Gathering Courage: A Book Review

By T.A. McMullin, copyright 2015, Gathering Courage Media, 200 pages

This is the story of Terry, born Kaysia, who overcame blindness, dyslexia, and the pain of abandonment. McMullin hopes, through her memoir, to support people who share some of her experiences. Anyone who struggles in life, Terry believes, can acquire a can-do attitude.

Terry, who goes by T.A., begins the story with her birth and ultimate adoption. She talks a lot about one of her passions: animals, especially dogs and horses. When T.A. felt the most disheartened, it was God and her loving pets to whom she turned.

The family dynamics she met in each foster care home seem to be the same. Rejected from the first adoptive family, her self-esteem plummeted. She struggled in school and early in life. She wore a brace because of back problems. Ultimately, she became legally blind.

But her story isn’t all sadness. Because of her faith and her tenacity, she had success and experienced love from people who, she says, never gave up on her. She attended a major university, achieving two degrees.

Gathering Courage most certainly tells the story of a woman who triumphed over adversities. Her story is interesting and inspiring as she hoped it would be. T.A. tells her story in chronological order of events, which makes sense in this case. She includes photos of some of the pets and locations she is most fond of. Gathering Courage attempts to humbly show the courage of its author. The story will also inspire us to be the best we can be despite the problems we may encounter.

However, I think the handling of the content suffers. The book could have been shorter and it needed professional editing or the hand of a skilled ghost writer. While these considerations don’t detract from the story, they’re noticeable enough to have made the story go slowly for me.

A mentor and teacher, the author is committed to helping others like her “To Make Life Better.” It’s her vision and heartfelt desire.

T.A.’s memoir may be found at Gathering Courage Media or on Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher through the Bookcrash program in exchange for an honest review.

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“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

It’s a Jungle in Here: Book Review

It’s a Jungle in Here by Kristie Wilde; 22 pages; copyright 2018

Kristie Wilde, the author and illustrator of this title, has a real winner with another in the Joyful Creation Series. 

When I saw the cover of the book in my selection email from Bookcrash, I wondered if all the illustrations in this picture book would be as beautiful as the cover. (It doesn’t hurt that I really like elephants.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since children are drawn to the pictures in a book as much as the story, these watercolors do the job and then some.

The book is short, but I think that just means it’s a book kids request by asking, “Read it again,” and Mom or Dad won’t mind because it doesn’t take long to repeat. And I mean it, the paintings Kristie supplies are also fun. Check out the page with the frogs. Those little guys are so cute and it took me a bit to count them all. There are brightly colored butterflies and birds; big cats; and funny monkeys. She even includes chameleons, which tickled me, the owner of a crested gecko.

In the back, the author includes simple, but pretty cool, information about each animal group she presents. Her degree in forestry is probably one of the reasons she finds it a joy to educate kids while encouraging them and entertaining them with a good story.

All that and the message that God made each of the animals in the jungle unique and that he’s pleased with them. “It’s a Jungle in Here” reminds children that God is pleased with them too, no matter who they are.

If you want a copy of this beautifully illustrated book with a special message for your kids or grand kids, look for it at Barnes & Noble or Wilde Art Press, the publisher.

Bookcrash supplied me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for the review. (I’m going to gift it to a friend who has youngsters.)

 

“Three Simple Rules” A Review

“Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living; Rueben P. Job; copyright 2007; 77 pp.

The book is based on Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.”

I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline. Epigraphs for each of the chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

The book can be read in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader can chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and believe it or not, the musical rendition of “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley.

Review: “The Proverbs Management Handbook”

The Proverbs Management Handbook: A Christian Manager’s Guide to Doing Business; By John A. Guderian; Published by Waterloo Publishing; copyright 2017, 262 pages

This is a great book with plenty…wait, make that numerous, biblical references for leaders. I was happy to see that someone had published a book of this type which is quite an easy read. In fact, a friend of mine said her husband was going into business for himself and asked another fellow in business what book he would suggest helping him to run it. The guy recommended the book of Proverbs. Wise move. The book of Proverbs was written to “attain wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight…” You get the idea.

And speaking of wisdom, this book includes references from one of the Bible’s wisdom books. It mostly includes proverbs written by King Solomon, but also uses some by other kings and notables. The author includes a variety of proverbs for a variety of situations. However, some references are repeated too often, in my opinion. While they may be appropriate for that topic, perhaps he could have found another suitable one.

It’s easy to read and would make a great reference for future use. One of its beauties is that its chapters don’t need to be read in order. Peruse the table of contents, find a topic you’re interested in as a leader, and read on. The author directs the content toward leaders of all types. One needn’t be in church leadership or corporate leadership. If you deal with people and have influence with them, you’re considered a leader.

I received the book as a pdf and it takes me longer to read that format. I doubt that I will refer to it much in the future for this reason. I prefer a solid book to hold in my hands. The Proverbs Management Handbook also contains a bibliography. That’s a feature I appreciate in a non-fiction book.

Since the author is a Christian, his advice is from that perspective. But the content is good for anyone to take heed of. A lot of wisdom from one of the wisest persons ever to be a king.

The book was made available to me through BookCrash for an honest review. The opinions expressed are mine.

“Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler'” : a Review

Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler’: Journey of a German Girl; copyright 2016 Dorothea Wollin Null; First Steps Publishing

 

While reading Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler’: Journey of a German Girl, I had to keep reminding myself of whom I was reading. The story put me in mind of All Quiet on the Western Front. When Dorothea speaks of “the enemy,” she’s talking about the Allied countries fighting Germany. That’s because she was a German girl during WWII. It gives one a different perspective when one isn’t German.

Her story begins with a short history of how the Reich and Hitler took power and a description of family members. It’s written almost chronologically, although she sometimes backtracks to memories of better times when there was fresh food to eat, a warm place to sleep, and family outings.

Probably the most nightmarish segment of her memoir is the descriptions of, as refugees their escape from Germany where bombs destroyed the cities, and they retreated from the oncoming Russian army. Most of Europe was somehow affected by air strikes, and she describes the hardships of traveling hundreds of miles through cold mountainous regions to escape the bombings on their way to Czechoslovakia.

Dorothea blends her story of fears and pain with mentions of her faith that God got them through the hard times. She believes that many of the hardships and disappointments––like her father’s disqualification from being able to emigrate to America––were actually blessings in disguise. Separation from her father as he served in the German Army was one of the difficulties; they never knew where he was or if he was alive. But they kept moving.

The author is indeed blessed to have a small cache of photos which she shares, probably because her mother was so diligent in holding fast to the big black handbag which held their official papers. The photos lend a lot to the story and help us to see the family as “not” the enemy. They were unknowing victims of Hitler’s tyranny as much as anyone.

Dorothea’s writing isn’t eloquent or lyrical, although some passages and specific sentences made me stop and take notice.

“In retrospect, I am astounded at how tough I was, how tough all the children were to survive those terrible times. Of course, if we children hadn’t been so resilient, generations would have been wiped out, and I wouldn’t be here telling my story.”

Her empathy for other children and her ability to see both evil and goodness give her a leg up in telling a story unique to its genre. Again, in the vein of All Quiet on the Western Front, a true story by someone who was there says, “war is wrong, devastating and leaves scars that can last a lifetime.”

However, Dorothea Wollin Null is a witness to her faith in God and leaves us with hope for eternity.

The book is available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy from Book Crash in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Rogue: A Review

The Rogue: Planets Shaken by Lee W. Brainard; 2017 by Soothkeep Press

The Rogue is the first volume of the Planets Shaken series about a dystopian future. It combines biblical prophecy, ancient history and government conspiracy in a story about scientists who have discovered a planet-sized comet on a collision course for Mars.

Astronomer Irina Kirlenko finds the comet but is stymied in her work in pursuing its path and imminent arrival. She believes those higher up who could investigate further and do something are hiding the discover to avoid panic when what the public needs is the truth. So, she sends her findings in coded language to her fellow astronomer, Ariele Serrafe. More people than this pair of women are in danger of being discovered with information the government will kill for.

Brainard writes the book with chapter openings as day/date/location entries. It’s an effective tool, creating that countdown feel which would probably happen if Earth was facing destruction and we knew how and when.

Brainard’s first installment is Christian fiction, but none of the characters is overtly religious. He’s only included a few references to their respective lives of faith. I found this refreshing since, although I’m a Christian, don’t read much inspirational fiction and don’t appreciate trite and obvious ploys to take me down an author’s path. The Author Himself, God, will draw me where He wants me to go; I prefer human authors be subtle in their approach, not leading me by the nose.

The characters in the book are either the kind you sympathize with or want to shake, and it’s easy to know which is which. Professor Goldblum is an opportunist, for instance, and out for glory. Other characters will seem selfless, but only the next volumes may tell if they truly are.

The story is peppered with acronyms I had to keep referring to and finally decided to pencil them in the back cover so that I wouldn’t have to search for the term again. I know what a planetarium is, and I understand constellations, but I had no idea what NEO meant. I do now. A glossary might have helped. I realize those are unusual for fiction, but I’ve seen it done and appreciated it when one was included. The book is enjoyable, and I might even be on the lookout for the next installation of the series. This was a fast read because the story itself moves fast. I wanted to know what was happening next to the characters (except for those meanies).

The cover is attractive as well and I’m one of those who pays attention to such things. This one is nice and clean; not all cluttered up. Be sure to read the qualifier written by the author on the copyright page regarding the novel being a work of fiction. I thought it was cleverly written.

The book is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

This review appears as a courtesy to Bookcrash and the author in exchange for an honest review and a copy of the book.

Twas the Evening of Christmas: Book Review

  • Twas the Evening of Christmas
  • By Glenys Nellist
  • Illustrated by Elena Selivanova
  • Published by Zonderkidz
  • Copyright 2017, 32 pages; ages 4-8

With its scripture reference being Luke 2:10-11, “Twas the Evening of Christmas” blends the over-2,000-year-old story of Jesus’s birth with the poetic cadence of the poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823.

One is an endearing rhyme about a fictional Christmas event. In this book, however, families can gather and read the true story of Christmas and why we even celebrate.

Nellist’s poem keeps the rhythm of Moore’s work intact while being true to the story of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.

No one is left out here. The animals in the stable; the angels; the shepherds; and the wise men all make their respective appearances.

A couple of things about this poem/story give it high marks in my book. While license is taken a couple of times, that’s okay. We can read between the lines and figure out some things about that night. For instance, the baby has been born and offered up his newborn cry.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep.

Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep.

They all came to gaze at the small baby boy,

As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Scripture doesn’t mention Joseph and Mary hugging their baby. But what new parents don’t want to put their hands around their infant and hold him close?

In addition, the author and illustrator seemingly desire to share the stories of God and about God in a way that glorifies God with their respective gifts. Kids in the intended audience will probably want to touch the pages because the illustrations aren’t too intricate, but aren’t too simplistic. The word ‘soft’ comes to mind. They’re works of art, creatively executed by people who obviously appreciate their Creator.

I’d guess this book, once read to a child, will be as popular with them as that ‘right jolly old elf’ poem was for me so many years ago.

You can find the book for sale at the publisher, Zondervan or on Amazon.

Beloved, Hear My Heart: Book Review

  • Beloved, Hear My Heart: A Deep Sense of Righteous Urgency!
  • By Lawrence Sankar
  • Published by Vision Tomorrow Today
  • 2015, 166 pages

In this book by Lawrence Sankar, thirty-one essays present the author’s “deep sense of righteous urgency,” hence, the subtitle. However, on one of the inside covers, is a different subtitle describing the book’s content, which is “a collection of inspirational messages.” This is only one of several writing issues that confused me in Mr. Sankar’s work.

To his credit, Sankar is most certainly fluent in scripture, and uses it in the essays themselves to explain them. He’s able to make good application of the scripture he uses and the reader can relate to life much of what he says.
While reading the essays and notes following them, I noticed Sankar referred to many of these writings as parables. Some were written as parables; others could not be called parables because the form wasn’t there. This made it difficult for me to trust the theme. I became confused by this as well.

When I tried to find Sankar’s theme for the book–after all, any book should have a one–I finally found something close on page 69. “Believers must become the messenger of change in their family and the catalyst of change in their communities and the wider society.” At any rate, this is what I’m guessing is his central theme. Since each titled entry has a different form (parable, essay, ‘poetic discourse,’ ‘revelation,’ etc.), it took some re-reading of some of them to discover the message he was trying to convey. Often, it was found in his “notes.”

Sankar is passionate about revival and in the essay, “A Timeless Reflection,” he states, “But rather, I have decided to balance my discouragement with a sense of hopeful optimism.” This is evident throughout the book. I’m sad to say this is one of the few consistencies.

“Beloved” would have benefited from professional editing. Perhaps he could have divided the book into sections containing the parables, the essays, the so-called ‘revelations,’ and the rest. Some of his notes seemed to be essays in themselves as if he had more to say.

I don’t disagree with most of what the author says, but his method and having to explain everything to me was somewhat frustrating. The author seems to have a prophetic voice, speaking truth into our lives. However, one with such a voice must exercise grace. Truth and grace is how Jesus came into our lives (John 1:14).

For someone who wants to hear what the Bible says about revival and becoming an agent for change in the world, this book could help. I would suggest the reader dive in with his or her Bible on hand. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Be wise and study for yourself along with this author.

Reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Living a “Good Deeds Life”

My life isn’t rife with so many examples of doing good deeds that I can tell you I’m always on the spot helping. To my dismay, I’m not always paying attention.

Author Henry James said, “Be the kind of person on whom nothing is lost.” This practice probably helped when he wrote fiction. But it has an amazing translation for each of us as well.

Paying attention means we see situations where we can help. We might also recognize when a person needs prayer or encouragement. If we pay attention, it might stir us to be be a cheerleader for people who are making the attempt to do better in their own lives.

I like the idea of living good deeds. It reminds me of the “One anothers” in the Bible. It reminds me of Jesus saying that the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another. Good deeds done from love reflect the love of Jesus.

While browsing the table near the entrance of my local independent bookstore, I found a little gem to introduce to you. Erin McHugh’s One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better leads you through a year of simple but effective good deeds. She didn’t start the book on January 1; she started on her birthday. What a cool idea; it was “her” day, but she hoped to put light into someone else’s.

Erin’s ideas are things she did herself every day for a year. I started reading and hoping I could put into practice the same thing she suggested for that day. I’ve also read ahead a bit to see some of the other ideas she wrote about. Her practices are the reason for the book, but her writing is extremely casual; often funny and embarrassingly relateable.

One day she gave fifteen cents to a woman who’d miscounted her change to ride the bus. Erin said she was happy to lean in and say,

“’Here, I’ve got it.’ Because anyone can miscount; she didn’t do it on purpose. And besides, what’s better than when you see a stupid hassle coming and someone steps in and just makes it go away?”

This example is typical of Erin’s book full of living a good deed life. One blurb on the back of the book says, “Erin McHugh is one wise, funny, smart woman, and her book is a blast to read.”

The title of the book suggests that when we do good deeds as a regular practice, we’ll be “a little bit better.” I like to think the motive is less about us and more about watching out for others’ needs. Even when that need is as small as needing fifteen cents more to ride the bus.

Could you be on the lookout for a way to help someone today? Pay attention and you’ll see opportunities around every corner.