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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Rarely do I advise people to NOT read a book. I’m a believer in reading, whatever your preferred genre, however long it takes you. But for this book, The Sacred Year by  Michael Yankoski, I feel compelled to caution you before you begin reading. It’s one of those dangerous books that will force you to ask hard questions about your life and will make you responsible for your decisions. If you’re not prepared to consider a different way of living, then don’t even think about reading this book. TSY-cover-small

That said, The Sacred Year is one of my favorite reads so far this year. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

Yankoski, who gained fame as the author of Under the Overpass, recounts his search for meaning and purpose in his faith. As a sought-after Christian speaker, Yankoski comes to a point of seeing himself as a person spread too thin with very little depth. He commits to exploring spiritual practices that act counter-culturally to the way he currently lives.

He focuses on practices like solitude, simplicity, confession, pilgrimage, gratitude and justice. There are 18 in all, and his experiences are as challenging as they are fascinating. This is not a book to rush through or read carelessly, and while it can be overwhelming to consider the kind of life Yankoski presents, he encourages readers to consider one or two of the practices for starters and begin living a life of more depth.

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I’ve enjoyed Yankoski’s writing in the past. He is an honest and captivating storyteller who doesn’t paint perfect pictures of his journey but acknowledges the hard parts and the failings. My copy of the book is already well-worn and dog-eared from the many places his words hit home. An entire section on creativity has become an agent for change in my writing life.

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Despite my earlier warning, there’s nothing to fear about this book. It hits at the heart of a longing I think many are feeling about living a life of faith, purpose and meaning. Not an easy book to read but a necessary one. Definitely among my top books for the year.

Since my words feel inadequate, check out this video for the book to help you decide if it’s for you. Then read on for more information about the author and the launch of this book.

Michael Yankoski is a writer, aspiring theologian, and urban homesteader who dreams of becoming a competent woodworker, musician, and sailor. He received his MA in theological studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a (novitate) Oblate of St. Benedict, and has authored four books. Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are pursuing PhDs at the University of Notre Dame. Michael2-small

Yankoski became jaded and disillusioned with his life as a Christian motivational speaker, feeling as though he was another act in the “Christian Carnival.” Religion started to become a façade instead of a deep, nourished, lived experience of faith. He knew he needed to stop talking about his faith and begin living and practicing it. In a sort of desperation, Michael dedicated the next year to engaging various spiritual practices, and The Sacred Year is a firsthand account of the downs and ups, the failures and successes of an honest search for answers to the human yearning for life, love, and God.

It’s time to stop talking about your faith and begin living and experiencing it.

Join Michael and #EmbraceTheSacred—seek out God at work in the mundane and attend to what God is doing in your life. Share those moments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and make sure to use the tag #EmbraceTheSacred.

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As a thank-you for ordering The Sacred Year, Michael is giving away a free ebook! Email your proof of purchase of The Sacred Year to TheSacredYear@gmail.com, and you will receive A Straightforward Guide to Three Essential Spiritual Practices ebook for FREE! Learn more here.

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Generally, when I read a book, I want it make me feel better. To escape or offer a solution to a problem. But lately, the books I’ve been reading haven’t lived up to that need.

They haven’t made me feel better but they have made me feel.

tables in wildernessAnd that’s where I am with Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost and Found Again by Preston Yancey. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

I love Yancey’s writing. His blog is one that I read whenever he posts something new. And it’s always challenging, often poetic, and downright refreshing. The book is all of that, too, in its own way. I will admit to stumbling a little in the beginning because Yancey’s writing is different than most. It’s good, just not easy. As he talks about his spiritual journey from a know-it-all Southern Baptist entering college to a questioning Anglican on the other side of college, the stories and observations roll out, sometimes chronologically, sometimes not. The first time I read Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott, I felt this sort of disconnectedness in the flow but realized as I was reading that it was all connected and related after all. This book has a similar feel.

But it’s a journey worth taking, and I found myself silently screaming “yes” to passages that reflected my own journey.

I’m telling you to notice, because at a certain point I stopped. At a certain point, I stopped  noticing that God was moving all around me, and I believe it was this lack of attention on my part, this willingness to treat common the awe of the Almighty, that would eventually arrive me to a place where God withdrew. (39)

For me, reading this book was like drinking a glass of wine. On first taste, I am startled by the taste and I almost forget that I like it. Then I drink a little more and taste the flavors buried in the glass. And by the time I finish a glass, I am satisfied by the experience and not at all sorry.

Tables in the Wilderness is a book for pilgrims and seekers, for those who don’t have faith figured out, who wonder if anyone else feels the same way. For those who question the tradition in which they were raised, who have more questions than answers. It’s one man’s spiritual journey but it contains valuable truths for those of us on our own journeys. You might not like everything he has to say, but his story is worth the telling.

 

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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.

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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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