Monday, January 22, 2018

Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity by Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

Product Details

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD has written a book which examines what she determines are the seven types of rest (physical, mental, emotional, social, sensory, creative, spiritual) that are needed for a
person to thrive in life. After seeing that list, I bet there are areas you never realized may be places to seek rest and restoration.  She aptly describes what modern women (and men) feel like too often -- exhausted, even those who appear to sleep without issue; moody, bordering on melt down or depression; never fully engaged in the moment, even with family or on vacation. The list of symptoms go on and on.  When offered a chance to read this title, I felt reluctant to accept.  Retired now for more than 6 years, I have long left the daily rat race behind.  My children are adults, and if there are not grandchildren duties, I normally can schedule my days as I wish.  But I've found this book offers insight even for me, and I plan to use the book as the resource she intended it to be. 

Once Dalton-Smith has explained the premise of the book and defined key vocabulary and concepts, she encourages readers to take the Personal Rest Deficit Assessment tool at the end of the book  While its name sounds overwhelming, this is really a quick quiz which will help one determine what type of rest you may be lacking.  One or two checks within an area indicate you may be ripe for a burn out episode within that area of your life; three or more checks suggest a more immediate need for change.  Going back into the book will provide insight into how you make changes into that area and why you should. Two things you should know before going any further.  One, Dalton-Smith has experienced that burn-out that so many adults feel.  A medical doctor, wife, and mother, her days are filled beyond full. At some time or other, she has probably needed each of the seven types of rest.  Two, the ideas suggested in the book are based on research.  She encourages one to read the book in small bits, with time to contemplate what you have read.  Our lives are already busy, for most too busy, and this book, which is meant to help, should not be a burden.  When all is "read and done," there is a thirty day challenge that can be taken with the help of a website.  I received a copy of this book from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.

More about Sacred Rest}
Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity (FaithWords, December 2017)
Staying busy is easy. Staying well rested— there’s a challenge.
How can you keep your energy, happiness, creativity, and relationships fresh and thriving in the midst of never-ending family demands, career pressures, and the stress of everyday life? In Sacred Rest, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine doctor, reveals why rest can no longer remain optional.
Dr. Dalton-Smith shares seven types of rest she has found lacking in the lives of those she encounters in her clinical practice and research-physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social, creative—and why a deficiency in any one of these types of rest can have unfavorable effects on your health, happiness, relationships, creativity, and productivity. Sacred Rest combines the science of rest, the spirituality of rest, the gifts of rest, and the resulting fruit of rest. It shows rest as something sacred, valuable, and worthy of our respect.
By combining scientific research with personal stories, spiritual insight, and practical next steps, Sacred Rest gives the weary permission to embrace rest, set boundaries, and seek sanctuary without any guilt, shame, or fear.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Saundra Dalton-Smith

{More About Saundra Dalton-Smith}

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith is an author, speaker, and board-certified physician. She has an active medical practice in Alabama (near the Birmingham area). She received her B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Georgia, and graduated with honors from Meharry Medical College in Nashville. She has been an adjunct faculty member at Baker College and Davenport University in Michigan teaching courses on health, nutrition, and disease progression. Dr. Dalton-Smith is a national and international media resource on the mind, body, spirit connection and has been featured in Women’s Day, Redbook, and First For Women magazine. She is the author of “Set Free to Live” and “Come Empty” (winner 2016 Golden Scroll Nonfiction Book of the Year and 2016 Illumination Award Gold medalist). She is a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Association and a repeat keynote speaker at their annual gathering. She has shared her tips on merging faith and medicine with over 16,000 health care professionals to encourage the current and next generation of doctors to treat the whole person.
Find out more about Saundra at

Saturday, January 20, 2018

DEVOTIONS FOR THE HUNGRY HEART: Chasing Jesus Six Days from Sunday by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Devotions for the Hungry Heart: Chasing Jesus Six Days from Sunday

One hundred and twenty short, but powerful devotions make up Shellie Rushing Tomlinson's new book DEVOTIONS FOR THE HUNGRY HEART: Chasing Jesus Six Days from Sunday.  That makes Monday through Saturday devotions for twenty weeks.  All Mondays are titled A Hungry Heart is Surrendered; Tuesday, A Hungry Heart is Intentional; Wednesday, A Hungry Heart is Praying; Thursday, . . . is Celebrating; Friday, . . . is Needy, and Saturday, . . . is Sharing.  I especially liked the first Thursday devotion where she writes about her fascination with finding hearts - in clouds, trees, or almost anywhere, a fascination that she now shares with her grandson.  As both experience the pure joy of finding an unexpected heart, they've learned that we can also celebrate the presence of God in our "unspectacular everyday lives." Others have called these daily thoughts "bite-sized morsels of truth."  I find them to be comforting, encouraging, and even humorous.  Behind each day's thought or personal story is the message that God is here, waiting to be discovered by those who are hungry for His presence.

The book is designed to be appealing, with a contemporary aqua and white striped cover with gold dots.  A center insert offers a few of Tomlinson's recipes with color photographs.  Each devotion is printed in soothing blue type with the scripture verse in sepia/gold.  While this pairing makes each page a visual bit of art, the light type was actually difficult for me to read.  I did appreciate the ribbon marker which helps one keep track of what week you are reading.  I received a copy of this title from Barbour Publishing.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

When Leni's parents decide to move to a remote Alaskan cabin, sight unseen, in 1974, the young teenager wants to believe it will be a successful new beginning  for her father, a Vietnam vet haunted by flashbacks and nightmares.  But then there have been so many other attempted beginnings, always leaving Leni as the new girl in school, the stranger without any friends. Books and her polaroid camera have been her solace, companions, when there are no others.  Despite the hard work necessary to prepare for winter once they arrive at the ramshackle cabin, it appears that this strange new land may heal the family.  Leni makes friends with Matt, the son of a major land owner in Kaneq, and the sparsely populated community welcomes them with open arms.  Then as the sun retreats and endless hours of darkness steal over the landscape, her father Ernt's mood slips into its own unreachable darkness and both Leni and her mother fear the abuse that could follow any misstep or misspoken word.  Paranoia, resulting in middle of the night "warfare" drills, becomes the family's norm.  As Leni matures, she understands more and more than her father is much like dynamite, ready to explode and destroy all around it. It will only take a bit of "kindling." But it is hard to align that with the man who, on good days, calls her "Red" and takes her salmon fishing.  While she longs for a normal, safe life, she cannot leave her mother, who will never leave her father, and even Leni, herself, cannot imagine life without Alaska.  Despite the summer's bright sky, the Northern Lights, and Alaska's beauty, it seems that prison doors have closed upon mother and daughter.

As a reader, I was ready to embrace Alaska's wildness with the Allbright family, sure that the dangers of the wild itself would cement them into a whole.  But the dark shadows of that first winter bring a foreboding that this story would not end well.  At times I feared reading on because I did not want any of the characters to suffer.  I did not want Ernt, who served our country with valor, to be broken beyond repair.  I did not want to think about love that is so tangled that it will not separate itself from abuse.  And I feared for the people of the village who were willing to help Leni and her mother Cora.  But like all Kristin Hannah's books, you can't choose not to finish once you start.  The pages flew by, the tension increased, and still I read.  I read late into the night, I read the next morning as my husband drove us to a movie/shopping trip an hour away, I read on the way home as the daylight ebbed away.  Finally I reached the ending, forgetting supper, for the story was so much more important.  A day later, the story of Leni, her mother and the choices they made still fill my mind.  THE GREAT ALONE publishes in a few weeks; you will want to read it. I received an e-copy of THE GREAT ALONE from NETGALLEY for review purposes.    All opinions are mine.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

MISSING ISAAC by Valerie Fraser Luesse

 Cover Art


Valerie Fraser Luesse's debut novel is a sensitive, well-crafted work that takes readers back to 1960's Alabama, not to beat us overhead with a story of racial strife, but to show how true "family" defies and crushes all prejudicial barriers.  Every boy (child) should have someone to take him fishing or just show him the "special" spots of nature that help a boy become a man.  For Pete McLean that person is his father, a successful cotton farmer in Glory, Alabama   When the accident happens that leaves Pete is fatherless, Jack's right hand man (and best friend) Isaac slips into that mentor role.  No one speaks out that Isaac is black and should not be spending time with Pete.  Several summers pass and  Pete learns much from his escapades with Isaac.  He learns that Isaac had dreams of education, travel, and a life that cannot be -- simply because he is black.  He learns that the people who live in the little shacks in the Glory countryside have their own church, music, and a hidden spot for barbeque, dancing,drinking and socializing.  As far as he knows, he is the only white ever allowed there.  He learns that, while he and his mother never have to give a thought to money, thanks to his granddad's wealth, every day is a challenge for these people, even for Isaac and his mother Hattie  Although Daddy Ballard (Pete's grandfather) would give Hattie, who has been his housekeeper for decades, anything she wanted, Hattie and Isaac are proud, taking only their wages.  When Isaac disappears one Saturday night and his truck is found abandoned a bit later, people believe it was a bad end to a bad night of gambling.  The sheriff barely makes an effort to look for Isaac, and soon Pete's hero becomes nothing more than the source of ghost stories, that is, to everyone except Pete, his family, and Isaac's own family.  In fact, it is on a search of the countryside hoping to find clues about Isaac that Pete meets Dovey, the sheltered, backcountry girl who will change his life.  Luesse's story follows Pete and Dovey as they grow up through the 60's, and as they become young adults, we see the best and the worst of Glory, Alabama.  Although I, too, became an adult during these same years, Pete's world was very different mine in rural Wisconsin.  I appreciated Luesse's skillful writing of this tale and the chance to experience that time period from her viewpoint, and I recommend it to those who are fans of Southern fiction.  Pete, Dovey, Isaac, their parents, and Daddy Ballard are people we all will benefit from knowing.  I received a copy of this novel from Revell.  All opinions are mine.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018


GENRE: Secular British war fiction; literary fiction

If you've watched HOME FIRES, the PBS series which centers around a countryside British village where the women, children, and older men are coping with civilian life during WWII, then you will probably enjoy THE CHILBURY LADIES' CHOIR.  With the last of the young men leaving to fight the Nazis, the Vicar of Chilbury has declared that the choir will disband until after the war.  But a newcomer to the village stands up to the Vicar and offers to direct a choir of all women; in fact, she even enters them into a contest against other choirs.  In a series of alternating letters, journal and diary entries written by four main characters, we learn what is happening in Chilbury, and it is NOT all singing.  While the town's wealthiest and most powerful man is truly a villain set on getting more than his share, the bumpy (tumultuous, even) relationship between his thirteen year old and seventeen year old daughters was great reading.  The village midwife's letters to her sister tell of a plan that spells nothing for trouble, and indeed you will probably cheer when she meets her due.  The village nurse represents the true side of healing - sensitivity, empathy, and caring. 

This book read quickly and the letters/journals were easy to follow, although at times the narrative technique seemed artificial as too much action was presented and explained by the person sharing via letter/entry.  I admit the author has to follow a fine line when deciding to use this format.  She wants the story to progress in a clear time line; she wants to capture everyone's emotions, and yet she is limited to one narrator/observer at a time. 

I enjoyed CHILBURY LADIES CHOIR, perhaps because I've watched HOME FIRES and have read other novels set on the British war homefront.  I think this book would be good for book groups, as the mix of characters provide lots of fodder for discussion.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A SONG OF HOME: A Novel of the Swing Era by Susie Finkbeiner

Image result for a song of home by susie finkbeiner


What makes your home HOME?  If you move, when does the new place become home?  Is home a place or your immediate family?  Do neighbors and neighborhoods matter?  Do people outside your immediate family help you maneuver life's ups and downs?  What happens when one parent abandons the family?  How do you create or maintain home without her?  What happens if that parent returns, but isn't really the parent she was before?  You will be considering all these questions as you read A SONG OF HOME by Susie Finkbeiner, the third and last novel in Pearl Spence's story which began with A CUP OF DUST and continued in A TRAIL OF CRUMBS.

When I first read A CUP OF DUST, ten year old Pearl's family was struggling to survive the early days of Oklahoma's Dust Bowl.  Pearl's father, a law officer could at least put food on the table while others found themselves jobless and homeless.  Not since reading GRAPES OF WRATH had I read a book that had me feeling the dust storms to the point I felt grit in my eyes and teeth.  Tragedy causes the family to leave Oklahoma and head for better times in Bliss, Michigan, while also giving Pearl's friend Ray a home.  A TRAIL OF CRUMBS shows that not everyone can start over again as  Pearl, Ray, and Pearl's father settle into life in Michigan while Pearl's mother suffers.  When A SONG OF HOME opens we see that almost twelve year-old Pearl, Ray and her father are struggling to keep home "home" after Pearl's mother has run away.  Aunt Carrie (actually not Pearl's aunt) and her famous Sunday dinners on the farm provide a much needed spot of security and warmth for all.  During the week, Pearl finds herself becoming closer to Opal Moon, the young bi-racial housekeeper who Pearl's dad has hired.   Pearl has seen Opal swing dancing and begs the housekeeper to show her how to dance.  The dance lessons teach more than steps, though.  Pearl also learns about prejudice and Jim Crow attitudes.  Then months later, her mother returns, but she is not the mother who nurtured Pearl and her older sister back in Oklahoma.  The woman who returns is a shadow, emotionally broken and unable to give the family what they need.

Finkbeiner's narration is so smooth that it will draw you immediately into the story, which seems to be a simple story of a young girl navigating "coming of age" discoveries.  Then you start to consider all that is happening around her and you realize that she is confronting some of life's biggest issues.  While bigotry, prejudice and abandonment are present in the book, so are wonderful role models, especially Aunt Carrie and her husband and even the town librarian.  Like in previous titles, Pearl finds herself captivated by a famous children's book and what she finds in the novel begins to influence how she interprets her own life.  Music and the radio also  have the same "world-coloring" effect throughout this swing era novel.  I can't end this review without mentioning Pearl's father -- what a model of fathering, love, hard work, and forgiveness.  He will take a honored place in my favorite literary father category, right next to Atticus of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Whenever I review series books, I always mention the added value of reading the whole series in close succession.  How I would have loved to have read Pearl's story all at once from the dust-filled beginning right through to Mama's singing on the last page of book three.  Those who read the first two novels a while ago should be encouraged to start all over and follow Pearl through her entire story. Those who have not read any of the books, you are ready for a big reading treasure!  Get all three books and enjoy.  There is much here for Christian book clubs (and other groups, too) to discuss.  It would also be suitable for late teen readers.  I received a copy of this book from Kregel Publications.  All opinions are mine.

Monday, January 1, 2018

I'll Always Write Back:How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Liz Welch, and Martin Ganda

Image result for i'll always write back

 I don't know what led me to download an audio version of the book I'LL ALWAYS WRITE BACK by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda (with aid from Liz Welch) but I consider it a divine intervention.  This is the kind of uplifting book we all need, showing not only that there are "good" people in the world doing life changing miracles without great publicity or recognition, but it leaves one with the gnawing feeling that they themselves must do more.  That is the feeling that has been hanging out inside me ever since I started listening to Caitlin and Martin's tale.  In 1997, Caitlin, a 7th grader in a Pennsylvania suburb was given the assignment to write to a foreign pen pal.  As she professes, at the time, Caitlin was more interested in mall shopping, the latest tunes, fashions, and gossip among her friends than school work.  But, having just returned from a family trip to Germany, she had a growing interest in the world outside Pennsylvania, so she was attracted to the most foreign sounding country on the blackboard.  While friends chose France, Germany and seemingly safe countries, Caitlin chose Zimbabwe, a country she knew nothing about, but thought it might be in Africa.
Without knowing who would receive the letter, Caitlin wrote about herself (music and the mall) and her family.  Soon that letter traveled across the ocean ending up in a crowded school that served one of the poorest slums of Zimbabwe.  Martin Ganda's class has so many students that they must divide time between the school classroom and a dirt area under the trees.  Each group of 50 or more students got some time inside, but spent more than 2/3's of their day under the trees, no matter if it is hot or rainy.  Martin, whose test scores consistently placed him number one in his class, is one of the fortunate ones to receive a penpal letter from another country.  Even more fortunately, he receives Caitlin's letter, the first in a correspondence that lasts for more than five years and forever changes the lives of both Caitlin and Martin, but also their wider families.

   Caitlin's family is not rich, but rather a typical two income comfortable middle class family who work hard to give their children the best.. As she begins receiving letters from Martin, the teen begins to piece together that his life is much harder than hers.  Slowly her trips to the mall and desire to buy new earrings and clothes subside as she learns more and more about Martin's needs.  Meanwhile, when Martin learns that her family has 3 cars, he is amazed, sure that no one in Zimbabwe besides the president has such luxury.  Many months later, Martin shares that his country is having an economic crisis, that his father may lose his job (he does), and that Martin will need to quit school as they cannot pay the necessary fees. He does not share until much later that their entire family lives in one room, actually half a room as a curtain divides the space in half so another family can live on the opposite side of the room. In her next letter, Caitlin stuffs a $20 bill she earned babysitting without telling her parents.  Weeks later, when they learn that Martin was able to exchange that American money for enough Zimbabwe dollars to pay a whole semester's tuition, Caitlin begins to realize she can really make a difference in Martin's life.

This book alternates between Caitlin's life and her most recent letter and then Martin's perspective.  In the audio version, two voices, one female and one male, alternate the narrations. While Caitlin deals with girlfriend issues, new boyfriends, and the typical "pains" of middle class teen years, Martin's family face, true hunger, malaria, the possibility of homelessness  and more.  For a while it is the money that Martin and his brother make carrying people's luggage at the railway station that feeds the family.  A surprise Christmas package from Caitlin and her family give them their first taste of candy and provide shoes and shirts that the family desperately need.   A thank you letter telling Caitlin that the shoes Martin's mother received make her finally a person of worth in Zimbabwe is another seed that changes Caitlin's heart.  How can someone's worth be determined by whether they have shoes or not; then she realizes that we judge much the same each and every day as we let our opinions of someone's dress, hair, car, or neighborhood decide their worth.

As the book moves into 2001-2003, Caitlin and her family vigorously take on the challenge of securing Martin's education so he can finish high school and then be able to come to America to attend college, while at same time the family faces the expenses of sending their own two children to college.  I believe this book has been used in classes across the county and I can see why; there is so much to learn about giving, having empathy for others, and striving to succeed.  Yes, there are passages which detail Caitlin attending parties and her boyfriend smoking pot, but I think those would be opportunities for frank discussion, not reasons to avoid the book.  I've read some adult comments that said they would not want the book read by kids because of those inclusions.  Although I don't endorse partying or drugs, I think they show what Caitlin's world was like and how she moved away from it, letting her concern for Martin become a cornerstone of her time and efforts and her faith. There is too much good here to ignore this wonderful title.  Since finishing the book yesterday I have watched online interviews given by both Caitlin, now a nurse, and Martin, who works in the New York financial district.  Now twenty years from the first letters, the two and their families remain one large interconnected family.  Truly one letter did change lives.

HERE IS A LINK TO The New York Times Sunday book review from 2015 when the book first came out.  It is worth reading.  

While I actually finished listening to this title yesterday afternoon, December 31st, I am counting it as my first "read" of 2018 since I spent time this morning researching the authors.  Plus its positive message is a great catalyst for a new year!