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Get Your Joy Back: Banishing Resentment and Reclaiming Confidence in Your Special Needs Family

Laurie Wallin. Kregel, $13.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4339-8

Life coach, speaker, and author Wallin (Why Your Weirdness Is Wonderful) invites parents of special needs children to reclaim an abundant and joyful life in the midst of the intense task of caring for their children’s needs. As a parent of multiple special needs children, Wallin speaks with frankness about the full spectrum of emotions from being on high alert to wishing life were different. Drawing on scriptural principles and stories from other parents, Wallin points to forgiveness as the key to reframing relationships with spouses, family members, friends, professionals, the church, God, children, and oneself. She calls such forgiveness “an act of surrender that opens the door for emotional relief and divine help.” Wallin’s honesty about her inner dialogue of doubt and vulnerability lends credibility to her writing. Her willingness to admit that the path isn’t an easy one provides an accessible book for those who know the rigors of parenting special needs children. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Christian. Muslim. Friend.: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship

David W. Shenk. Herald (www.heraldpress.com), $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8361-9905-5

Recognizing the friction that can exist between Muslims and Christians, Shenk (A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue) provides ways for Christians to reach across the religious divide. Shenk spent years as a Mennonite missionary in countries with Muslim populations, including Somalia and Kenya, and this direct experience of interfaith dialogue animates his book. Integrity, honesty, respect, hospitality, trust, and peacemaking become his cornerstones for building relationships with Muslims. Shenk uses stories of real encounters to illustrate his concepts, and he includes concrete suggestions for those hoping to introduce Muslims to the Bible. For example, he suggests the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as the books most accessible to Muslims interested in learning more about Christianity. Shenk comes from a Christian perspective and includes study questions as well as short appendices with information about Jesus and the Bible in the Qu’ran. Shenk can at times appear highly optimistic in his depiction of bridge-building, but that vision may well be the needed corrective to what sometimes seems an insurmountable difference of worldviews. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from Its Violent History

Becca Stevens. Jericho, $22 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4555-1902-6

Episcopal priest and social entrepreneur Stevens (Snake Oil) blends theological reflection, social commentary, and personal narrative as she recounts the story of her journey to open the Thistle Stop Café. The founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms, social enterprises that serve women recovering from trafficking and addiction, Stevens envisioned a café that would provide economic independence for employees and help tea workers earn fair wages in good conditions. She examines ethical issues in the production and trade of tea and tries to understand the role tea plays in fostering healing and community, drawing the reader into the world of tea and providing insight into its history, production, and rituals. While she finds much beauty in tea, she also explores how tea intersects with violence, colonialism, economic exploitation, and gender oppression. Throughout the book, she uses tea as a vehicle to reflect on theology and social justice. She weaves into her narrative personal stories from women she has worked with in her programs, and begins each chapter with recipes for tea so that readers can create their own blends at home. Stevens’s paeans to the significance of tea can get repetitive, but many readers will find her ruminations inspirational. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East

Gerard Russell. Basic, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-465-03056-9

This fascinating account of minority religions in the Middle East, many of which are threatened by increasingly turbulent political situations, is part travelogue and part scholarly overview. Russell, a former British diplomat in the region, uses his connections and experience as he travels in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and several other places to meet members of religious minorities such as the Druze, the Copts, the Mandaeans, and the Samaritans, and to study their history and traditions. He outlines basic facts and beliefs in addition to showing resonances and similarities between the religious cultures. By tying modern practice to historical context, Russell provides a valuable briefing on the ancient and medieval history of the region. He also muses on the immediate future of each community, particularly with respect to political instability and immigration, and his cheerfully personal tone makes all this information lively. This important and enjoyable glimpse into little-considered religious dynamics of the Middle East deserves to be widely read and distributed. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Timothy Keller. Dutton, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-95414-9

The founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan has created a definitive book on Christian prayer, in the tradition of his previous bestsellers (The Reason for God; The Meaning of Marriage). This study will be equally beneficial to seasoned followers of God and those simply seeking information on the topic. Keller’s own desire for a deeper prayer life prompted him to study what prayer is and how to pray. As he finds inspiration in current thought, the Psalms, and Reformation theology from Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, Keller balances erudite concepts with easy-to-understand information and practical application, showing that prayer is not only a conversation but also an encounter with God that seeks intimate knowing. Citing the Lord’s Prayer as a model for coming face to face with God, he contemplates prayers of meditation, praise, and forgiveness while addressing confusing subjects like the Trinity, praying in Jesus’ name, and why people need to pray at all. He distills his findings into 12 “touchstones” by which the effectiveness of prayer life can be measured, and includes outlines for how to get in the habit of daily prayer. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews

Lynn Davidman. Oxford Univ., $27.95 (276p) ISBN 978-0-19-938050-3

Through conversations with 40 “defectors” from different types of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism, Davidman (Tradition in a Rootless World) provides a fascinating view of the conflicts, both internal and external, faced by those who leave tightly cohesive and socially restrictive Jewish groups. Davidman argues that the shift away from the Haredi worldview takes place not predominantly through the acceptance or rejection of articles of faith, but through a shift in how the person views and practices the physical ritual acts through which the Jewish worldview is transmitted and made tangible. The book includes a clear introduction explaining the methodology of the interviews, as well as terms potentially confusing to those not familiar with the sociology of religion, such as “tears in the sacred canopy” (an extension of the image connoting worldview, developed by sociologist Peter Berger). This solid book, an important contribution to the body of work on shifts in religious identity and affiliation, also illuminates the force and importance of ritual in Jewish life. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

Phil Zuckerman. Penguin Press, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59420-508-8

While America’s mainstream churches have declined, smaller denominations seem to be attracting more believers. The fastest-growing group isn’t a church at all, but rather those distancing from traditional religious affiliations, a group known as the “nones.” In this fascinating work, Zuckerman (Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion), professor of sociology and secular studies at Pfizer College, explores the moral and ethical foundations of secularism, addressing the question of whether you can live a good life without God or religion. Anecdotal evidence abounds; interviews with former religious adherents who have moved into secularism, both within and outside their religious communities, offer a compelling argument for the non-necessity of God in the pursuit of a moral life. Despite the amazing growth of “nones” in America, and even considering the growing trend toward secularism within many churches, Zuckerman concludes, “It still isn’t easy being secular in America.” Perhaps the accounts in this fine work will help ameliorate that. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sewing to Sell: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Craft Business

Virginia Lindsay. C&T/Stash, $25.95 paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-60705-903-5

The author’s expertise in running Gingercake Patterns, an online pattern business, is put to good use in a book that’s half-helpful suggestions for those who want to start a home-based sewing business and half a selection of 16 sewing patterns that can be used to make projects to sell. The first section contains valuable information on everything from identifying potential customers to taking good photos for online sales and setting prices for craft shows. Lindsay doesn’t offer much advice about the less glamorous and more practical aspects of setting up shop, such as incorporating a business or figuring out a profit margin, but there’s enough to be worthwhile. The projects are cute, too, including a simple boxy pincushion and an appealing, reversible grocery tote, all clearly explained with step-by-step diagrams. None of the patterns are revolutionary, but—this is key—Lindsay grants permission for all 16 projects to be sewn and sold, an important consideration for those starting a sewing business, and quite possibly making the book worth the price just for those. Full-color photos, pattern pullouts. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sarah Style

Sarah Richardson. S&S/. Gallery, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8437-3

HGTV star Richardson shows a broad range in this idea book for the armchair designer. The portfolio of style options includes a New York co-op, a millennial’s take on metrosexual, and an Arts and Crafts redux. For each major category of room in a house—entry, living room, dining room, family room, bedroom, kitchen, kids’ bedroom, bathroom, and office—Richardson picks a handful of varied dwellings to feature. Several pages and a dozen or so photographs are devoted to each example, and each photo is accompanied by an extended caption. The crowded but organized photographic spreads eschew any scrapbook frou-frou, getting right to the point while also being chock-full of ideas. Richardson recommends “Get Over the Glider” and adeptly places a stylish high-backed orange upholstered office rocker in a gray, black, white, and blue nursery. Room layout is another one of Richardson’s strengths. She writes: “the long, narrow proportions of a Victorian town house are often best addressed with two distinct seating groupings.” Fortunately, the selected photographs capture just the right views to prove her thesis. While the caption’s headlines can border on ingratiating (for example, “Get Leggy” and “Give It the Slip”) the concepts are all there, on beautiful full-color display. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Designing and Planting the Woodland Garden: Plants and Combinations That Thrive in the Shade

Keith Wiley. Timber, $34.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-60469-385-0

Wiley, head gardener at the Garden House in Devon, U.K., explores the secrets and wonders of woodland gardening. These shade-loving magical miniature landscapes meander from one ecosystem to another, all under a protective canopy of the woods. The wonder of woodland gardening is that it looks like plants grow themselves there. After reading this book and following its guidelines, gardeners can make that happen. Wiley highlights the multilayered complexity of developing horticulture in the woods: for example, determining if the growing environment is grassy or sandy, humid or dry, sun or shady. Each of these variations has distinctive characteristics that affect the development of a sustainable understory and canopy. The helpful garden designs and diagrams (such as how to plant a tree), along with hundreds of color photographs, facilitate choosing perennials, shrubs, trees, bulbs, tubers, and ferns. Gardeners, who are dreamers, writes Wiley, can dream that, once established, this magical garden will in fact grow itself. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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