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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Annie Downs doesn’t consider herself brave, but she’s done the next right thing in her life, even if it’s scary. Her latest book, Let’s All Be Brave, is a call to all of us to be courageous in whatever our lives require. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

braveDowns doesn’t demand that everyone pack up and move across the world. Bravery doesn’t require everyone to do the same thing, and what looks brave in one person’s life will look different in someone else’s. That’s one of the highlights of this book for me: that the brave thing is individual. Downs doesn’t offer specifics for being brave but principles and stories of what bravery has looked like in her life.

She tells great stories about the leaps she’s made in her life and encourages readers to take those kinds of leaps in their own lives. Her brave moments have included a move to Nashville when she knew no one, a move to Edinburgh, Scotland after she’d found community in Nashville, accepting her singleness in this stage of life. I was challenged by the idea that bravery isn’t always saying “yes” to something but sometimes it’s saying “no.” I hadn’t considered that before.

I appreciate the overall message of this book, but on complaint I have is that the chapters felt disconnected from each other. I didn’t get a sense of one flowing into the next. It was easy to read a chapter and walk away for a while, which meant it took me longer than I expected to read this book.

That said, if you’re feeling stuck or like you don’t know what’s next (or you do but you’re too afraid to say it or do something about it), then this book might be the nudge you need to go for it.

HOW TO WIN YOUR OWN COPY

And in case you need another nudge, I have a copy to give away! Leave a comment here on the blog about why you want to read this book, what bravery means to you or anything else you’d like to say, and I’ll enter you in a drawing. I’ll pick a winner on Monday, Sept. 22, so you have through the weekend to enter.

Want to know more about the author? Check out her website and blog:  http://www.anniefdowns.com/

And you can preview two chapters here.

 

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Seattle pastor Eugene Cho has a new book out, his first, and it is SO Overrated.

No, really. It’s Overrated.

That’s the name of the book.

Overrated.

I didn’t have to even read one page to know that this book is not to be taken lightly. (Disclaimer: I received an advance e-copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

Cho does not mince words. He does not coddle. He does not accept excuses.

He asks the question that needs to be asked: Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?

He puts it like this:

And as much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. I’m guilty of wanting to change the world, of wanting to make a difference but doing very little to back that up.

Overrated BookCover-3DSo this book is hard to read. It’s like seeking advice from a friend who tells you not what you want to hear but says the hard things and challenges you to do what needs to be done.

While it’s a book about justice and the Christian’s role in justice, it’s also about discipleship and generosity and intentional living and passion and purpose. It’s about these things working together in the life of a disciple of Jesus so much that the world can’t help but notice.

And Cho does not speak as one who has done it all perfectly with impure motives. He does not preach what he doesn’t live. He offers his own confessions, failings, and wrong motives as testimony that this call is not just for other people but for him as well.

Here are five of the most challenging statements, for me, Cho makes in the book:

“Isn’t that what makes discipleship so uncomfortable and challenging? God often leads us on journeys we would never go on if it were up to us.” (26)

“I believe you cannot credibly follow Christ unless you pursue justice.” (43)

“The inescapable truth about justice is that there is something wrong in the world that needs to be set right.” (52)

“We should be about the marathon, not about the transactional sprint for instant justice gratification.” (105)

“We cannot speak with integrity about what we are not living. We don’t need more dazzling storytellers; we need more genuine storytellers. And the best way to become a better storyteller is to simply live a better life. Not a perfect life, but one of honesty, integrity, and passion.” (178)

I could go on. Nearly every page contained a nugget of truth that lodged in my heart and wouldn’t let go.

ChoOverratedFascinateGraphic

I forced myself to read it slow, take one chapter at a time and really let the words sink in.

And it doesn’t have to stop with the end of the book. As part of the message of the book, there’s a 5-day challenge, by e-mail, to help you avoid being overrated. Click here for more information about that.

The book officially releases Sept. 1, but if you preorder it today, you’ll have immediate access to an interactive e-copy. Find out more here.

I’d put this book at the top of my list of recommended reads for churches, youth groups, ministry workers, seminaries–really anyone who desires to do good in the world because of their relationship with Christ.

Overrated won’t condemn you for your actions, or lack thereof, but it will challenge you to let your life be about more than Twitter-style justice and passionate ideas. It’s encouragement to dream big, yes, and think hard and press on in the long run.

Cho often ends his Facebook posts and even a chapter or two with these words: Your move.

After reading this book, I firmly believe that.

It’s my move. What will I do with the challenge set before me?

Will I let myself be overrated and ineffective? Or will I seek the bigger picture and let God lead?

Will you?

Your move.

My move.

Because God is on the move.

And He’s going with or without us.

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I had high hopes for this book, maybe too high. When I read the description for The Trail by Ed Underwood, I thought it sounded a bit like The Shack. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Tyndale House in exchange for my review.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up to the quality of storytelling found in The Shack, and I found it overall not as interesting as I’d hoped.

the trailThe Trail is a parable about discovering God’s will and it centers on a couple, Matt and Brenda, who are trying to make a decision about Matt’s job prospects. Their friends send them in to the woods to meet an old mountain man/preacher, Sam, who is supposed to take them on a weekend journey in the mountains and teach them principles about discovering God’s will.

I liked the principles and thought they were useful statements in the life of a Christian. And I appreciate the idea of the book because we, as Christians, often make the concept of finding God’s will too difficult.

However, I really couldn’t identify with any of the characters. Matt seemed like a selfish jerk. Brenda was a little bit flighty and weak. And Sam was sometimes just hard to believe as a person. He preached a lot and the conversations between the characters were not realistic. I also wasn’t sure whose point of view we were supposed to be reading most of the time. There were clues, but it was awkward.

I almost couldn’t finish the book and ended up skimming the last couple of chapters just to be done with it.

I did take away a few good principles, but the effort to find them just wasn’t worth it for me.

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For those who doubt their life or story matters, this is a collection of stories to convince you otherwise.

speakSpeak: How Your Story Can Change the World is a sometimes-gentle, sometimes not, kick in the pants for everyone, not just writers or storytellers or speakers, to tell our stories. And it is equal parts inspiring and convicting. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Zondervan through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

The author, Nish Weiseth, is the founder of one of my favorite blog spaces, A Deeper Story, and though I haven’t read a lot of her work, in particular, I love the mission of the site and the stories shared there. So, I’m pleased to discover I love Weiseth’s writing as well.

And her message–that stories are more powerful than all the labeling and stereotyping and arguing policy that goes on–is timely. Over the two days that I read the book, I watched online arguments erupt and devolve into hatred among strangers over stories about a group of Muslims using a community room at a local rec center for a religious observation and about whether a 37-weeks-gestation body found in a garbage can should be called a “fetus” or a “baby.” (I digress a little but only to show the relevance of Weiseth’s work.) It is situations like those–and so many more–that call for stories. That urge us to know people for who they are not what we think they are or should be. Weiseth calls us to ask questions, to listen, and to tell our stories in an exchange of humanity. She writes,

This book is a call to do just that– to change the game by telling the stories of our lives with courage, honesty, and integrity. It’s a call to acknowledge that each of our stories is a small piece of the greatest story–God’s continual work and transforming power in our lives.  (24)

One of my favorite features of the book is the reprinted blog posts at the end of each chapter illustrating how a specific story changes the way we see a particular issue or stereotype. I love that Weiseth shared her book space with other writers to add another layer to the work. And though she has written a book and lives in Salt Lake City as part of a church plant, Weiseth is also a mother to two young children and immersed in the daily routines of life and family. She insists that our lives don’t have to look like a Hollywood movie to matter.

Most people are living life by daily fulfilling the obligations set before them. … And though you  may be living what seems like an ordinary life, faithfully doing what God has placed in front of you to do means you are actually living an extraordinary story. (183)

Not a book just for those who communicate for a living but one for anyone striving to live a life that brings more of the Kingdom of God to earth. Our stories, our journeys, our trials and triumphs, matter. And, as Weiseth says, they can be the catalyst for change in someone else’s life.

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When my husband and I first started cooking together, I was amazed at his ability to take common, seemingly unrelated pantry ingredients and turn them into a meal. It’s a method he learned growing up in a house where he cooked a few dinners a week. Food Network’s spin on that method is the show Chopped, where contestants open a basket of mystery ingredients and are tasked with making an edible appetizer, main dish or dessert out of them. It’s addicting.

choppedWhich is why when I found out Food Network was offering a Chopped cookbook, I pretty much freaked out. Because there are nights when I look in the pantry and I’m sure I don’t have enough stuff to make something tasty. Now, I have no excuse.

(And even though I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review, I believe this cookbook is worth every penny you might pay for it. But keep reading because I have a surprise for you!)

The Chopped Cookbook is everything I’ve ever wanted in a cookbook: Tantalizing pictures, creative ideas and doable recipes. And did I mention flexibility? Most cookbooks want you to follow their instructions to a T. This cookbook emphasizes flexibility based on a basic knowledge of how foods work together. It gives you the building blocks and says, “Go, create.”

As of writing this post, I’ve paged through the entire book and tried two recipes from it. The first was Marinated Tilapia Tacos. I lacked some of the ingredients but improvised a bit and still turned out a tasty meal. Even the kids ate it! The second was Quick Skillet Kielbasa Pork and Beans, which again, I lacked some of the ingredients but was able to improvise. And it was good! (Seriously, my husband rarely raves when I experiment and both of these dishes gained his approval.)

The instructions are easy to follow and some recipes look more complicated than others, but there are 188 recipes in this book and I want to try them all.

A few of my favorite features:

  • The pantry list at the beginning. It gives you a foundation on which to build. Many of the recipes assume that you have some basics on hand. But again, the emphasis is on flexibility. No points lost if you don’t buy everything on the list.
  • The theme. “Use what you’ve got to cook something great.” It’s a confidence builder and ought to be a theme for life in general.
  • The variety. Scattered throughout the book are “go-to guides” for pan sauces, salad dressings and grains. This is where the creativity and versatility come in.

It’s been a long time since I was this excited about cooking.

And I’m even more excited because due to a processing error, I received an extra copy of this cookbook and I want to share it with you!

To enter to win, leave a comment answering ONE of these questions (and leave your e-mail address, if you don’t mind so I know how to notify you if you win):

What’s your one must-have in-stock pantry item?

What one ingredient would you hate to see in your Chopped basket?

What one ingredient would you love to see in your Chopped basket?

I’m going to leave the contest open till Sunday, July 27, when I’ll pick a winner. (Because of shipping costs, I have to limit winners to continental U.S. only.)

Happy cooking!.

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Last week I wrote about my experience reading the book Restless by Jennie Allen. In the same amount of time it took me to read it, the DVD study kit has been sitting on my desk (or has been passing back and forth between me and a friend, who is leading our book club discussion). Finally, I had a chance to sit down and watch a few sessions and look over the material. (Disclaimer: I received a free DVD kit from the publisher through Shelton Interactive in exchange for my review.)

Since it’s designed for group use, it’s hard for me to give a fully accurate review, but I have some overall impressions, the first of which is: Uh-mazing.

If I thought Jennie’s passion transferred from the page to the reader, then I hadn’t seen the half of it. In front of a group of women, Jennie comes alive and, girlfriends, she can preach. She nearly had me in tears just by hearing her talk.

The kit includes an 8-session DVD, a leader guide, an individual study guide and a box of question cards (which I personally found to be an intriguing aspect of the kit).

restless DVD

The study is similar in structure to Beth Moore’s DVD studies, if you’re familiar with those. The workbook is designed for personal use throughout the week and the DVD sessions and question cards are meant to be used in a group setting.

And can I just say that this whole journey of discovery found in Restless–whether the book or the video teaching–is ridiculously scary because it’s so personal and important. And I believe that Jennie Allen believes what she’s teaching–that we’re all meant for more in this life, that God will use our experiences (even the hard ones) for His greater purposes and that we just might find ourselves in the middle of a big adventure if we allow God to show us what He’s up to. It’s one of those times that I’m almost afraid to go too deep because I might drown in the importance of it all.

I want to soak in this teaching, dig into my own experiences and uncover the connection between who God made me and what I can do in this world for Him.

If you’re looking for a group study for your church, I’d give this one an enthusiastic recommendation. And if you’ve been through it with a group or decide to do it, I’d love to hear what you think! Just be warned: there’s no skimming the surface here, unless that’s all you want to get out of it. Be prepared to do some honest digging into your life. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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restlessIt’s the rare book that takes me two months to read, especially if I like it, but such was the case with Restless by Jennie Allen. Honestly, I’d gladly take six months or a year to read this book, so full is it of reflective questions and topics for deep thinking. Two months has felt like too fast for this book. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the BookLook Bloggers program.)

And because it’s been hanging around for a while, and because summer is coming and we all want good books to read, and because it’s hitting me right where I live, I’m calling it a bonus book review on the blog this week. It won’t be light summer reading, but it might be life-changing summer reading.

Recently, I’ve told you about my restless feelings and about my journey as a writer. Both of those reflections were informed by reading Restless.

So, what is Restless? In short, it’s permission to dream. Whatever stage of life we find ourselves in, Jennie Allen encourages us to consider what we were made for. She takes readers through her own journey of discovering and rediscovering her calling in the midst of motherhood and gives us the opportunity to identify painful and meaningful experiences from our past. It was on those pages that I personally realized I’d always been a writer and that writing will be a constant in my life, no matter the other passions and pursuits I find myself exploring.

Restless is a uniquely personal journey for every reader. Our church’s book club has been reading through it, and the few times I’ve been part of those discussions, I can see that it has different meaning for everyone. (And not just for women in their 20s and 30s. Women of ALL ages can benefit from finding their purpose and passion.)

I love the way the author writes. It’s like chatting with a friend across a cafe table with coffee mugs in hand. I half expected her to reach through the pages and offer a hug like she said she wanted to do. Her words are authentic, real and challenging.

Toward the end of the book, she offers a letter from her husband to husbands about helping the women in their lives find their purpose and follow it. It was touching, and while I might hand it over to my husband to have him read it, I’m grateful that he is already on board with my passions.

So, if you pick this one up, don’t rush through it. Get a notebook and fill it with words and scribbles. Grab a friend and read it together and look over your threads, as Allen calls them, and dream together.

I think that’s what I love best about the book: its emphatic message that it’s okay to dream. Too often I think we, women, give up our dreams for our families or our families become our dreams. Sometimes that’s okay or it’s okay for a season, but for me, I know that discovering my passions and following them is a source of great fulfillment that carries over into my family. When I am doing what God made me to do, I’m a better wife and mom.

Restless confirms and encourages that, for any stage, any calling. It doesn’t discount the call to motherhood or serving families. It releases us to be whatever God made us to be.

And that, friends, is freeing.

Note: There’s also a video series available for Restless, and I have a copy to review that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet. Stay tuned for a separate review of that!

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