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

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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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Book Review: Forever Doon

_240_360_Book.DOON.coverAbout the Book:

With the witch of Doon claiming the throne, Jamie believed dead, and Duncan and Mackenna trapped in Alloway, Veronica has no choice but to put her grief aside and prepare her remaining followers for the impending battle against the false queen and her forces. But while on a covert mission to steal a powerful elixir from the castle, Veronica discovers her true love may actually be alive, and fighting a battle of his own.

With the Brig o’ Doon destroyed and the portal fragmented, Doon’s forces are not only divided, but also isolated in different dimensions. With the help of a storyteller as ancient as the witch herself, Kenna and Duncan learn they must rebuild the bridge to have any chance of crossing back into Doon with their ragtag army. But when Mackenna insists on fighting as well, Duncan soon realizes the only way he can ensure her safety is to turn her into a cold-hearted killer.

For Vee, Jamie, Kenna, and Duncan, saving their kingdom while keeping their lives intact will take a miracle.

My Thoughts:

To begin you should know that this series is specifically targeted for teens.  While adults may enjoy them, they are clearly not the target audience.   Also, there is a good deal of description around the characters’ physical relationships and sexual attraction so the reader should be aware if that is a sensitive area.

While I found the first two books in the series creative and interesting, I wasn’t really engaged with the series until book three and I was pleased with this final novel.  Forever Doon is not a stand alone book so if you are just discovering the Doon series you should start with the first book (click here to see on Amazon).

I love the idea of Doon and the interactions between a mythical ancient Scotland and the modern world. In the beginning of the series the characters were fairly self focused and in many ways playing with fire in their relationships.  They left me feeling cautious, even when I was cheering their victories. It was the growth of the characters in the final two books that truly began to draw me into deeper engagement with the story.  As Vee, Kenna, Jamie and Duncan began to discover who they were, their strengths, their weaknesses and their need for each other in community, I began to connect with their hopes and dreams.  And as they started to look to the Protector for guidance with trust, rather than offering only “help me” prayers or relying on their own understanding, I wanted to applaud.

Forever Doon is a solid ending to a creative fantasy tale.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

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Book Review: An Elegant Facade

cover86130-mediumAbout the Book:

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has always known she must marry well. After years of tirelessly planning every detail of her debut season, she is poised to be a smashing success and have her choice of eligible gentlemen.

With money and powerful business connections but no title, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere. He intends to marry someday, but when he does it will not be to a shallow woman like Lady Georgina, whose only concerns appear to be status and appearance.

But beneath her flawless exterior, Georgina’s social aspirations stem from a shameful secret she is desperately trying to keep hidden–and that Colin is too close to discovering. Drawn to each other despite their mutual intent to avoid association, is the realization of their dreams worth the sacrifices they’ll be forced to make?

My Thoughts:

An Elegant Facade is the second book in the Hawthorn House series.  (Or actually the third if you count the free novella, A Lady of Esteem).  You could read An Elegant Facade as a stand alone novel, but I would recommend reading it with the rest of the series.

I found the novel to be absolutely brilliant.  Kristi Ann Hunter took a risk and began by taking you halfway back into the events of her previous book (A Noble Masquerade) and telling parts of the tale again from another character’s point of view.  This could have come across as cumbersome or repetitive, however, it was so skillfully written that I found it fresh and inventive.  In fact, the author did something that is rarely done, she took a character that I had a mild dislike toward and made her someone that I really cared about.

All in all, I think that this story was a fabulously entertaining read that any fan of faith based Regency Romance should not miss.

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

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Book Review: No Other Will Do

NoOtherCover2About the Book:

Men are optional. That’s the credo Emma Chandler’s suffragette aunts preached and why she started a successful women’s colony in Harper’s Station, Texas. But when an unknown assailant tries repeatedly to drive them out, Emma admits they might need a man after all. A man who can fight–and she knows just the one.

Malachi Shaw finally earned the respect he craved by becoming an explosives expert for the railroad. Yet when Emma’s plea arrives, he bolts to Harper’s Station to repay the girl who once saved his life. Only she’s not a girl any longer. She’s a woman with a mind of her own and a smile that makes a man imagine a future he doesn’t deserve.

As the danger intensifies, old feelings grow and deepen, but Emma and Mal will need more than love to survive.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed how Witemeyer opened No Other Will Do with the main characters as children.  Living the back story with them really drew me into the novel and helped connect me to the main male character in a book set in a colony of women.

The characters of this book were well developed and the underlying message of faith was beautiful woven into the story in an authentic way.

I appreciated how the author was realistic about the hardships that the women of her colony faced in a male dominated world, including the reality of abuse, while not vilifying all men (as has happened in other novels I have read).  The fact that the story had several strong male characters was encouraging.

Witemeyer is a skilled writer and the story flowed swiftly from cover to cover as the characters learned about faith, community, trust and love.  There was plenty of suspense and a bit of romance as well.  I enjoyed the novel and even though it includes some heavier subjects I would still place it in the “light reading” category.

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

Book Review: Beautiful Pretender

BeautifulPretenderAbout the Book:

After inheriting the title from his brother, the Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a couple of books lately that simply couldn’t keep my attention.  Beautiful Pretender did not have that problem.  From start to finish I was engaged in the story.

I enjoyed the characters and the medieval version of “The Bachelor” that underpinned the entire plot.   Dickerson did a fabulous job of taking a woman who was living a deception and creating a noble character, which was no small task.  The process of a couple overcoming a relationship built on deception, played out amid villainy and suspense, left you cheering them on while waiting for that happily ever after ending that we’ve all come to expect from a fairy tale.

I’ve read a number of novels by Melanie Dickerson and this was one of my favorites.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Recommendation: The Radical Pursuit of Rest

9780830899371About the Book:

We live in a culture that values activity, achievement and accomplishment. Whether in our careers, churches, schools or families, busyness is the norm in our lives, and anything less makes us feel unproductive and anxious. We have to work all the harder, then, to pursue true rest in a 24-7 world that is constantly in motion. John Koessler understands that rest is not automatic or easy to attain. He names the modern-day barriers to becoming people of rest and presents a unique perspective on how pursuing rest leads us to the heart of God. With honest, biblical reflections on trends in our culture and churches, he exposes our misconceptions regarding the concept of rest, as well as offering correction and practices to align our ideas with God’s ideal. The book includes reflection and discussion questions designed for both individual and group use. You will discover the true meaning behind Jesus’ idea of the yoke of rest and restoration for your mind, body and soul.

My Thoughts:

In my work one of the central self sabotages that I run into is a plethora of misconceptions on what rest looks like and how we find it.  With so many misconceptions it’s no wonder that people in ministry so often reach a place of burn out.  Koessler’s book adds a beautiful and resonant voice to the conversion surrounding the Biblical idea of rest.

As this is a core concept that I engage with (both in my own life and as a Spiritual Director) I have read just about every book that I have come across on the subject and I honestly wondered if The Radical Pursuit of Rest would bring any new insights to the table.  It went above and beyond my expectations!  Specifically I deeply appreciated the discussions about rest as a place and the unraveling of the Biblical idea of sloth.

This book has joined my short list of recommendations on the subject alongside Buchanan’s The Rest of God (which is also wonderful, but has a slightly different focus and a greater emphasis on practical application).

I highly recommend this book.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to provide a positive review.

Book Review: Dawn At Emberwilde

_225_350_Book.1921.coverAbout the Book:

Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.

For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would enable her to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.

The unexpected arrival of a stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.

At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. Perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.

At Emberwilde Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book in the Treasures of Surrey series, however, it completely stands alone with the only connection to the first novel, The Curiosity Keeper, being the Fellsworth School.

Dawn at Emberwilde is primarily a romance with hints of mystery and danger.  This is the type of book that I really enjoy reading, because the plot is highly character driven.

The story revolves heavily around Isabel discovering who she is, what she values, how she must relate to a number of different people whose character is difficult to discern and how to make wise choices.  Of course, there is a mysterious past, smugglers, gypsy stories and courtship thrown in for good measure.

I thought it was an enjoyable and fairly light read very much in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from Sarah Ladd’s novels.

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

Book Review: The Calling

The CallingAbout the Book:

Remko Brant had never been so sure of anything as escaping the Authority City with Carrington Hale. But bravado comes easy when you have nothing to lose. Now a husband, father, and the tactical leader of the Seers, Remko has never had so much at risk.

As he and his team execute increasingly dangerous rescue missions inside the city, they face growing peril from a new enemy. Recently appointed Authority President Damien Gold claims to be guiding a city shaken by rebellion into a peaceful, harmonious future. But appearances can be deceiving. In order to achieve his dangerous ambitions, Gold knows he must do more than catch the rebels—he must destroy the hope their message represents . . . from the inside out.

With dissension in his own camp—and the CityWatch soldiers closing in—Remko feels control slipping through his fingers. To protect those he loves, he must conquer his fears and defeat Gold . . . before one of them becomes his undoing.

My Thoughts:

I’m having a hard time knowing how to rate this book.  It is not a stand alone novel.  When I was offered this book for review I purchased book one in the series (The Choosing) to catch up with the story line.  And honestly, The Choosing was too much for me.  I avoid physiological thrillers and was disturbed by some of the plot themes and the characters that made an appearance in the story, though I did like Rachelle’s writing style and the undercurrents of redemption within the story.  There were, however, some things that made me uncomfortable with the Christ character’s portrayal and I imagine that if I were to sit down for coffee with Rachelle Dekker that I would discover that we hold some different theological views.

But also difficult was the cult like use of Scripture (by a society within the novel) and a writing style that left it to the reader to discern truth from lie.  For someone steeped in the Scripture it was the classic kind of cult manipulation that is very clear, but for someone not so grounded I imagine that it could have created a good bit of confusion.  As a writing tactic it was brilliant.  As a believer who would like to see truth clearly communicated in story I found it a bit disturbing.

But I had agreed to review The Calling so I dug in and continued reading.  Again, I found the writing layered and captivating.  There was as much happening below the surface as there was action within the story.  But again, I became even more disturbed by the incredibly beautiful portrayal of identity as a child of God with a complete lack of even a hint of substitutionary atonement.  In fact, one statement in this novel (referring to salvation) makes it appear that the Christ character isn’t actually Christ at all, but that is incredibly confusing in the light of how he has clearly been portrayed within a Trinitarian context.   Truthfully, only time and the completion of the series will tell where the author is taking the story, so all I can say at this point is that the jury is out for me.

Rachelle Dekker is a masterful writer, but I have serious reservations about the theological undercurrents and where she is heading so I’ll withhold judgement at the moment and hope that she brings it together to display the full beauty of the gospel.

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

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