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Your Dream. God’s Plan.
by Tiffany Smiling
with Margot Starbuck
What were you like in fourth grade? How about when you were sixteen? Those are the ages at which Tiffany Smiling had major, life-changing medical events. She shares those stories in her book Your Dream. God’s Plan. Although these were pivotal points in Tiffany’s life, she was rescued by God to later do amazing things for His kingdom.
Your Dream. God’s Plan. is really focused on an audience of young women, but others can derive inspiration and guidance as well. She challenges young women to devote themselves to drawing close to God and then listening to the call He has for them. Her fascinating story relates miracles of how God used her and many amazing people she met to give out of their abundance and find that God always supplies enough.
Tiffany will draw you into worlds of poverty of body and spirit as she describes orphans, women rescued from sexual trafficking, extreme poverty, disease, and demons. But she also shares the many ways God answers prayers when the people of God make themselves available to be used by Him.
The book includes a section appropriate for study by groups or individuals for each chapter. There is a summarizing sentence followed by questions to help the reader personalize the content to her own life. The questions are followed by a “Dream Challenge” which focuses on how you can implement the concepts to find a closer relationship to God and thus discover His plan for your life. She finishes with a sentence or two “tip,” an additional quick take-away to help you make changes in your life to align your dream with God’s plan.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: I had so many “memorable lines” highlighted that I just pulled out the first 3/4 for use below. I am not a thirty-something or a new Christian, but there was still so much to ponder and so many possibilities for spiritual growth to attend to.
Publication: November 1, 2017 — Barbour Publishing
At the moment the “good life” was just within reach, I discovered that lasting satisfaction wasn’t found where I thought it might be. In fact, as God revealed to me that scrambling after the dream I’d bought into would never satisfy, I tasted something even more fulfilling.
As you release the barren pursuit of earthly pleasures, exchanging it for the surprising way of Jesus, you will experience lasting satisfaction as you embrace what matters most.
You were made for so much more. If you are a student or a single working woman or a missionary or a full-time mommy, there is a calling over your life that involves bringing light to the dark places—in university hallways, in work cubicles, in overseas villages, and in the rooms of your home. If you are willing to release your grip on the plans you’ve been holding for your life, God is waiting to show you His plan that is even better for you and for the people He loves.
Story of a Secret Heart
by Cassi Ellen
I have never written a truly negative review because I appreciate the hard work and time authors put into their writing and because I think it is really important to be kind. In addition, I only read books I think will be good and of interest to me. In the case of Story of a Secret Heart by Cassi Ellen, I was offered a free download and the summary sounded interesting: how a young woman survives heartbreak in a country far from home.
This memoir is supposed to be based on a true story. I soon found myself wondering how much of it is true–all but the names of the people in the book, 50%, 1%? I began to hope, desperately almost, that most of it is fiction. Cassi is supposedly a “small town girl” from the U.K. and on multiple occasions uses that mind set as the reason she wanders (usually jumps) into dangerous behaviors and relationships. She went to University and works (when she hasn’t called in sick) in a hospital. How can someone with that background drink day and night as a response to happiness, sadness, boredom, lack of confidence? How can she engage in promiscuous sex with multiple partners? How can she have relationships with known drug dealers who surround themselves with prostitutes?
There are other head-scratching conflicts in Story of a Secret Heart. One of Cassi’s boyfriends, Ben, is obsessively jealous and displays an outrageous temper if anyone flirts with her. Then one evening he encourages her to have sex with an unknown–and she does! On another occasion he texts a friend of his who thinks she is lovely and sets up a date for them, telling the man he has to give her $1000 to get herself beautiful for the date! This from a man who is jealous of flirting?
Three-fourths of the way through this book, I started doing a little researching on Cassi Ellen and this story. The only thing I came up with online is a great web of promotional posts giving the book away on varying sites. No personal information on the author. Reviews on Amazon were very good and just a little less so on Goodreads. I don’t know if I am breaking a blogger/reviewer code by giving a bad review, but I am floored at the positive reviews. I did understand the two reviewers who said it was like watching a train or car wreck: you knew it was going to happen, but you could’t make yourself look away. As I read, I kept telling Drama Queen Cassi in my head to STOP what she is doing–the drinking until she passes out, waking up in strange beds, going on drug deliveries–and start making good choices. She claims to have gained, through this process, self-confidence in the presence of the “beautiful people,” but the “respect” she gets is not because of anything she does, what she looks like or who she is. It is because she is with a very rich drug dealer and his associates living a dangerous lifestyle.
I would never recommend this book to anyone for any reason, and I’m sorry I spent time reading it. I hope it is mostly fiction and I suspect it is. I assume Cassi Ellen is a pseudonym, and that is certainly the author’s right.
Disregarding numerous typographical errors, I do have two positive things to say about the book. One is that the quotations at the end of each chapter are well chosen to accompany the text. The other relates to one possible use of this book. If you are going through a rough time, feeling mistreated and lonely, you can look at Cassi and see a vivid picture of a variety of inappropriate responses to the hard times in life and choose a better path.
My Pink Champagne Life
by Meredith Shafer
My Pink Champagne Life is an autobiographical work by Meredith Shafer who tries to celebrate all the big and little events that shape her life. The story touches on her first marriage and divorce, but focuses mainly on her marriage to Mr. Wonderful and on her blended multi-cultural family. I rarely read a book twice, but I probably will read this book again. It sparkles with wit and offers wisdom based in real experiences and a love of God.
Shafer pulls no punches about her life as she describes, often with tongue in cheek, what life is like in the (Mother) Hood—from the creativeness of her kids to the craziness of trying to juggle being a military wife, mother of four, public speaker, author, and lawyer who works from home directing a foundation.
With superlative turn of phrase, she injects humor into the telling of the messiness of everyday life and how God has carried her through. Shafer shares how God has molded her character through the good times and the bad. I wish this book had been around when I was a young mother. It will be an encouragement to women who want to be their best for God, who want to come to God without their Sunday mask on, ready to trust God to bring about changes in their lives.
Shafer has written another book which should hit the shelves on November 15, 2016. It is entitled Mad Cow: a PTSD Love Story. If you don’t want to wait until then, you can connect with the author on her website www.meredithshafer.com to buy it directly.
by Elizabeth Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards was the wife of John Edwards, a Democratic senator, an unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in 2004 and 2008, and running mate for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Elizabeth was a popular and sympathetic public figure because of the death of her son at age sixteen in a car accident, her courageous battle with breast cancer, and revelations of her husband’s ongoing affair during her health struggles.
Elizabeth Edwards published the book Saving Graces in 2006, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer and the same year her husband began his infamous affair with Rielle Hunter, which he did not publicly admit to until August of 2008. I am laying out the dates carefully because I found it a bit confusing as Edwards begins telling her story at the same place in her life that she ends this book. Also, because she was such a family-oriented person, I had to wonder at what point in her painful saga was she unknowingly being betrayed by her husband. There is no foreshadowing of the affair.
No spoiler alert is needed on this review. Edwards in this memoir is sharing very personal insights into the events of her life up through the close of her treatment for the cancer that was discovered in November of 2004. The facts along with all the rumors of the time are readily available on the Internet.
I must warn potential readers that the first half of this book is a very difficult read. Most of it deals with the very raw grief which Edwards and her family experienced upon the sudden and unexpected death of her sixteen year old son Wade in a car accident. Although the distance of time helps, when she wrote the book she was still experiencing deep sorrow over his absence. Although Elizabeth Edwards worked as a lawyer, author and speaker, the job that was most important to her was that of mother. She loved the presence of her children and their friends filling her home. She loved interacting with them. When Wade died she seemed to lose a part of herself, of her reason for living. I hope the writing of this book proved cathartic for her. Her grief is so real and so painful that I had to put it aside for a few days.
Upon returning to Saving Graces I was relieved to find a turn of focus away from the pain of Wade’s death and toward the future as Elizabeth and John Edwards decide to extend their family and continue to be deeply involved in political races. Even reading about her first battle with cancer was not as painful as the discussion of the aftermath of her son’s death. Though fearful of losing to breast cancer, Edwards knew it was something she could fight. Speaking of the diagnosis she said “…it wasn’t, by a sad and huge distance, the worst news we had ever heard. Wade’s death had spared us that…”
As the United States is currently pushing toward presidential elections, I found glimpsing the campaigns from behind the scenes to be an interesting endeavor. It made me like Elizabeth Edwards better and most of the rest of the political players and the process even less. That outcome was certainly not Edwards’ intention or attitude in writing, but I am too jaded to view the political process through her rose-colored glasses of “John (Edwards) just wants to help people” (not a direct quote, but a phrase that certainly reflects her thoughts). In my opinion, based on later evidence available after this book was written, John Edwards had one goal–to enrich himself. His desires were for money, power, sex, and the flattery of younger women. During the last half of the book, I kept wanting to yell across the pages to Elizabeth that she was living in a house of cards about to collapse on her. I wanted to warn her that her wonderful family man was going to cheat on her, destroying the family she adored so much. I wanted to shout out a danger signal–this man you thought you could count on is going to pay you the ultimate disrespect while you are on the campaign trail telling others how wonderful he is.
Saving Graces has a very appropriate subtitle: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers. In the first half of the book, the solace and strength come from others who have lost children. In the second part, she shares the outpouring of love and concern she received when she publicly announced her battle with cancer.
Elizabeth Edwards wrote another book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, which continues her story including the return of cancer and the Hunter affair. Although Edwards is a good writer and I sympathize with the tremendous pain she endured physically, mentally, and emotionally, I just don’t know if I will choose to read her detailing of it in Resilience. It seems bad enough that she had to live it.
Saving My Assassin
by Virginia Prodan
Virginia Prodan has written a riveting memoir Saving My Assassin. It was difficult to read many parts of this book because of its troubling, torturous content, but the triumphant spirit of this tiny powerhouse of a woman kept me returning to discover how God could possibly use the evil that surrounded her for His greater purpose.
Virginia Prodan was formerly a lawyer during the cruel Communist dictatorship of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Currently she is an international lawyer residing in the U.S. where she continues her work representing Christians who find themselves in legal difficulties because of their stand for Christ.
Saving My Assassin begins with a brief glimpse at a pivotal moment in Prodan’s life. That part of the story ends abruptly, but is repeated and continued later in the appropriate time sequence. This is a technique which could be annoying, but is used here to skillfully draw the reader into the critical nature of the happenings in Prodan’s life. Next we learn of mysteries and events in her younger years which help us understand how she became such a determined adult. She endured a cruel childhood which left her determined to discover the truth on all levels. Why was she so mistreated by her own family? Why did she look so different from them? Why were people in Romania not allowed to worship God when their laws said they could? What motivated the cold violence of the Securitate, the Communist government agents who stalked her, interrogated her, and threatened the lives of her and her children? Why were they so willing to torture and kill their own citizens, innocent of crimes, many of whom apparently disappeared into the night?
Although this book is written for adults, I think mature high school students would appreciate it as well. I taught high school English in a Christian school before I became an elementary public school teacher. This is the kind of book I would have used with my seniors. It would be particularly appropriate for reading in conjunction with a history or civics class as it deals with a Communist dictatorship during the Reagan era and shows the power and influence the U.S. can choose to wield in supporting Christians around the world. Because Saving My Assassin has a strong Biblical message, I assume it could not be assigned for reading in a public school setting, but I would be interested in feedback from teachers with more recent public high school experience than I have.
Saving My Assassin has a proposed publication date of June 7, 2016. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the publisher Tyndale House for allowing me to read and review this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
The period known as the Holocaust is a frequent topic of books for both adults and young adults. The book Dobryd is different in that it does not focus on characters who are arrested or imprisoned. In fact most of the story occurs in the years following the war. Told in the first person, this story details the struggles of a five year old girl as she emerges from over two years of hiding in a space too small for a standing adult. Most of her family is dead, but she still has her mother and an aunt. The reader is soon absorbed by their relationships as they begin to integrate into a Poland that is very different from the one they hid from. Their rescuer is Yuri, a Russian soldier who plays a pivotal role in helping young Ann relate to her new world and provides stability for her. Dobryd shows us the best and the worst of people and how they have a long lasting impact on Ann and her family.
Dobryd is classified as an autobiographical novel as the author was very young when the story begins and much is retold from the memories of others. It reads like fiction, but has the authenticity of history. Dobryd would be an excellent addition to a unit on the Holocaust or World War II. It invites comparisons to books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank that are typically enjoyed by students in learning about this period. Dobryd offers opportunities to feel with Ann the discrimination she experienced based on religion and her family’s former social standing. We get to learn of her rapidly disappearing Polish heritage and of the geographical struggles Poland underwent as a nation being divided by its neighbors as one of the spoils of war.