Book reviews

9 Book Reviews: Summer 2017

Review of 9 books

Summer reading pile

Here I review nine of my favorite books from this summer’s reading pile. They range from serious to downright fun in these categories:

  • Consciousness, the Soul & the Brain
  • Worship & Art
  • Christian Living
  • Inspirational Fiction

Consciousness, the Soul & the Brain

Review:  The Soul: How We know It’s Real and Why It Matters

By J. P. Moreland

Reading Level: College
I loved this slim book. It made sense of the many verses about the soul. The chapter on what the Bible teaches on the soul is terrific and worth the price of the book by itself. Chapter Four: The Reality of the Soul uses philosophical arguments to prove the soul’s existence, but if you lack a background in philosophy or symbolic logic, you could skip this chapter. Then the final chapter on the future of the human person discusses Near Death Experiences as well as what the Bible teaches on the afterlife. While the vocabulary is sometimes steep, every chapter ends with a review of key concepts and key vocabulary, so that makes it doable.

Here’s a quotation that gives the gist of Moreland’s position (page 51):

Old Testament teaching about life after death is best understood in terms of a diminished though conscious form of disembodied personal survival in an intermediate state.

Review: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

By John Medina

Reading Level: College
This was a thoroughly fun and informative book. The 12 rules explore the way factors affect the brain: exercise, sleep, stress, wiring, attention, memory, sensory integration, vision, music, gender, and exploration. Medina includes lots of case studies and lots of ideas to enhance learning. He advises both teachers and parents on how to help others learn. He shatters myths. Here’s a sample (191):

When it comes to both recognition memory and working memory, pictures and text follow very different rules. Put simply, the more visual the input becomes, the more likely it is to be recognizedand recalled. It’s called the pictorial superiority effect.

I happened to finish this book while I was also reading J. P. Moreland’s book on the soul, making for an interesting juxtaposition of one scientist attributing the wonders of the brain to evolution, and the other to God.

Worship & Art

Review: Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination

By Brian Godawa

Reading level: College
This is a fascinating look at balancing reason with imagination when expressing faith. An award-winning screenwriter, Godawa begins by explaining how he used to try to argue people into the faith through reason and logic alone, but often fell short. He examines the Bible’s use of story and art, and talks about art (and rejection of art) in church history. Then he looks at how the arts can be used to present the gospel message. He says (72):

Our Western bias toward rational discourse can too easily blind us to the biblical power of story and word pictures to embody truth.

Every chapter uses a different typeface, giving each its own feel. Pictures adorn most pages, nicely supporting his points. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to use the various arts to spread the gospel, including literary, visual, and performing arts.

Review: Complete Guide to Bible Journaling: Creative Techniques to Express Your Faith

By Joanne Fink & Regina Yoder

Reading Level: High School
My co-authors, Pam Farrel and Karla Dornacher, introduced me to Bible journaling. Wanting to learn more, I ordered this terrific book. It begins with an explanation of what Bible journaling is (8):

In its simplest definition, Bible journaling is a way to express your faith creatively. Putting pen to paper is a great way to remember and record biblical concepts that are meaningful and relevant to your life.

The book explains tools and techniques, profiles 11 artists (including Karla!), and presents a gallery of different artists’ works. The artists share how turning Scripture into art helps them meditate on God’s word, apply it to their lives, and remember Scripture. This is a great book for anyone wanting to use art to creatively express Scripture.

Review: Whitework with Colour (Milner Craft Series)

By Trish Burr

Reading Level: High School
I’ve always loved whitework embroidery, which historically uses white thread on a white background worked in a variety of stitches that provide texture and shades. Burr adds a bit of color to her whitework, and it makes for gorgeous pieces.

This beautiful, full color book begins with the basics of whitework: materials, preparation, color, and stitches. Then it moves into 17 projects separated by difficulty level. The projects include patterns to trace, stitch diagrams, thread keys, and instructions. The instructions are easy to follow, and she provides videos on her website.

I’d already begun a whitework project before I received this for my birthday, and the book’s instructions greatly improved my stitches. I used the techniques to embroider the Psalm 73 bookmark from my book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. (I’d already colored the background before I decided to try whitework.)

Christian Living

Review: Tattered and Mended: The Art of Healing the Wounded Soul

By Cynthia Ruchti

Reading Level: High School
What a gem this is! The author’s prose sings as she compares the ways artists restore damaged art with the ways God restores damaged souls. Each chapter unfolds as a hope-filled parable. Then the book concludes with comforting advice to those in the mending process. What I like best is the value Ruchti observes in tattered art and wounded souls as each awaits restoration.

As God mended what had been broken in meboth in body and spiritI began to see that he wasn’t merely replacing faded material or restitching seams that had loosened. He was embroidering a design that would forever remind me of the story of what I’d been through … and how near he drew.

Review: Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences & God’s Faithfulness

By Janet Thompson

Reading Level: High School

This is the best book I’ve read on spiritual mentoring, hands down. Janet Thompson begins with an introduction explaining how she came to start a mentoring ministry. Section One explains the biblical call to mentor, how churches can avoid generation gaps in their ministries, and the basics of connecting mentors with mentees.

Section Two Describes life seasons and the type of mentoring women need in each season. For each season, Thompson gives tips for both mentors and mentees, Scriptures to discuss, personal stories from mentors and mentees, a short Bible story, and discussion questions. I particularly liked Thompson’s guidelines for establishing boundaries so no one feels like they’re being asked for more time than they’ve agreed to give, and for making sure expectations are clearly discussed up front.

The epilogue finishes with a variety of short topics such as tips on choosing a mentor, setting realistic expectations, Do’s and Don’ts, mentor vulnerability, advice for when mentoring is hard, and resources.

I highly recommend this book for Christian women who want to both grow spiritually and help others grow.

Review: Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages

By Darlene Schacht

Reading Level: High School
Darlene Schacht begins with the powerful story of her husband discovering she had had an affair and his decision to offer grace. Then she reveals the vulnerable story of how they put their marriage back together piece by piece, with God’s help. After the introductory chapter, each chapter focuses on one key concept for making marriage work, such as “Appreciate Him for Who He Truly Is.” The writing is tender and encouraging, never overbearing. Here’s a sample (174):

Contentment requires us to trade personal and immediate gratification for a heightened sense of appreciation.

I recommend this book for any newlywed or any wife looking to improve her marriage.

Inspirational Fiction

Review: Turtles in the Road: A Novel

By Rhonda Rhea & Kaley Rhea

Reading Level: High School
This is a sweet, delightful romantic comedy with hilarious dialog. Two Christians try to follow God’s plan for their lives. But they fumble a bit in the funniest of ways. Then friends and a wise older couple step in with words of wisdom as a romance slowly and sweetly develops. This is the relaxing, funny kind of book I like to read just before bedtime. And on Kindle, it’s $2.99!

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Normally a nice long solo drive had a calming effect on Piper. All alone, no interruptions, just her, the Lord, and the open road. She’d done some of her best thinking on long road trips. Some of her best praying. Some of her worst singing.

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  1. Thanks for the recs, Jean! I’m super interested in the Word Pictures book by Brian Godawa. I haven’t seen it before, and it looks awesome! And thank you tons for the mention!

    • You’re welcome, Kaley! Let me know what you think of “Word Pictures.” Obviously, I loved it. I have a couple of college student friends who hate fiction, which got me interested in knowing more about the issues Godawa addresses.

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