{Review} A Draw of Kings

Spoiler alert: I highly recommend this book. Those of you who have read my earlier reviews of A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot know that I (much to my astonishment) greatly enjoyed the first two installments of The Staff and the Sword medieval fantasy trilogy. It was with a mixture of excitement and reluctance that I opened the final book when it arrived. Excitement, because I was anticipating a dramatic ending. Reluctance, because it was the ending, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to Errol, Adora, Liam, Rokha, Martin, Luis, Merodach, Cruk, Karele, and the rest of the citizens of Illustra. The reluctance didn’t last long.

The whole trilogy was about the journey that each person took – growing, changing, learning, becoming. There are external evil forces at work threatening to destroy the kingdom, but also internal forces and battles. In this final installment, the climax is reached.

The losses are many.

It seems impossibly hard.

The malus seem innumerable.

And still the battle must be fought.

I honestly didn’t know quite how the story would end. Who would become king, Liam or Errol? Who would still be alive when good finally prevailed? I would think I knew the answers, and then something would happen to make me second guess my assessment of the story. Without giving anything away, the ending of the trilogy was fully satisfying and consistent (although more abrupt than I cared for).

This was certainly a plot driven series, and it is the questions and tension that keep readers turning the pages. Even so, there were some sentence gems tucked within the action sequences. For instance, I just randomly opened the book to approximately the middle and read this:

“They will break,” he said to Ablajin. He tried to speak without attracting attention. “The longer they stare at the cave, the more fear it grows upon them.”  

  “You are right, holy Martin,” Ablajin murmured in return, “but they must conquer it themselves. Any strength I give them through my words will not last long enough to bring them through to the other side.”   (emphasis added)

This trilogy is one that I will keep on my favorites shelf  to re-read. It’s not a complex narrative like the Lord of the Rings, but as with the Lord of the Rings, there are layers to this story, layers that are only discovered with more than one reading. And these books are good enough to merit more than one reading.

5 out of 5 stars

*This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

7 Ways to Have An Amazing 2014

Do you have any dreams for 2014? What are they? Have you prayed about them? Talked them over with others? Put them in the form of goals with a timeline and action steps?

DSC04298

I don’t know about you, but I often get stuck on the dreams that truly do require others. A single girl can’t snap her fingers and be married. A couple can’t always just say ‘We want a baby’ and have one appear.  An author who thought he did all the hard work of completing a manuscript now faces the even harder task of finding a publisher. The college graduates with the magical pieces of paper can’t always find the jobs that they are qualified for. The reconciliation of a soured marriage or friendship ultimately relies on two people softening, not merely the desires of one person. And on it goes.

It’s easy to get discouraged and give up when the final results are outside of yourself.

    But isn’t that always the case?

 With the constant positive talk of our culture about how we can reach our dreams and do everything we set our minds to doing, we can forget that we’re not the ultimate authority on our own lives. For a Christian, such thoughts are unbiblical (see Proverbs 19:21, among others); for anyone, it is a dangerous thing to rely on your own strength and power. The fall back to reality can be a painful one. Do people need to hear that they can do more than they think they can do and be encouraged to get outside of their comfort zones? Yes. Absolutely, yes!

However, we also need to hear truths about our limitations, and how to work with them.

Here are seven things to consider as you look ahead to the rest of the year:

   1.     Not everything you want to do will fit in the category of a goal, but that isn’t a reason to give up. Instead, make some goals that fit your dreams.  

 The college graduate doesn’t have the final say in whether he gets the job at his dream company. He does, however, have a say in many of the factors that will influence those with the power to hire him on. Instead of giving up on the objective of working for a particular company, he can write down that his desire is to have a job with that company. Underneath his dream, he can write down specific goals: carefully read the company website and learn about the people who work there, practice interview skills with a friend, update his resume, and so on.

 2.       Write down your goals.

A goal unwritten is a wish unfulfilled. There is something powerful in writing down your dreams.  It helps you take ownership and responsibility for your plans, giving you a framework for living your days. It can be scary sometimes to admit to what you want and commit it to paper, but your dreams will remain perpetual wishes if you don’t take that first step towards getting them out of your brain and making them happen.

 3.       People: you can’t keep your goals without them.

You will need other people as you set out to achieve your dreams. Telling others your goals is the next step after writing them down. Others will hold you accountable (“Hey, what are you doing with that cupcake? Aren’t you on a sugar detox?”), cheer you on (“You’re doing great! I don’t even have to put in my earplugs when you practice your violin now!”), help you out (“Hear, I’ll proof-read you’re pepar fore yew”), and sometimes partner with you (“That’s awesome that you want to memorize Psalm 119 this year! Let’s do it together!”)

Your friends can help keep you grounded in enjoying the everyday even as you look ahead to the future. They may also provide the needed voice of reality that you don’t want to hear: “Hey, you told me that you wanted to prioritize your marriage, but you keep taking on more work projects instead of spending time with your wife, and then you unwind by turning on the TV. How can you bring some balance here?”

4.       Your goals may need to be revised. And again.

There are times that I find myself not wanting to make goals because my dreams will change, and it’s downright embarrassing to admit that that goal you were so excited about a month ago has altered. Here’s a truth to embrace: sometimes, we need to persevere and keep going when our feelings don’t match our commitment. And sometimes, we need to accept that changes come and let go of what doesn’t fit in our life for this particular season. (This is another good reason to surround yourself with people you trust as you work towards your goals: discerning the difference between the time to persevere and the time to move on sometimes requires outside perspective)

 5.       Don’t try to do it all.

Contrary to popular opinion, busyness is not next to godliness. It is not a virtue to respond to ‘How are you?’ with ‘I am SO busy…’  Since when is doing a hundred things in a mediocre fashion preferable to doing ten things well?

If you struggle with priorities and scheduling, the best thing I can tell you to do is read Kevin DeYoung’s book ‘Crazy Busy’. It’s a little book that communicates some big truths, and is one that most of us would do well to read and apply.

  6.       When it’s hard, take small steps.

This year, I’m excited about the months to come. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and need to spend some time settling down the possibilities in my mind, prioritizing, and praying.

The beginning of 2013 was rather different. The direction that I thought my life was going did a 180, and what was solid and sure turned out to not be quite as solid as I thought it was. Maybe you’re going through a time of change this year, the sort of change that was forced on you and not chosen. Now is the time to give yourself some grace. Try some new things. But take it slowly. Don’t jump into a  million things at once. Embrace the positive growth that comes with the challenges, even when the process hurts.

 7. You can do more than you think you can.

‘You can do more than you think you can’ is not a negation of ‘Don’t try to do it all’. Take a risk with two big ideas, projects, or dreams instead of doing twenty small things that you know you can easily accomplish. My challenge to you is to consider this question: ‘how many things in my life have I  given up on before I started because I wasn’t sure I could accomplish them?’ Or, ‘how many things have I given up on because they would take a long time to finish?’ Remember the saying ‘the time passes anyway.’ Pray until you feel confident in your direction. Then get a group of people around you who believe both in your ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal’ (thank you Jim Collins for that term). But most importantly, get people around you who believe in YOU. These people will be the ones to cheer you on and say with all sincerity that you can do this. They’re the ones who will pray for you, come alongside you to help where they can, and give you the hard truths. They will build you up in love and encouragement. At the end, they will be the ones there with you to celebrate your achievement.

Do you have any special dreams for 2014? If so, I’d love to hear about them! Please feel free to comment here or send me a message.

{Review} Pilgrimage by Lynn Austin

Some books have beautiful covers and terrible contents. Other books present the ugliest face possible to the world and yet hold beautiful treasure within. Then there are books like Pilgrimage, where the beautiful cover complements the gentle yet pointed words inside.

Journey with Lynn Austin to Israel as she faces her spiritual dryness with honesty and conviction, and fills up with the living water of Christ. I smiled when I read these lines in the very first chapter: “My imagination is the problem, you see, especially when it collides with God’s plan for my life and the lives of my children.” Isn’t that the truth for all of us? That we experience discontent when we start dictating to God what our lives should look like, instead of letting Him speak to us and guide our every day?

Lynn’s background as a bestselling author of historical fiction, including some novels set in Old Testament Israel, shines clearly through the pages of this book. Every page brought either new concepts or fresh perspectives on things I already knew, as she expertly wove the story of her journey through Israel into the larger story of each one of us, on our own pilgrimages with the Lord.

 

No, I have not been to Israel. But I have journeyed there with Ms. Austin, and thrilled to every new mental ‘aha!’ as I made new connections about Jewish culture and Christ (The excellent book Jesus on Every Page is a great prelude to Pilgrimage.) I pulled out my Bible and followed along, picturing the scene, imagining anew. I whispered the beautiful prayers at the end of each chapter, and praised God as I thought about His faithfulness through my whole journey with Him, in all of its twists and turns.

There is no trip more wonderful than knowing we’re walking with God, wherever on the earth we may be. These earthly trips though can lead to a deeper understanding of Who God is, and who we are.  I certainly plan on tucking this beautiful little paperback onto my shelf so that, sometime in the future, I can review this particular journey to Israel, and be refreshed on my own pilgrimage.

5 out of 5 stars

This book was provided to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are entirely my own.

{Review} The Secret Keeper by Beverly Lewis

There is a cat perched on my lap who is making typing a challenge, to say the least. He apparently wants to put his opinion down as well (and isn’t it just perfectly stereotypical for a female wordsmith to be sitting at a computer with a cat for company?)

But on to the book. The Secret Keeper by Beverly Lewis is yet another novel in a long string of the fairly new genre of Amish fiction, sometimes humorously referred to as ‘bonnet rippers’. Mrs. Lewis was one of the pioneers of this genre; I counted 32 Amish-themed books listed to her credit. I must admit that I enjoyed the first several of these books that I read, but the enjoyment progressively faded as the formulaic story became all too predictable. Here is a point in favor of this book: it is not predictable. Amish fiction has a habit of dealing with an Amish young person caught in dilemma between following the heart (leading towards either romance or the ‘English’ world, or both) and following the rule of the Amish church or the family (or both). In this case the story follows an unusual arc. The heroine of the story is a young – by the non-Amish standards at least- woman who desires to become a part of the Amish world, to the point of being baptized into the church. That caught my attention. After all, why are the Amish fiction books so popular? Clearly it’s because those outside of the Plain community have a fascination with the faith and principles of the Amish; even, dare I say especially, their simplicity.

The good points of The Secret Keeper are not hard to find. The storyline itself is intriguing, the characters flawed and lovable. In fact, you will recognize some of them if you have read other Beverly Lewis novels. The good news though is that it’s entirely your choice whether you want to jump into the other 30 some books by this author. The Secret Keeper stands well on its own. I greatly enjoyed immersing myself in Jenny’s journey as she learns the Amish ways, is relieved of some of her idealistic views of what the Amish community is like, and struggles to discern God’s voice in her life.  The interwoven themes, both explicit and implicit, were thought-provoking.

Nevertheless, there were some points that I didn’t care for. In some ways, the story felt simplistic. I wanted to know more about some of the details about the Amish beliefs and how Jenny decided that they squared up with the Bible and how she was willing to live her life. The ending felt rushed, even as the first half seemed to move along rather slowly. The writing was more telling  rather than showing – thinking of the famous ‘moonlight on the glass’ example by Chekhov. Still, those are small things, and mostly due to style preference. The story itself is a worthy one.

All in all it is a good, light read, with the sort of plot twists that could make confirmed Amish fiction fans look at their own lives in new ways. This Englisher girl enjoyed her sojourn with the Amish, if even for a few short hours.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book was given to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are entirely my own.

{Reviews} 101 Secrets for Your Twenties + Wrecked

Being twenty and being ‘wrecked’ aren’t linked. Much.

Well, aside from the fact that both books were written for my generation, which is obvious both by the style and content of the writing. Which is to say, I just recently spent a chunk of my reading time immersed in two very contemporary works, neither of which are likely to become classics of any sort. It’s about enough to make me want to go refresh my brain with some Tozer or Spurgeon or Calvin or Lewis.  But I digress- and in the interests of fairness and honesty, I have to admit that I found things to like in both of these books.

101 Secrets for Your Twenties by Paul Angone

This is the book that I picked up and swore I wouldn’t like, because it looked so gimmicky. It’s also the book that saw me laughing all the way through, accompanied by occasional sighs and rueful nods of acknowledgement.  I sent it to a friend this past week- not my copy but a new one, because my copy was one that I wanted to have handy for a pick-me-up on days where I’m feeling stuck or depressed about work, writing, dreams, the future, or just life in general.

As the title says, this book is made up of 101 ‘secrets’. Some are wise and practical (#19: Our plans aren’t the problem. Our timeline is.) Others are laugh-out-loud funny even without Angone’s commentary (#5: Don’t ever, ever check Facebook when you’re A. Depressed. B. Drinking. C. Depressed and drinking. D. Unemployed. E. Struggling with being blessed with singleness while some of your friends seem to be blessed with a Brad Pitt lookalike and that blazing white picket fence shining with the glory of the American Dream on steroids. OR – F. Anytime after 9:17 p.m.)  Others share gems of spiritual wisdom (#50: God in HIs infinite mercy saves us from syllabus syndrome.)

The overall picture of this book is one of hope. It combines truth and motivation for keeping on keeping on, humor, and insights into improving your situation- or, perhaps, seeing your situation in a different light.  Who among us doesn’t need smiles along the path of life? If you’re twenty-something, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. If you’re not, do a friend/family member a favor and give it to them as a gift. We’re probably low on free cash and would greatly appreciate it. (Secret #8: Those friends who are uber-successful in their 20s are the outlier- not the norm)

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wrecked by Jeff Goins

From the back cover: “Perhaps never being the same again isn’t such a bad thing.” That’s the core message of Wrecked, and Jeff Goins is a capable and earnest author, making it an enjoyable read.

Very little in the beginning of the book was new (though I was about brought to tears in the story about Wosne in Michael Hyatt’s introduction- don’t skip it) It’s the usual things you would expect: stepping outside of your comfort zone, awakening to a world outside of yourself, giving, sacrifice. He talks about moving forward past the experience instead of just seeking more emotional highs. He speaks of the fact that, despite the sterotype, giving doesn’t make you feel good. The more you give, the more hurt you will feel with the injustice, pain, and just plain sin of this world. Your heart will break, and it will be the most beautiful kind of broken you can imagine.

It’s all written well, but it’s similar to messages you will hear and see in other places. Then you will reach the mid-way point of the book.  Jeff begins talking about seasons, about commitments, about the needs you can’t meet. He speaks of jobs that you don’t want, of restlessness, of bringing your stories and passion to those in your everyday life. And here you will find most of the gold in this book. It’s worth a read- for anyone, young or old(er).

4 out of 5 stars.

{Review} The Journal

When your father has a resemblance to Abraham Lincoln and makes some of his living by doing presentations as the aforementioned president, you pick up some knowledge about the Civil War. (You also get some interesting questions like ‘I didn’t know Abe had a daughter’, or ‘What’s it like living with the President?’ … but I digress)

So, when I saw ‘The Journal’  by Beth Harlow listed as an available book to review, I was curious and requested it. Written as a journal – hence the title- this little book is a piece of historical fiction based on the years of the Civil War. From time to time the journal crosses back and forth between Confederate and Union lines as it gets lost in battle or other things occur (I won’t spoil the story!)

It’s a short read, coming in at 64 pages, but something about that makes it feel more authentic, as if it really could have been written by some men struggling through the war. Historically, it seems to be right on, but the strength of the book mostly lies in briefly getting to know the men whose hands it passes through. It one way, they are one-dimensional characters: it is impossible to have a 64 page book written from multiple perspectives, and journal style no less, that is anything other than surface level deep into the lives of the characters. On the other hand, each character was distinctly different, and as in any good novel, I found myself caring about these men as I read through their stories. There were good and bad mingled, on both sides, and watching their faith story or lack thereof throughout seemed very true to what I’ve read of the spiritual lives of men on the battlefield.

I honestly think one of the best uses for this book would be as a supplement to homeschooling studies or a read-aloud family book. So often, books on the Civil War are very one sided, whether they be novels or non-fiction. Note that I said ‘Civil War’ and not ‘War of Northern Agression’- just one example of how word choice betrays bias and belief and, typically, what part of America you are from. What is useful about this book is that it is historical fiction that is true to history, covers the whole war, and reasonably presents how men on both sides were feeling. It makes them human instead of abstract ideologies and ‘all [Confederates/Union] were horrible people’. Read alongside a textbook and/or a non-fiction book on the Civil War (or two).

4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

{Reviews} Bringing the Biblical World to Life

Sunday seems an appropriate day to post reviews of the following three books: ‘I am Ruth’ (a full-color look at the Old Testament book of Ruth, published by New Leaf Press),  ‘Thirty Days in the Land with Jesus: A Holy Land Devotional’ (published by Moody Publishers) and ‘The World of Jesus: Making Sense of the People and Places of Jesus’ Day (published by Bethany House Publishers)

 I Am Ruth: A Story of Loss, Love & Redemption

The biblical story of Ruth has always held a fascination for me. As one of two books of the Bible named for a woman (Esther being the other) Ruth has the distinction and honor of being one of five women named in the lineage of Christ. The story is fascinating on many levels: Ruth is a story of redemption, of beauty from ashes, of deep and abiding friendship, of a foreigner being brought into the family of God, of sorrow, of love, of the sovereignty of God over all.

But, after all, we have the book of the Bible. What makes this book something helpful and useful when we can just open our Bibles and find out everything we need to know? I asked myself this question as I read through the book this afternoon. And, I reached the conclusion that it is indeed a helpful book to read alongside the Bible text (or, if you prefer, you can read the story chapter by chapter in the book: Pages 34-35, 48-49, 64-65, and 80-81, provided in the NKJV)

The full color photography is absolutely stunning. It is truly a beautiful book, and photographer Kenneth Berg did an excellent job of making the text come alive. Sometimes, I have trouble visualizing the events of the Bible, with a people and culture and land and time far removed from my own. I’m ‘seeing’ the story of Ruth in a new light now after viewing the on-location photography that graces every page. That being said, I’m certain that it is not always historically accurate in clothing/etc. and if you’re a stickler for detail over the feeling and sense of place that a picture can provide, then that will probably bother you.

The text of the book is just as beautifully presented as the photography; kudos to author Brenda Duff. Foreward author Bodie Thoene opens the book powerfully by taking a look at why a 3000 year old story still has the power to move and transform us.  She looks at David, a descendent of Ruth, and made a connection I had not seen before between the powerful friendship and loyalty of Ruth to Naomi to, years later, the tie of friendship between her great-grandson David and King Saul’s son Jonathan. Ultimately, this is a multi-layered story that points to God’s love and care for us in every circumstance, as well as the power and beauty of human relationships. What ‘I am Ruth’ does well is dig deeply into the story, providing biblical context and helping the reader draw conclusions about personal application.

This is certainly a worthy coffee-table book or personal reflection/Bible study jump-starter. Check it out at the New Leaf Press website or on Amazon.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thirty Days in the Land with Jesus: A Holy Land Devotional 

 I must admit that I had really high expectations for this book after seeing some glowing high profile recommendations of it. Jerry B. Jenkins, though not a man I always agree with in theology, is an outstanding author. For him to say that it was one of his favorite books and would stay within reach on his bedside table? Wow. That sounded like a must-read book.  Unfortunately, Thirty Days in the Land with Jesus ended up being a disappointment in some ways. For what it is, (a devotional book most enjoyed by new Christians or those reminescing on a trip to the Holy Land) it’s decent: for what I was expecting to find, a disappointment.

I really enjoyed some aspects of it, and did experience some ‘Aha!’ moments in the reading. But honestly, it seemed very light in both the daily devotional aspects and the depth of information about the locations. This is not a book for someone who has used a decent study Bible in even a very casual sense, as I have.

Also, I couldn’t make sense of the ‘altar calls’ that were scattered throughout- ‘do you know Jesus as your Savior? Here, pray this prayer.’ One, perhaps, could have been appropriate (though I often cringe at how they’re worded) But several was overkill. Who is the intended audience of this book? I was getting mixed messages on that front throughout. Was it for a new Christian? The unconverted? The mature believer looking to deepen his knowledge? And honestly, it seemed odd to me to find so many quotes from Mark Twain. Yes, I appreciate him as an author- but he’s hardly one to tacitly hold up as a Christian pilgrim!

I believe Professor Dyer upheld his stated goal of helping his readers ‘fall more in love with the God of the Word’. His passion for what he was writing about came through clearly in this book, and I believe it would be a helpful resource for new Christians, and those just beginning to learn about the land of the Bible. I found several things interesting and useful in his explanations, but perhaps my expectations were raised above what they should have been. I also didn’t appreciate the almost flippant chapter titles and a few of the introductions to each day- but that is merely a personal style preference. It’s a mixed bag for me. I’ll probably keep this book around, because I did learn some new things (the first chapter I truly enjoyed was Day Five, Jesus in the Wilderness) At the same time, I don’t feel comfortable recommending it as an in-depth study of the Holy Land.

In one sentence- it’s decent, but lacks the depth I was hoping for.

3 out of 5 stars.

The World of Jesus: Making Sense of the People and Places of Jesus’ Day 

This book had the depth that I was hoping for in the 30 day devotional.  If you’re not interested in history, you will probably find this a dull book: however, if you are looking to ‘make sense’ of the time of Christ and have a very rudimentary knowledge of what happened to Israel between the book of Malachi and the book of Matthew, [that would be me] it’s a must read. Written by Dr. William H. Marty, ‘The World of Jesus’ gives a wealth of background and context for the gospels. It’s written in a scholarly style, but is engaging and clear for those encountering the information for the first time. Personally, I found it easy to read and quite enjoyable, but I’ve also been told that I’m far from normal when it comes to the books I love to read and the way I am fascinated by history and theology!

The lay-out of the book is very logical, as is to be expected from a professor. (Smiles) The order of chapter subjects is as follows:  The Persian Period, The Greek Period, The Maccabean Revolt, The Hasmonean Period, The Roman Period, and the Early Church and the Herodians. There is a final chapter called ‘When Religion Gets Sick’, which looks at the Jewish responses to Hellenism. Each chapter closes with discussion questions, a feature that I greatly enjoy in a book if they’re not overdone or have simplistically obvious answers. These questions are great, as they take the historic facts that could easily become dry and academic and ask the reader to apply them to some current situations.  For instance, one of the questions from the first chapter: “Regarding Philip’s work in Samaria, why was there an ethnic and cultural barrier to ministry there? Discuss one more situation that relates to the contemporary church’s difficulty in ministering to the various ethnic groups.”

This book challenged me to dig further and find out more about the history and cultural backdrop of the world that Christ entered. 5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to New Leaf Press, Moody Publishers, and Bethany House Publishers for providing these books to me in exchange for my honest review.

{Review} Unseduced and Unshaken

     Unseduced and Unshaken is a beautiful and timely book focusing on the choices that young women make. The subtitle says it directly: ‘The place of dignity in a young woman’s choices’. The basic premise is a call for women to make healthy choices, choices that are focused God-ward and are thoughtful, instead of selfish and impulsive.

I both enjoyed and was somewhat dismayed by how the subject of dignity was treated. First, the good: Rosalie de Rosset [an English professor] wrote one of the best introductions I have seen, and that introduction explained how and why she wrote this book. Read carefully, it precludes any thoughts of ‘oh no, yet another book written about biblical femininity and the quiet, submissive woman.’ She writes, “I began to see how central dignity, at first a formal-sounding word, was to Christian personhood, in this case womanhood…”  She focuses the book towards women, but her resulting work is not focused on presenting another light read for the women’s inspirational interest section at the local bookstore. That would, in fact, be an antithesis to her aim. This is unlike most books I’ve read that are aimed at Christian women, and I say that with gratitude and respect!

The part I was uncertain of (at first) was how the topic of ‘dignity’, which was the central theme of the book, was presented. I followed the logic, the great use of classic literature (my copy of Jane Eyre is sitting on my shelf, calling out for me to read it again…!) and was enjoying the way the chapters were laid out as I skimmed through the book (my usual first step with a non-fiction book, as it helps me get a sense of the overall arc of the book) My skepticism was rising, however, as I looked for the Scripture references for her claims and wondered if this was going to be a rather legalistic look at ‘what women should be.’ I can see people saying that who did not stop and read the book carefully. My first impressions were fortunately and wonderfully wrong. When I came back to the beginning and read through slowly, I found that Unseduced and Unshaken is far from didactic. In the first chapter that defines dignity, she writes, “The truth of the matter is that most of us are in process, no matter what our age. It is easier for some of us to look dignified than others, but to truly be dignified is something different…” She says that dignity is not merely outward, but is rather defined by an inner character. She calls women to holiness, but not to another stressful list. The last sentence of the book sums it up: “With Christ as our dignity our desire is met.”

Far from a list of how to live the Christian life as a woman, Rosalie de Rosset goes to the heart- the reasoning behind our choices, how we make choices, and Who we are making the choices for. I should say here that there are several guest-written chapters and appendixes, but the majority of the book is de Rosset’s. I thought of the first several chapters of Proverbs as I read- wisdom crying out in the streets. This is what the book reminded me of- wisdom calling out against the loud and cloying folly. I did not agree with every statement that was made in every chapter, but that isn’t the point. The point is to get women talking and thinking deeply and biblically about choices in every area of life, and in that way, she succeeded with me!

And, naturally, I loved her use of good literature throughout…  Each chapter closes with probing ‘discussion questions’ and also suggested reading.

The chapters are organized as follows:

Minding Your Dignity (basically, an introduction to the philosophy of the book) “… it takes spiritedness and conviction and even telling a hard truth to be truly virtuous and dignified, a virtue and dignity that involves purposeful attention to one’s mind, one’s soul and its longings, and one’s spirit, all of which affect one’s physical life.” … ” “It is a difference between the status quo as spiritual death, and the transcendent adventure which is life. It’s a choice each one of you is being called to make.”

Finding Your Voice –  Discussing the conflicts women face as we consider Scripture passages that encourage silence within the church (and the way those verses have been abused), the example we find in Abigail, and the struggles of expressing ourselves honestly and openly in a Christian community. A quote I’ve been pondering: “… part of the of problem for Christian women today is that the  world expects way too much from women, and the church expects way too little.”  And  a Dorothy Sayers quote: “Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man- there never has been such another.”

Longing: From Disparity to Desire  - The divided self, sweet sorrow, and fulfilling the God-sized hole in our hearts with ‘less-wild lovers’. Good stuff.

Everything is Theological – encouraging women to turn away from the ‘fluff’ of a lot of women’s ministry and dig deep into the Word, into theology, to be careful and biblical thinkers. YES!!

Distracted or Dignified? – The temptation of images, ghostly people, the seduction of the trivial.

Mindful or Mindless – Keeping a whole worldview, including a biblical look at leisure. How much thought have you put into what you do for fun? How much time do you spend away from technology, in solitude or soul renewing silence? This chapter includes a great look at the differences between popular versus classic. The suggestion list at the end of the chapter is excellent, and I’m looking forward to trying several of the ideas.

Reading as a Spiritual Exercise.  - Written by an English teacher, and naturally this is a subject that I am in full agreement with.  I loved this chapter, though there was little new here. She takes a good look at the dangers of a steady diet of mediocre books and the importance of reading some of the books that have stood the test of time. Closes with an Ann Bradstreet quote: ‘the certainty of knowing eternity lies ahead of us “should make us so number our dies as to apply our hearts to wisdom, that when we are put out of these houses of clay we may be sure of an everlasting habitation that fades not away.”‘

Sexual Dignity- An honest and hard-hitting yet grace filled chapter; one of the best I’ve seen on the topics covered.

A Theology of Modesty- I was a little bit reluctant to read this chapter. I’ve read *SO MUCH* on the subject of modesty, so many nasty debates and condemnations of others based on what they do or don’t wear, and one can only read so much of that before wanting to bash together the heads of the people writing the opposing articles and shout ‘Enough already!’ This chapter, however, was nicely handled. No ‘rules list’ was given; instead, a biblical philosophy is laid out, we’re pointed back to Christ by way of Genesis (those few pages were amazing, summed up in this: “Through bearing nakedness and shame, Christ becomes our righteous clothing.”), a helpful look is taken at the difference between lust and longing (“[Lust] has no place in the Christian’s life. Lust diminishes.”) and finally, she writes, “But we don’t need this power the world seduces us with. We don’t need any other power but what is found in Jesus Christ. We are now in Christ, and we put Him on. We are not clothed with the “treasures” that this world affords…”

Is it Worth It? Is He Worthy? – Is the price one you’re willing to pay? Are you willing to sit at the feet of the Savior and become a woman who is saturated in the Word, passionate for Him, loving life and living in a way that brings Him glory? Is it worth it? Yes. A thousand times yes. Includes the reminder that we cannot and should not do the Christian life alone  and recommends Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book ‘Life Together’. (Naturally!)

 “Christ so loves us that He wants our entire selves (body, soul, and spirit) to be His dwelling place, setting us free not to sin, setting us free from the enslavement of cultural pressures and the lies we are told and which we tell ourselves. Freed, we can as Luther once said, dance with God, expressing our longings in ways that will not injure us, and living whole, undivided lives, as, yes, His temple. ‘Be Thou my dignity, Though my delight’ reads a line from an ancient Irish hymn. The connection couldn’t be more powerfully expressed. With Christ as our dignity, our desire is met.” 

Finally, there are two appendixes of reactions to Wendy Shalit’s book on modesty.

5 out of 5 stars.

 

Unseduced and Unshaken was given to me by Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

{Review} The Hero’s Lot

When the second book in the Staff and the Sword series arrived in the mail, I eagerly tore the package open- and then groaned as I realized that, because I was working the evening shift at work, it would be at least 24 hours before I could start reading the story. How would I survive?! Somehow or another I did, and the wait was worth it.

For the person who has not yet read A Cast of Stones, I have these things to say-

1. Start with the first book. You won’t regret it!

2. If you’re unsure about the fantasy genre, try the book anyway. I am not a fantasy/sci-fi reader (I have read the Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy) but it’s true that a good story is a good story no matter what genre it is. Some genres just tend to have fewer good stories than other genres… ahem. This medieval fantasy is well worth checking out.

Often, the second book in a series (especially a trilogy) is disappointing and/or slow paced. Not so here. The Hero’s Lot starts on a note of intrigue and suspense and ends not simply with loose ends to be wrapped up, but with a catastrophic event that will inevitably change the future of the kingdom. Though the action is fast-paced, a reasonable amount of character development occurs along the way. Mr. Carr even gives insights into psychology as we see Errol having trouble understanding the Princess Adora [side note: this name is my one character name complaint. Honestly, a beautiful princess named 'Adora'? ~sigh~] and I really did laugh out loud as Rokha enlightened him on some of the ways a woman’s mind works.

As Errol is sent on a dangerous mission, the church seeks to find out what makes him so important to the kingdom. Errol has to make use of a previous enemy to fulfill the mission he was given, and danger lurks around every shadow of the wagon train. With almost every page, more information is gleaned about Errol’s past, the church system, the mysterious herbwomen, surrounding nations, the tricky balance of the future of the kingdom, and the ‘unknowable’ Aurae. There were surprises! Old friends were met, secrets were discovered, and new faces (such as Karele) popped up on the journey.

Small defect: a map and a character list/glossary would have been extremely helpful, as there was a lengthy time gap between the release of the first and second book. It took a bit to remember names and contexts, and being able to refer to a glossary would have made it much easier to be comfortably immersed in the story from the beginning.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book was given to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Five Minute Friday: Beautiful

Another beautiful creation of God- the horse. My two new horses were delivered today, and I'm feeling blessed!

Another beautiful creation of God- the horse. My two new horses were delivered today, and I’m feeling blessed!

I’ve heard it said that you can’t take care of what you hate.

Hmm.

In other words, if you hate your body (i.e. the typical female ‘I’m too fat’, ‘I’m not pretty’, ‘I don’t look like____ ‘ …) you won’t take care of it well.

And I’ve wondered what can be done about that, because I think most people -especially, but not limited to, women- have one issue or another with self-image.

I wonder what would happen if we all got some God-image. In other words, if we saw ourselves the way God sees us- His creation- broken, fallen, ugly, yet through the lens of His Son, redeemed, forgiven, beautiful.

Would we live a little bit differently? I think so. I hope so.

And that God-image (focusing on the Lord instead of ourselves, but seeing ourselves so much more clearly and well through Him) comes simply from keeping our focus on the One Thing that is important. Like Jesus told Martha- we are concerned about many things, but only one thing is needfull (or necessary) I’m thinking of the story of Punchinello in Max Lucado’s book ‘You Are Special’ (if you haven’t read it, look it up- it’s great for adults too!) In order to see ourselves as God sees us, we need to spend time with Him. Feed on His Word. Talk with Him (and listen) throughout the day.

Be filled with grace- and beautiful.