Home » Nonfiction
Category Archives: Nonfiction
A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson
The Appalachian Trail, a little over 2,000 miles of challenging terrain, is a test that hikers of all ages, genders, and experience levels attack in various ways. There are parking lot visitors; they drive in, look around a bit and perhaps picnic, but do not actually hike the trail. Section hikers traverse parts of the trail at various times with a few completing the whole trail over the course of a lifetime. Then there are a few hardy souls who are full thru-hikers; they keep at it from south to north until they complete the trail.
As you might imagine, hiking the Appalachian Trail is an endeavor that requires a lot of planning and the purchase of expensive equipment to get the lightest weight gear possible. Carrying a forty pound backpack all day over rough terrain with formidable ascents and descents is a difficult task indeed. Author Bill Bryson who has written a number of travel books relates in A Walk in the Woods his experiences on the Appalachian Trail with Stephen Katz, a former school chum he had traveled around Europe with twenty-years prior. Much of the book describes the harsh realities of the hike and the delightful relief of their occasional forays into civilization to replenish supplies and sleep in a real bed. Some of the book relates their changing relationship as they confront the trials of the trail together as well as anecdotes about the interesting people they meet along the way.
Bryson’s writing style is comfortable. The descriptions are detailed without being overblown, and there is just enough history of the trail to give the reader an understanding of why it is the way it is. Often humorous, it provides an interesting read taking the reader into a once in a lifetime experience on the Appalachian Trail.
Notes: Some profanity
Publication: December 26, 2006 (first published May 5, 1998)—Anchor Books
But even men far tougher and more attuned to the wilderness than Thoreau were sobered by its strange and palpable menace. Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as “so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.” When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.
I was beginning to appreciate that the central feature of life on the Appalachian Trail is deprivation, that the whole point of the experience is to remove yourself so thoroughly from the conveniences of everyday life that the most ordinary things—processed cheese, a can of pop gorgeously beaded with condensation—fill you with wonder and gratitude.
And all the time, as we crept along on this absurdly narrow, dangerous perch, we were half-blinded by flying snow and jostled by gusts of wind, which roared through the dancing trees and shook us by our packs. This wasn’t a blizzard; it was a tempest.
You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power
by Max Lucado
The focus is on Jesus. The focus is always on Jesus in Max Lucado’s writing—on how much God loves YOU, enough to send His Son Jesus to cover your sins with His shed blood. The God of the universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. That is the message of You Are Never Alone.
Max Lucado’s style of writing is so appealing; it’s like sitting down with an old friend who loves you and has great anecdotes and wisdom to share. He has a way with words. Even his acknowledgements section, often the boring part of a book, is a masterpiece of prose. Lucado can paint word pictures that make you feel you are right there in that hospital waiting room with a hurting mom or having a fish breakfast on the beach with Jesus, risen from the dead, and Peter who denied him. The writing can grip your heart as you see yourself as Jesus does, make you smile as you respond to the humor in a situation, and bring you to your knees as you realize the enormity of God’s love for you.
You Are Never Alone weaves anecdotes Lucado has collected along the way with Scriptural lessons from the book of John in the New Testament. He writes in everyday language with inspiration that will keep you turning pages. Look for theological soundness that never seems pompous and scenarios that depict life as we know it in vivid language we understand. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek that you are not meant to take literally but which elucidate the heart meaning of the passages. He jumps from Jesus cooking “fish tacos” for His disciples to earlier references of art restoration as Jesus wipes away “layers of guilt and shame” in Peter’s heart with a “cotton swab of grace.” Lucado makes these complex connections seamlessly, and the reader emerges with a new understanding of the old story of God’s redemption of man.
This inspirational book can be devoured as a whole, read chapter by chapter over several days, or studied in depth using the “Questions for Reflection” prepared by Andrea Lucado. This section occupies one quarter of the text and takes the reader through thought provoking questions that encourage you to invest yourself, including your imagination and feelings, in the study which never strays from the Scripture. This book is an examination of the themes and miracles found in the Gospel of John. It is inspirational, humorous, and insightful. You Are Never Alone is yet another of Max Lucado’s books that will encourage you to trust in God during life’s storms.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Publication: September 15, 2020—Thomas Nelson
If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter. But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him then even the smallest incidents take on significance.
John did the math: the stone rolled away, the now-tenantless tomb, the linens in their original state. Only one explanation made sense. Jesus himself did this! He passed through the burial wrap as if it were a sunrise mist.
Call me simple, but I think God is a good Father. I think he knows something about life. And I think he invites us to take the step, to take the plunge, to jump—not into a pool but into a relationship with him that is vibrant, joyous, and, yes, fun!
Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking
by Anjuli Paschall
A spiritual journey is such a personal adventure. Anjuli Paschall shares hers in the book Stay. She also reaches out to other women encouraging them to lean into God through the irritations of daily life and the times of actual trauma and to stay with the pain of hard places because you’ll find God there. She suggests that, instead of building up walls of protection and withdrawing from the fray or working harder to force things to happen, we need to stay with Jesus and “drink life-giving water.” With intriguing chapter titles like “The Guard Shack: An Invitation to Make Mistakes” and “Old Spaghetti Factory: An Invitation to Hold On,” this book is filled with anecdotes and Paschall’s descriptions of how God led her to grow spiritually.
Paschal is a good writer and very effective at drawing the reader into her frame of mind as she navigates the various circumstances in her life. I highlighted many passages and agreed with most of the things she said. I am amazed at the number of turns in her life journey. She is the mother of five, wife of a pastor, photographer, founder of a social media site that helps other moms in truly desperate straits, and a spiritual counselor. Now add writer to that list.
Realizing that I am isolating statements that come from a rich context, I feel I must point out what I perceive to be a major conflict. Towards the end of the book, the author states “My one and only purpose in life is to be loved by God.” I disagree with that and she does too as earlier in the book she states: “We all have one calling. One deep, right, true, foundational calling in life—to love God and to love others.” That philosophy is found in the Bible in Matthew 22 in the New Testament and in Exodus 20 and Leviticus 19 in the Old Testament. Although, I have a few points of disagreement, in general I find this book to be refreshing in the author’s honesty and transparency. She doesn’t try to appear to have it all together. She shares her fears and vulnerabilities as she also shares her hopes and dreams. She encourages women to abandon shame over never being enough and stay the course resting and trusting in Jesus.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bethany House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Self-Help
Notes: Discussion questions are included.
Publication: March 31, 2020—Bethany House
I’m learning to be okay with my mistakes. They don’t define me or determine my worth, but simply direct me to God.
I believe we all can be placeholders of heaven for others. We can create a seat at a table, offer a single cup of coffee, leave bread on a doorstep, or clear an hour in our schedule. God will continually bring us people who are desperately in need of home. If we can embrace each other’s differences, move toward the disabled, welcome the foreigner, laugh with a child, talk with the elderly, all kinds of heaven can burst open like a flower in bloom here on earth. Even the tiniest spaces can become a place for others to taste eternity.
No amount of getting, accomplishing, or achieving will ever satisfy the soul. The soul focused on gaining power, influence, and admiration will only grow hungrier.
In the Land of Blue Burqas
by Kate McCord
What would it be like to live in a country where the language, religion, and culture are extremely different from your own, a country like Afghanistan? Kate McCord raised support from friends and embarked on what was destined to be a five year adventure as a project manager, arranging for and supervising programs to help the local people. In the process, she found ways to interact within the cultural norms which, if violated, could result in penalties including physical abuse, expulsion, or execution.
Although she could not openly evangelize, she spent much time there having tea with women, and sometimes men, sharing stories to illustrate the teachings of the Honorable Jesus who is regarded as a prophet in Islam. Those stories included parables Jesus himself shared with His followers. In recounting tales they could relate to and by the way she lived her life, Kate was able to show her Muslim neighbors and friends a God who loves them, unlike Allah, who is never associated with love. Allah’s followers obey him according to the interpretations of the local mullah in a most legalistic fashion.
Kate spent time learning the language and culture. Led by the Holy Spirit, she developed culturally sensitive ways to share difficult concepts like the Trinity. She lived as an Afghan woman, learning clothing requirements and social rules such as where to sit on a bus and when to make eye contact. Clearly a foreigner with her own religion, she adapted their customs to her own in a way that respected both traditions. Kate faced challenges in deciding whom to help in the most culturally appropriate way and looked to the locals to ascertain their attitudes toward individuals seeking aid. Knowing she could not revolutionize a society in which none of her many female friends said their husband had never beaten them, she nevertheless planted seeds of generosity, good attitudes, and kindness which helped the women in their relationships as well as showed them a side of the Honorable Jesus that they did not know thus drawing them to Him.
In the Land of Blue Burqas is the canvas on which Kate McCord paints a remarkably positive picture of Afghanistan and its citizens in spite of their dislike of most foreigners and regardless of the many brutal aspects of their culture. I came away with a clearer understanding of why the country vehemently resists change and is so hostile to non-Muslims. I also emerge from this enlightening book grateful that I live in a country where I am free to choose to worship a loving God.
Category: Evangelism, Christian Missions
Notes: I had a difficult time choosing the memorable lines I wanted to share. Sound bites and even longer quotes don’t do this story justice. I urge you to read the book to get a more complete understanding. It is a fascinating read. It also stimulates me to want to read about how Islam plays out in other countries.
Publication: May 1, 2012—Moody Publishing
Still, my greatest fear in the country has always been that I would be kidnapped and sold to some warlord as a fourth or fifth wife, relegated to household and sexual slavery behind a twelve-foot, mud-brick wall and locked gate. Even the mildest stories of Afghan women’s lives haunt me.
Our very presence challenges the power of the mullahs and the worldview of our neighbors. It’s one thing to hate and reject the voiceless, faceless masses of pig-eating, alcohol-drinking sons of Satan from the other side of the world—mythic caricatures interpreted by the mullahs through history and religion.
But we Christian foreigners are flesh and blood with eyes and voices, laughter and tears, stories and faith. When Afghans meet us, see our lives, hear our stories, and recognize our humanness, conflicting worldviews collide. The safe box of well-defined ideological fortress-orthodoxy trembles, walls collapse, and doors open.
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book
by Nelda Hoyt Banek
The chronological scope of the Bible is huge, spanning approximately 4,228 years. Have you ever wished for a collection of Bible stories that covers that length of time completely and deals with the complexities of the Bible in an understandable way? Obviously a labor of love, the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book by Nelda Hoyt Banek is just such a book. At 649 pages, it is a large volume containing 312 stories and over 270 incredibly detailed engravings from 19th century folios. Until you actually examine the format, it can seem overwhelming, but it has an exceptional structure which can be used by individuals, in family units, or by schools as a complete curriculum. Parents who homeschool could use this for the Biblical portion of their curriculum. If the book is used cyclically as children mature, students will glean new knowledge each time they are exposed to the stories and discuss the truths found therein.
The introduction provides tips for sharing the stories with preschoolers in a family setting. A special mark divides longer stories into two more manageable pieces. Families can expect to read through the book in two years. Classrooms could cover the material in three years of 36 weeks per school year. In both instances, the pace would be one section every day for four days a week.
I have been personally studying the story of Joseph’s life, so I chose to closely examine those passages in the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book. The dysfunctional family story and the first mention of Joseph are found in story #21, but the first story that focuses on Joseph is #25, “Joseph Sold into Egypt,” based on Genesis 37. The Scriptural reference for each story is noted at the beginning of the account. A handy, but not intrusive, pronunciation guide is included at the bottom of pages for each story. There are eight stories dealing with Joseph. They are all well-written and true to the Scriptures from which they are drawn in Genesis.
Because the storybook is arranged chronologically, the next story concerns Job and is taken, of course, from the book of Job, but also from Ezekiel and James in an effort to place this account in the larger context of the whole Bible. The next story returns to Exodus with the tale of Moses’ birth.
In order to create a full curriculum for Christian schools or Sunday Schools, Nelda Banek has also created a series of workbooks for student use. The workbooks for grades K5-3 are called Bible Story Lessons. Scripture Studies are intended for 4th grade through adult learners. Upon examination of the workbooks, you can see that the curriculum is, indeed, rich and the lessons could be repeated in a two or three year cycle. There are six workbooks for each age range.
I am pleased that the student workbooks include both the story and the followup questions for discussion that comprise the large hardback storybook. That inclusion adds a lot of flexibility and support to teacher and learner. The activities in the appropriately named Scripture Studies are, as they should be, more advanced and complex than those found in Bible Story Lessons. I do think the teacher of younger students within both age ranges for each workbook would need to provide some support in completing the activities while the older students in each age range would be able to work more independently depending on their reading levels and experiences with Bible study.
My survey of Bible Story Lessons (Book A: Creation to Sinai and Job) revealed a variety of interesting activities. As an example, the workbook activities for the Joseph stories are a dot to dot, word search, matching descriptions with pictures, hidden words, fill in the blanks, secret letter puzzle, and color by description. All would serve to reinforce the information provided by the stories.
Looking at Scripture Studies (Book E: Nativity to Zacchaeus), I surveyed the activities for the first six lessons which cover Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Activities for these older students send the learner to the Bible to explore the original text for a variety of interesting fill in the blank activities. These activities help the student to delve more deeply into the Scriptures as the source of information and to understand the theological implications of the stories. The illustrations found in the hardback book are also included in the workbooks and sometimes are a part of the activities.
The end of Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book includes notes, a chart of the kings and prophets, index of proper names, timeline of Biblical history, illustration of the Tabernacle, the marching order of the tribes and depiction of their camping locations, four maps, and a list of resources. All of these are helpful aids for students of God’s word. According to the author in describing the curriculum: “Teacher’s guides are available for each book in these series, containing instructions for pacing the curriculum, the reprinted stories, an answer key to the student worksheets, discussion and short-answer review questions, review game ideas, and memory work suggestions.”
I taught in a Christian school for two years before I entered the public school arena. I would have loved to use this curriculum with my students. Having taught grades K-adult in my thirty-four years as an educator, I can attest that this is a well thought out curriculum by an author who is both a Biblical scholar and professional educator. More importantly, as I peruse its pages, I can tell that it was prayerfully constructed to provide teachers and parents with a tool that lays out the whole story of mankind in a Biblical perspective from the creation and fall of humanity to redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book for anyone wishing to read an easily understandable overview of the Bible through engaging stories or to teach Biblical truths to others in the same way. The workbooks are an excellent addition to help students focus on the facts of the stories and dig deeper into the Scriptures.
I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Nelda Hoyt Banek, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Nonfiction, Christian, Religion, Theology
Notes: 1. For best pricing, I suggest you contact the publisher at www.aelfredrex.com.
2. Suggested ages:
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book—all ages
Bible Story Lesson (workbook)—Ages 5-9
Scripture Studies (workbook)—Ages 9-13
Publication: September 1, 2014—Ælfred Rex Publications
Sample Quotes Taken from Joseph’s Story:
As they ate, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite and Midianite traders coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices, balm, and myrrh to sell in Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What do we get out of killing our brother secretly? Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites. He is our brother and our own flesh. Let us not hurt him ourselves.”
Then Potiphar was angry, and he put Joseph in the king’s prison. But the Lord was with Joseph there, too, and caused the keeper of the prison to look on him with favor. The prison keeper gave Joseph charge of all the other prisoners. He did not have to check up on anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him. Whatever Joseph did, the Lord made it prosper.
Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World
by Max Lucado
Written and published three years before the Corona Virus pandemic, Anxious for Nothing reads like it was penned for these desperate times. Author Max Lucado, by his own admission, is not perfect; he has experienced many of the same problems you have. You will enjoy his writing style which is simultaneously down to earth and exquisite in his turn of phrase. This book is filled with Scriptures that will encourage you during life’s difficult times. In it you will find examples from Lucado’s life and encounters with others in the form of anecdotes that illustrate Biblical principles. There are many references to the wisdom and guidance found in the book of Philippians in the New Testament, but Max’s wording makes them easy to remember. He shares them as practical steps that will lead to a life with more calm and less chaos.
If I had to choose one book I would encourage everyone to read this year, it would be Anxious for Nothing. I usually include in my blog posts three memorable lines from the books I review. Never have I had a harder time including only three. Having heard Lucado’s online video study of this book, I can mentally hear him patiently, enthusiastically, and with understanding encouraging his readers. I can see the twinkle in his eyes as he shares one of his “secrets”: “God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.” I am grateful for the opportunity to share this book with you.
Category: Christian, Nonfiction, Self-Help
Notes: Included at the end of the book are “Questions for Reflection” which could be used for individual or group study. There is also a useful guide that includes, by chapter, the Scriptures that are referenced by Lucado in the text. It would be very handy to use it to bring to mind God’s promises and truths as you are working through your personal times of chaos and daily struggles.
Publication: September 12, 2017—Thomas Nelson
The Lord is near! You are not alone. You may feel alone. You may think you are alone. But there is never a moment in which you face life without help. God is near.
Find a promise that fits your problem, and build your prayer around it. These prayers of faith touch the heart of God and activate the angels of heaven. Miracles are set into motion.
No more “if only.” It is the petri dish in which anxiety thrives. Replace your “if only” with “already.” Look what you already have. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one, and prepare yourself for a new day of joy.
What They Meant for Evil: How a Lost Girl of Sudan Found Healing, Peace, and Purpose in the Midst of Suffering
What They Meant for Evil: How a Lost Girl of Sudan Found Healing, Peace, and Purpose in the Midst of Suffering
by Rebecca Deng with Ginger Kolbaba
We hear reports on the news of massacres of innocents in various countries around the globe and stories of displaced men, women, and children who become refugees and try to survive in crowded refugee camps. Those stories are usually sound bites, quickly discarded for the next big story. Rebecca Deng, a survivor of the horrific Bor Massacre of 1991 in Sudan, gives us the perspective of a six year old girl in What They Meant for Evil. We see her confusion as she flees with family walking through the wilds. She becomes an orphan as those she loves most are killed and grows up in a refugee camp. The UN provides a small amount of maize, without seasoning, to sustain the population. The bathroom is an open area on the other side of a dry riverbed with nothing to provide privacy. I had always imagined a refugee camp as a temporary facility, but Rebecca lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya for eight years before she benefited from a special program that relocated her to the U.S. and placed her with an adoptive family. Many of her Sudanese relatives remained in the camp long after that.
In the latter part of the book, we learn of Rebecca’s life as an adult and her spiritual growth as she comes to terms with her identity and the trauma of her past. She uses her education, her experiences, and her faith in God to help other refugees recover as she sees God’s plan unfold to bring good out of what others intended for evil.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Faith Words for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Memoir, Nonfiction
Publication: September 8, 2020—Faith Words
That was what the war did to the tens of thousands of innocent children who lost everything—it took their childhood, their innocence, their families, their homes, even their lives.
More crowds meant less food for everybody. And less food meant more violence. Crime seemed to be everywhere. People began bullying other people, stealing their food, and beating and raping them. These things were unheard of for my people before coming here. My language doesn’t even have a word for rape.
…I had learned that God doesn’t always keep us from experiencing trauma, but his unseen presence is with us, strengthening us.
But there’s another aspect of forgiveness that we too often forget or neglect, and that is forgiving ourselves. If we want true forgiveness, we must forgive ourselves for the ways in which we have failed ourselves. We do more damage to ourselves when we believe the lies others have said about us and the lies the enemy whispers into our minds—the lies that tell us we are no good, we are worthless, we can never experience true freedom or true love.
Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Nest
by Jill Savage
Parents, but mothers in particular, spend almost twenty years preparing their children to fly out of the nest and into the world of adulthood. It turns out that the releasing can be as hard as the preparation. There are issues of control, especially if you have boomerang kids. Mothers are good at piling guilt on themselves when things don’t work out perfectly or as expected for their kids. Grandkids are a blessing, but they come with their own set of issues. The list goes on and on.
Jill Savage, a speaker and teacher of the Bible, who has endured her own personal trials, shares Biblical wisdom and personal anecdotes to illustrate her viewpoints on various subjects related to the “empty nest” in Empty Nest, Full Life. The first half of the book is entitled “Let Go!” and discusses the problems encountered during the empty nest season. It speaks of letting go of expectations, guilt, opinions, traditions, your child’s problems, and your own idols (the things that steal your attention away from God, the things you use to identify yourself). Part Two is called “Hold On!” and within that section lie ideas for what to actually do during that season of the empty nest. Savage encourages you to grab hold of a new mission field, passions, and friendships. She encourages you to revitalize your marriage and your relationship with God.
Each chapter closes with a truth from the Bible, an action step, and a prayer. The book itself ends with encouragement for the next season, a list of questions to help you identify current or past baggage that has affected your marriage, reference notes, and a discussion guide for a leader to use in a small group setting.
My personal nest has been empty for a number of years so I am not approaching or in the middle of an empty nest crisis. I would imagine, however, that this book would be helpful for those wondering how to deal with their new found “freedom.”
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Parenting and Family
Publication: August 6, 2019—Moody Publishers
Expectations will get us in trouble every time. They set us up for disappointment and leave us feeling disconnected.
Studies indicate the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of twenty-five. Yes, that means that our kids are now setting their own priorities when they’re not actually fully equipped to do so.
My friend Becky says that when she’s tempted to address something with her adult son, she tries to think of how she would address it with a friend. Most of the time she realizes she wouldn’t address it with a friend at all! This helps her find self-control and pray instead.