight

About the Book:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

In the biblical letter of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul reflected on his passing life. It was but a vapor. He was a pilgrim, passing through this life and into the next. Moments ’til Midnight creatively peels back the curtain of Paul’s final hours. Author Brent Crowe imaginatively retells the last twelve hours of Paul’s life, from the perspective of the apostle himself. Along the way, readers will be encouraged to live with purpose, to redeem the time, and to embrace the awesome reality that they too are on a sacred journey.

With no more letters to write, no more churches to plant, no more sermons to preach, and no more missionary journeys to embark upon, Paul awaited his death sentence. What were his final reflections on life? How did he view the race he had run? How should you view the race set before you?

My Thoughts:

First, I have to say the advertising blurb (above) is misleading.  Saying this is a retelling of the last hours of Paul’s life leads you (or at least led me) to expect a narrative in first person.  That is not what this book is all about.  If you are looking for a narrative work you will be disappointed.

The content of the book, however, is not disappointing.  Written specifically for young people, but also applicable for adults – particularly those new to a walk of faith – the author takes us on an exploration of some of the most significant themes of Paul’s writings.  These themes are what author Crowe believes that Paul must have been reflecting on in his final moments of life.

The writing style is somewhat light and very easy to read.  The author applies a conversational tone rather than an academic tone to the work.  There is a good balance of comparison and contrast.  For example, the author talks about potential and why it is important and then he goes on to talk about purpose and why that is more significant than potential.  I appreciate Crowe’s ability to say, here is something you should know, but also know that it isn’t the main thing you need to know.

People who have been journeying with Christ for many seasons of life might not find anything particularly new or compelling about this book, but it is very well suited for its target audience.

P.S. – I think the artwork on the cover is stunning!

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

Book Review: Every Step An Arrival

About the Book:

Take ninety days and walk through the pages of the Bible with the definitive voice today in Christian spirituality. Eugene Peterson provides brief commentary and challenging thoughts designed to stir the biblical imagination and encourage even the weary believer.

My Thoughts:

To start I should say that I am a fan of Eugene Peterson’s writing.  His deep thinking and biblical imagination have often been a catalyst in my spiritual growth.  In that way I appreciated the content of this devotional, but I would say it was just a taster.  The devotionals in Every Step An Arrival are good for prompting your thinking if you are looking for something you can read in about five minutes, similar in length to My Utmost or Jesus Calling.  Last year I used Peterson’s sermons found in As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire as daily devotionals as I prefer a deeper, longer daily reflection time.  So, I suppose it just depends on what you are looking for whether this is the type of devotional you want to choose.

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

Book Review: Everything She Didn’t Say

About the Book:

In 1911, Carrie Strahorn wrote a memoir entitled Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, which shared some of the most exciting events of 25 years of traveling and shaping the American West with her husband, Robert Strahorn, a railroad promoter, investor, and writer. That is all fact. Everything She Didn’t Say imagines Carrie nearly ten years later as she decides to write down what was really on her mind during those adventurous nomadic years.

Certain that her husband will not read it, and in fact that it will only be found after her death, Carrie is finally willing to explore the lessons she learned along the way, including the danger a woman faces of losing herself within a relationship with a strong-willed man and the courage it takes to accept her own God-given worth apart from him. Carrie discovers that wealth doesn’t insulate a soul from pain and disappointment, family is essential, pioneering is a challenge, and western landscapes are both demanding and nourishing. Most of all, she discovers that home can be found, even in a rootless life.

With a deft hand, New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick draws out the emotions of living–the laughter and pain, the love and loss–to give readers a window not only into the past, but into their own conflicted hearts. Based on a true story.

My Thoughts:

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book.  On one hand, it was a creative and honest “behind the scenes” imagining of the life behind the facts.  The book was well written and contained some helpful relational wisdom.  I found the overview of Carrie Strahorn’s life fascinating.  And yet, the book was easy to walk away from and in many ways it was a sad story of a woman who spent most of her life out of touch with her own desires and emotions.  The main character’s desire to live in the “happy lane” drove me a bit crazy as that kind of denial and diversion from real sorrow and grief isn’t a healthy way to live, though many employ those type of strategies.  Further, I found it nearly impossible to relate to the era, how men and women/husbands and wives related at that time, which again made it difficult to connect to the characters. Also, I found the book easy to put down as it was broken into unrelated sections and read like a journal rather than a narrative following a distinct plot arc (though the author clearly had things to communicate as she told the story of Carrie’s life). All in all, I would recommend this book for those who like biographies, journals and historical documentaries.  I wouldn’t recommend necessarily recommend this book if you are looking for an engaging fictional narrative story line as it moves slowly and has a slightly disjointed (journal-like) feel.

 

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

Book Review: Invitation to Retreat

About the Book:

“Come away and rest awhile.” Jesus invites us to be with him, offering our full and undivided attention to him. When we choose retreat, we make a generous investment in our friendship with Christ. We are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have tried to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which may mean that we give God twenty minutes here and half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it! But we need more. Indeed, we long for more. In these pages Transforming Center founder and seasoned spiritual director Ruth Haley Barton gently leads us into retreat as a key practice that opens us to God. Based on her own practice and her experience leading hundreds of retreats for others, she will guide you in a very personal exploration of seven specific invitations contained within the general invitation to retreat. You will discover how to say yes to God’s winsome invitation to greater freedom and surrender. There has never been a time when the invitation to retreat is so radical and so relevant, so needed and so welcome. It is not a luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual life.

My Thoughts:

As someone who regularly leads others into spiritual retreats I have been eagerly awaiting my copy of Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Retreat and it did not in any way disappoint. Barton gives not only a solid background for why we should practice spiritual retreat, but she gives one of the most practical and detailed explorations of the different invitations that can be part of a retreat.  Alongside these invitations she offers “priming” questions for those who may be considering retreat and “practicing” questions for you to take on your retreat.  In fact,  I think one of the strengths of this book is that it is easily engaged with for both those considering retreat and for those practicing retreat.

Even having read many books on retreat I found this book to be impactful in my own spiritual walk and I believe it will be a valuable resource for anyone as they seek to grow in their life with God.  I’ve already ordered a hard copy for my library and I would recommend it to you.

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

Book Review: Caught By Surprise

About the Book:

After years of hiding her true nature, Miss Temperance Flowerdew is finally enjoying freedom outside of the shadow of her relations, so the last thing she expected on her way to work was to be grabbed off the street by a stranger and put on a train bound for Chicago.

When Mr. Gilbert Cavendish is called upon to rescue a missing woman, he follows the trail to Chicago only to discover that the woman is his good friend, Temperance. Before they can discover who was behind her abduction, they’re spotted alone together by a New York society matron, putting their reputations at risk.

Even though Gilbert is willing to propose marriage, Temperance is determined not to lose her newfound independence. But when the misunderstanding in Chicago escalates into a threat on her life, accepting Gilbert’s help in solving the mystery may lead to more than she ever could have dreamed.

Praise for the Apart From the Crowd series
“a true treat”–RT Book Reviews
“laugh-out-loud funny”–Library Journal
“fast-paced, festive, funny romance”–Booklist
“absolutely sparkles”–Publishers Weekly

My Thoughts:

Jen Turano’s books make me laugh out loud and for me personally that is a very rare and desirable quality in a book.  While set in a historical era, Turano’s characters carry a modern day flair for freedom, independence and disregard for strict protocol, which is part of what makes her stories so comical.

In this book there are multiple plot lines of mystery and mayhem as Gilbert and Temperance discover what is really important in life.

While this book is part of a series and reading the previous books will give you a much broader view of the characters, Caught By Surprise could be read as a stand alone novel.

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I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: Fawkes

About the Book:

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th-century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Fawkes is a tale full of spiritual depth, tragedy, and hope. A beautifully written allegory for the magic of faith, with an achingly relatable hero who pulls you into his world heart and soul. A must-read for all fantasy fans!” —Lorie Langdon, author of Olivia Twist

“A brilliant book that fulfills every expectation. Brandes turns seventeenth century London into a magical place. I was captivated by the allegory of her magic system and how she blended that fantasy with history. I highly recommend this gripping and beautifully crafted book to all. It will leave you both entertained and pondering matters raised in the storyline long after you’ve finished reading.” —Jill Williamson, Christy Award-winning author of By Darkness Hid and Captives

“A magical retelling of the seventeenth century’s famous Gunpowder Plot that will sweep you back in time—to a divided England where plagues can turn you to stone and magic has a voice. Deft and clever, Fawkes is a vibrant story about the search for truth and issues relevant to us, still, today.” —Tosca Lee, New York Times bestselling author

My Thoughts:

Nadine Bandes is absolutely brilliant in her fantasy retelling of the Gunpower Plot.  She is able to take a time where all of Christendom was divided, where Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics, where slavery was a way of life, and get behind all of our associations, presuppositions and prejudices through this intriguing narrative.  In this fantasy world of color magic and a stone plague we get to follow a riveting story while asking deep questions of what it looks like to follow God well and what it looks like when we get it wrong.  I loved this novel and have continued to think about it long after I turned the last page.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: Penguins and Golden Calves

About the Book:

Despite protests and warnings from friends and family, author Madeleine L’Engle, at the age of seventy-four, embarked on a rafting trip to Antarctica. Her journey through the startling beauty of the continent led her to write Penguins and Golden Calves, a captivating discussion of how opening oneself up to icons, or everyday “windows to God,” leads to the development of a rich and deeply spiritual faith.

Here, L’Engle explains how ordinary things such as family, words, the Bible, heaven, and even penguins can become such windows. She also shows how such a window becomes an idol–a penguin becomes a “golden calf”–when we see it as a reflection of itself instead of God.

My Thoughts:

I read this book in the 90s, but I didn’t remember much of it so when I was offered a review copy I thought it might be good to read it again.

I knew when I picked up this book that Madeleine L’Engle and I hold some vastly different theological views.  I also knew that L’Engle was a woman who loved Jesus, thought deeply about life and has things to teach me through her writing.

This book in particular, helped me wade through the vast differences in our opinions, because it was laid out in a rambling, conversational manner.  Instead of thinking of Penguins and Golden Calves as an author’s attempt to teach me something in particular I opened each chapter as if we were having a chat over a cup of coffee.  This is exactly what the book felt like to me.  L’Engle would say something I’d nod my head to, then she would say something startling and then she would continue on explaining her thoughts and pondering their context and implications for life.  It’s exactly what happens in good conversation.  Along the way someone says something that causes you to raise your eyebrows and then you ask, “tell me about that,” and sit back and listen to their heart.

I think this book was a good exercise for me in conversation, even though that was not its intent.  In today’s world many “conversations” happen over social media or in some type of print rather than sitting face to face across a cup of coffee.  I think it is infinitely harder to have a conversation over print, because I expect something written to be precise, thought out and an overall representation of a person’s thoughts.  I don’t expect something in print to be an exploration the same way that I expect a conversation to be a journey of discovery.  Learning to listen to Madelaine in her writing, whether I agreed or not, to hear her heart for the Lord and her heart for people became a fruitful exercise for me.  I would say that if you can’t do that, if you can’t wade through some of her non-evangelical viewpoints with grace while gleaning some very real wisdom from her writing then you should probably skip this book.

If you do, however, sit down to read Penguins and Golden Calves you will find some deeply challenging insights on the windows/metaphors/icons we use that help us grow in relationship to God as well as some very apt warnings of how the very things that we think are icons can become idols.   I also found her observations of how culture had changed over her lifetime and now looking back twenty two years to when she wrote this book another fruitful exercise.

Some of the most meaningful wisdom that I gleaned came in a random sentence or paragraph that was quickly past, but not expounded upon.  The book does ramble throughout many subject and opinions, yet it always comes back to a daily, living and active relationship with God.

 

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

 

Book Review: The Hope of Azure Springs

About the Book:

Seven years ago, orphaned and alone, Em finally arrived at a new home in Iowa after riding the orphan train. But secrets from her past haunt her, and her new life in the Western wilderness is a rough one. When her guardian is shot and killed, Em, now nineteen, finally has the chance to search for her long-lost sister, but she won’t be able to do it alone.

For Azure Springs Sheriff Caleb Reynolds, securing justice for the waifish and injured Em is just part of his job. He’s determined to solve every case put before him in order to impress his parents and make a name for himself. Caleb expects to succeed. What he doesn’t expect is the hold this strange young woman will have on his heart.

Debut author Rachel Fordham invites historical romance readers to the charming town of Azure Springs, Iowa, where the people care deeply for one another and, sometimes, even fall in love.

My Thoughts:

The Hope of Azure Springs is a endearing story of life, loss, love, the value of character and most of all the power of hope.

Em is a survivor and she has been living for one thing, to find her sister.  Caleb survived where his brother’s didn’t and he feels he must prove himself worthy.  Every person featured in this story has a past.  A love.  A loss. A wish.  A hope.

Drawing on the beauty of sacrificial love, the knowledge of the value of character and the understanding of how the ways that we relate have profound impact on others this heart-wrenching and heart-warming tale kept me turning the pages.  It is a book worth reading.

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I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.