Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Recently, the wonderfully inspiring author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things published a new book for aspiring writers.  Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.  Big Magic is her first self-help book and as is as witty and humorous as Eat, Pray, Love.  I took it with me on my solo trip to the Isle of Eigg and it was the perfect book to bring for those long rainy days when I couldn’t get out but needed some inspiration and motivation to write.  I haven’t read other books about writing but I am sure after reading this that this is in a class of its own. When I first started reading it I thought that I probably wasn’t going t get much out of it but I was still loving EG’s style.  She writes like she is speaking to a friend in the room.  Big Magic is written openly and honestly and so therefore rather courageously I thought.  One of the things which impacted me was the way she expressed the magical things that sometimes happen when one if writing.  Perhaps some will scoff when they read about her theory that inspiration is floating around looking for creative people to birth these ideas or perhaps some will think, it’s a good enough explanation as any.  Elizabeth Gilbert offers quite a lot of sage advice as well as some wonderful personal anecdotes.  I was totally wrong when I thought I would get nothing from it but an enjoyable read.  This book is extremely encouraging and so much fun to read.  At times she had me chuckling to myself and even laughing out loud.  I was so inspired to write for the pure joy of writing that I ended up having an encounter of my own with ‘big magic’.  I wrote (or perhaps channeled) a short story of over 5000 words without hardly a pause except it was getting late and I was fighting sleep to keep going.  It was an exhilarating experience which I won’t forget.  I am not saying that if you read Ms. Gilbert’s book, you will also have a magical experience.  Read the book because it is an enjoyable book or because you have lost that spark you use to have and need some igniting.

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Book Review: Shear Madness by Rhonda Blackhurst

Photo Credit: Amazon

Photo Credit: Amazon

The author of The Inheritance has a new book out and it’s a start to a new series!  Shear Madness is an engaging mystery novel about salon owner Melanie Hogan who is firmly set against living a life outside of the ordinary.  Ordinary, calm and settled is what she finds comfort in due to her mother abandoning her when she was a child to pursue an acting career.  Deep down inside though she has always had a desire to be a private investigator but as that doesn’t fit into her larger desire of living the safe ordinary life, she has allowed that dream to die.  Then along comes Velma, the town gossip who suddenly dies in her stylist chair and the verdict is murder.  Melanie then becomes set on solving the mystery!  I was totally engrossed in this book from start to finish.  It reminded me of Scarlett Thomas’ Lily Pascal series which I have also enjoyed.  Just like The Inheritance, I have enjoyed the characters and felt I understood them.  I liked the suspenseful stalker introduced in the book and enjoyed trying to solve the mystery with Melanie Hogan.  The book has an unusual tall, slim size which I love and a great cover design!  I look forward to the next book in the series.

Book Review: A Book of Silence

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On my recent trip to Scotland, I chose to take with me a book which sounded intriguing.  Sarah Maitland’s A Book of Silence is a beautifully written book by a Christian author about her choice to experience silence by first living remotely for six weeks on the Isle of Skye then visiting the desert of Sinai.

I found it to be the perfect accompaniment for my trip to Scotland.  I read it in Largs and finished just before heading off to the Isle of Eigg. It was a much more meatier book than I had expected it to be.   The book is partly an account of her experiences living in silence and her exploratory  research into silence.  I found both her research and experiential accounts fascinating. The book looks into historical accounts of those who have been on similar journeys (such as the Desert Fathers and Mothers), the spiritual (contemplative), psychological and physical aspects of living alone in silence for an extent of time (such as hearing voices and heightened senses).   It is also the author’s quest into the possible virtues of silence.  For instance, can silence aid in the creative process? (The answer may surprise you!)

After reading the book, I can’t say I experienced a lot of personal silence as I was in Scotland with my family but I did experience more than the usual amount on Eigg.  I think we all need some time of silence for personal well-being but a life-time on one’s own may not be the best choice for anyone.

This is a very thought-provoking and inspiring book which I highly recommend!

The Inheritance by Rhonda Blackhurst– Book Review

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The joy of reading is a privilege of which I am always grateful for.  A good book has the power to enrich our lives, sometimes even teach us or cause us to reflect.  This morning, after just finishing the book, The Inheritance by fellow WordPress blogger, Rhonda Blackhurst, I find myself reflecting some more on all the teachable gems which glittered throughout the pages of the book.

The story begins with a tragedy. A mature couple, married for 36 years and still deeply in love lose their lives in a car accident leaving behind three adult children (and two grandchildren).  At the time of the reading of the will, the adult children are shocked to learn of the terms and conditions of their substantial inheritance which their parents had put in place.  They are also stunned to realize how well their parents knew them, so much so that even their presence is felt in the room as their will is read.  The terms of the will are ones where they will have to make some changes and sacrifice.  They are unique and individualized for each of the three siblings.  Each feel that they alone got the hardest terms and there are hurt feelings that cut through to the core opening up old wounds and repressed childhood emotions.

From as early on as chapter one, I felt well introduced to the characters of the story and deeply interested in each one. Their personalities, opinions and emotions all seem very much like real people I have known or could know. The story bids you to ask the questions, How well did their parents know them really? and Are the conditions of the will really spot on for each of them?

Unlike many overtly Christian novels, God is mentioned seldom in subtle ways allowing the characters to experience and the reader to see the quiet, deep ways God works within the depths of their hearts.  This is a beautiful story with great character development.  My only critique as a reader would be to wish the story had been a bit longer in the earlier part of the book but perhaps I read it through too quickly.  I read every morning before getting out of bed and last thing at night wanting to know what happens next to the characters I grew to love.

Book Review: Running In Heels- A Memoir of Grit and Grace

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Mary A. Perez is a WordPress Blogger and the author of her gripping memoir Running In Heels.  This raw memoir begins with Mary Perez’s childhood and that mysterious resilience that children often have when life treats them harshly. We read how this little girl dug within herself to find her inner strength to survive even when it meant stealing cold cuts from stray cats. The journey takes us through her sad loss of her childhood where we are also seized by her experience of tragic loss.

At times the book reads like a journey through time as Mary grows up and recounts events in her life which coincide with historical events such as the assassination of Martin Luther King and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  There are some small fond memories of TV programs of the 60’s and 70’s and popular food labels of that time. We also are immersed in Mary’s Hispanic American culture where the language spoken was English interspersed with Spanish commonly known as Spanglish.

It is not just her childhood that is so austere for as Mary grows up she becomes a teen bride of an abusive alcoholic nearly twice her age.  Thankfully, due to the limited upbringing of her loving grandparents, Mary is introduced to faith in God.  In her honest portrayal, we read about her spiraling faith which so many of us can relate to. However it is her faith that results in Mary being an overcomer in her life.

Running In Heels is a story of survival. It is the story of hope and faith and an amazing godly forgiveness which is truly inspiring.  I had no high expectations so I was surprised at what a page-turner it was.  It is a beautifully written narrative and I could not put it down!

 

Book Review: Repenting Of Religion

Repenting Of Religion: Turning From Judgement To The Love Of God by Gregory A. Boyd

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Depending on your definition of religion, the book’s main title may mislead you. The author is a pastor of a Christian church in the US.  He is not against Christianity or the true meaning of religion but he is against religion as many of us know it–that of legalism and judging others. This book is instead a message of God’s unconditional love and a passionate entreaty to love others the way God loves us and calls us to love.  I personally believe that this is a book that deserves to be read therefore I do not want to give too much away.

Repenting Of Religion is largely inspired by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and uses biblical scripture to expound the author’s viewpoints.  It begins with what I feel is an eye-opening revelation  of the root of judmentalism.  This is in the introduction which I feel alone is worth buying the book.  The author then explains what judgmentalism is in some detail and how it interferes with both our union with God and His plan for the church.

It is an inspiring read although at times may seems a bit repetitive.  Stick with it because though it may seem repetitive it actually gives you deeper and deeper insight into God’s great commission.

However, there is one point that Boyd makes which many readers dislike.  Sadly, when it came to his views on homosexuality, he deals with this by stating that it is no different from gluttony thus treating homosexuality as a sin instead of as an orientation.  More sadly still, I found many reviewers on Amazon disliked this statement because they view sin as a hierarchy and therefore dislike that Boyd said it was equal to gluttony.   Boyd was only meaning to teach us the importance of inclusiveness and acceptance in the church by stating that we are all equally sinners.  As this book was written 10 years ago, I hope that his viewpoint has evolved to one of greater love and acceptance and the belief that it is an orientation not a sin.  If we don’t see it this way, then I believe the love falls short.  However Boyd only gives very small mention of this in his book and the book as a whole is still  something worth reading.

Boyd writes well and explains clearly and logically.  I feel that Repenting Of Religion  has the power to transform.  If the main principles were taught in churches, Christians would then be known for their love.

Book Review: The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements was published in 1997 and has sold millions of copies.  It has been published in over 30 languages and spent seven years on the New York Times best seller list.  Don Miguel Ruiz writes from the wisdom of the Toltec. The Toltec were an ancient Mexican society who were spiritual and knowledgeable in science and the arts.  They believed it was the mind’s perspective of what is reality that caused all suffering. The Toltecs were known as “women and men of knowledge”. For centuries, the society were a secret society preserving their beliefs and passing it down through generations where it evolved slowly to become what it is today.  It is no longer a secret society and it’s teachings are becoming more widely known.  Although it is not a religion, it does arise from spiritual truths that many religions hold.  Mainly, the Toltec beliefs are about how one should live from the seat of love.  It is based on mastering awareness, intention and transformation.

When I first started to read The Four Agreements, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or get much out of it.  The language is rather simplistic as are the principles.  On top of that there is mentioned in the first chapter a rather odd Toltec belief that life is a dream.  I soon realized however that this is not quite in the literal sense but in the sense that our realities are what we make it.  In other words, our perception of life is not necessarily truth.  To quote the author, ‘Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art’.

The four agreements are agreements which you make with yourself.  The agreements are as follows:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don’t take anything personally.

3. Don’t make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.

I found that when Don Miguel Ruiz expands on these agreements that actually they are foundational principles for forming positive relationships, becoming more accepting of yourself and others and puts you on a road to both internal peace and peace with others.  The principles may not be new to you but the author lays it out in such a way that it inspires you further.  It is a book that I believe can be a guide to bring about healing in relationships and within communities.  The simplicity of the book means that it can be read by a wide audience.  I would love to see these principles taught in schools to students age 11 and over!   The agreements are easy to understand but challenging to live by.  It would take years of practice.  It would great if so many people could start learning this at an early age and see it practised all around them.

Praise for The Signature Of All Things

Picture Source

Picture Source

The best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love could have decided based on the book’s success to play it safe and write more autobiographical books about her life and spiritual journey.  After reading The Signature Of All Things, it is apparent to me that Elizabeth Gilbert did not play it safe.  In fact this 600+ page novel is quite an ambitious undertaking.  Having read both Eat, Pray, Love and Committed and loving both books, I was a bit dubious about The Signature Of All Things.  If I am honest, it just did not sound like a book I wanted to read.  What I had gleaned was that the book was a period novel based on the science of Botany with the main character being a female Botanist.  Oh dear! Yet, the conundrum was that I really did yearn to read more by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Still, I kept putting it off until after hearing more and more of the book’s success and it being printed in different countries and in many languages I finally succumbed to reading the book.  I am truly very glad that I did!

I am also glad that I knew so little about the book when I began reading it for this book really surprised me.  It is so much more than just a period novel about a Botanist.  This book causes the imagination to bloom in panoramic proportions so that what you envision is breathtakingly beautiful.  Besides that, it is exceptionally well-researched.  Those with an adventurous spirit will find themselves soaring. Contemplatives will find their minds being further challenged while lovers of science will find satisfaction.

Partly into the book, I thought I knew what the book was about; then surprise after surprise enters into the story.  It isn’t as if the story changes direction.  It was more like a flower bud opening layer upon layer of petals so that each time something new was revealed it added to making the story more captivating.  I found myself often wondering, “Now where is this story going?”

My conclusion is that The Signature Of All Things is Elizabeth Gilbert’s current masterpiece.  How she will top this, I don’t know but I will never again hesitate to read more by her!

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter–More Than Just A Book Review

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Image Source

When I first heard of this book by Sue Monk Kidd, best-selling author of The Secret Lives Of Bees, I was more than a bit intrigued.  The full title is:  The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  I had read an excerpt of it on Amazon and knew this was the author’s personal story which was sparked by a confrontation in a drugstore where her fourteen year old daughter worked.  Her daughter was kneeling on the shop floor staking items on a shelf when two middle-aged men walked in.  One commented to the other, “Now that’s how I like to see a woman–on her knees.”  I am not sure now what I had expected from this book.  The title does give the game away but I ended up still being quite surprised. If this book had been written a few decades ago, I would have been less surprised I think.  This is the story of Sue Monk Kidd’s spiritual journey from this point on.

Sue Monk Kidd is a Christian who was a long time baptist and professional author who use to write for Christian publications. Throughout the book there is no hint that she was ever mistreated or oppressed because of her gender.  So how does Sue Monk Kidd end up on a spiritual journey researching old religions of a feminine Goddess?  This fact is never quite clear but only subtlety hinted at towards the end of the book.  Part of me wishes that the author had been a bit more open as to what truly pushed her into this journey.  I wanted to understand and empathise more but found it difficult and felt the author was holding something back which she didn’t want to share with a public audience.  However, I do respect her courage and candour in the parts of her journey she does share.

I have known of women who preferred to think of God as a mother figure rather than a father figure because of their history of sexual abuse.  It always felt perfectly reasonable to me and I have always supported their choice…because of their abuse and because I believe that we are all made in the image of God–male and female therefore our feminine and masculine qualities all come from God.  In fact, I have believed this since I was a child.  However, my traditional and cultural upbringing always had me referring to God as ‘He’ or ‘Father’.  What I realized as I pondered on this book was that when I played with the idea of thinking of God as feminine ….ok…this may seem a bit strange but I felt it very self-noteworthy…is that somehow God as She felt more sexual while God as He felt genderless to me.  This is not to say anyone is wrong to think of God as female.  This is me self-analysing.

The book  has been embraced and rejected by many.  One Amazon reviewer said this book was required reading at her bible college!  I don’t agree with a lot of the author’s conclusions.  Although I do believe there is a history of patriarchy within the church and evidence of it in the bible, I disagree with Christianity as a whole being patriarchal.  Jesus believed in equality for men and women.  Also, if you believe in the inherent traits of masculine and feminine, then Jesus Himself exhibited both….well, as we all sometimes do.

Do I recommend this book?  I couldn’t relate to it in a personal way which surprised me as I have experienced gender-oppression many years ago.  However, the book is well-written, well-researched and fuel for thought. Read it if you are in a place in your life where this may help your faith and not hinder it.  Or you may decide to read it to aid your quest in compassionate growth as it may teach you to understand and empathize the spiritual journeys of others.

8 Habits Of Love–Book Review

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I love a book or any artistic endeavour where the spirit and truth of the author shines through.  Ed Bacon is an Episcopal priest who has a heart of gold.  He is what I might call a Christian Mystic or Spiritual Christian but has the laid back approach of a ‘regular guy’.  He is authentic.  I first came across Ed Bacon when he was being interviewed on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series and knew I just had to get his book.  In 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind, Ed Bacon shares some basic principles for life.  Each principle (or habit) in practice would enable those who read it to live life without fear or judgement and with more love and freedom.  The 8 habits are simply explained with some entertaining and often times moving or humorous true stories.  In fact, this may be the only non-fictional book I have read where I was hooked and excited by the introduction.  The habits are Generosity, Stillness, Truth, Candor, Play, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Community.  I don’t want to give too much away but I found Bacon’s definition of compassion refreshing.  This book teaches a true message of love in a way that is so uplifting for its inclusiveness alone.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a guide book for living whether you are a Christian or not.  I wish this book had been around when I was just beginning my own walk with God.  It drew me in so that I could not put it down.  Very inspiring!  I hope this is not Ed Bacon’s first and only book.