Review: A Dream So Big by Steve Peifer (and Gregg Lewis)

Well, I must admit I’m about book reviewed out! But, nothing helps me get through a funk better than reading as many books as I can possibly get my hands on. It’s definitely my (relatively) inexpensive form of therapy.

coverA Dream So Big” by Steve Peifer is one of those rare books that makes the reader proud to be human. After losing their infant baby to a rare disease very shortly after his birth, the couple goes through a very difficult period in their lives, which ultimately culminates in a humanitarian mission trip to Kenya. The family’s story is all at once heart-breaking, hilarious, infuriating, and joy-filled. So many books about religious missions trips end up being stories of “here is how wonderful I am” and “this is how many poor heathens I saved” sort of diatribes, which get very old (and very insulting) very quickly. I tend to avoid books on Christian humanitarian missions, due to their tone, and have found secular humanitarian stories much more inspiring and uplifting. However, “A Dream So Big” is a beautiful exception. The author is humble, honest, kind, and irresistibly geeky. This is a phenomenal, true story that I believe will inspire even the most cynical among us (including me). It’s a fantastic book, and I’m so grateful that this family has shared their story.

Please note I received a complimentary copy of the book from in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions stated here are my own.


Review: Living the Quaker Way by Philip Gulley

bookLiving the Quaker Way” is an interesting, easy-to-read book covering what the author sees as the basic ideas of the Quaker faith. The author is careful to point out that the Quaker faith can be viewed as either a religion or a way of life (or both), and that the ideas and beliefs within the faith are extremely varied. Although it seems that the Quaker faith is difficult to “pin down” even for the author, who is a Quaker pastor, he narrows the ideals of the faith down to simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality, creating the five-letter acronym S.P.I.C.E. The author also points out that these five ideals are not exclusive to the Quaker faith or way of life, nor are they even exclusive to any particularly “religious” way of life at all.

I appreciated the author’s honesty and openness, and his use of personal stories to illustrate his points. I enjoyed the book a great deal, but did not come away with a very succinct idea of what Quakerism actually is. But, I think that perhaps this was the author’s point–the Quaker faith or way of life is so open and varied that it can be a spiritual home for virtually anyone who seeks a faith that is based more on a sound (yet individualized) ethical structure, rather than dogma.

Please note I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion stated here is my own.

Review: The Ancestral Continuum by Natalia O’Sullivan & Nicola Graydon

cover23883-smallThe Ancestral Continuum” was an absolutely fascinating read. Not knowing quite what to expect from this book, I went into it with an open mind, and found it to be incredibly interesting and inspiring. The book will most definitely appeal to those with a passion for ancestral history, particularly the personal stories of their ancestors, and how those stories can impact a family through the generations. The personal stories from the authors and others were wonderful to read, and lent such a rich, historical element to the book. The book is beautifully written, and the love and passion that the authors have for the topic is so evident. I would recommend this book to anyone with a passion for ancestral history and spirituality.

Please note that I received a complimentary electronic copy of this book from the publisher via I was not required to write a review of any kind, either positive or negative. The review stated here is my own.

Review: To Walk A Pagan Path by Alaric Albertsson

cover33185-smallI thoroughly enjoyed “To Walk A Pagan Path.” Being passionate about all things spiritual (whether my own path or the paths of others), I have recently been reading about pagan and earth-centered spirituality. Author Alaric Albertsson provides a wonderful explanation of earth-centered spirituality, without simply touting his own specific path. The book is written in a friendly, welcoming tone, and Albertsson’s knowledge and love of the pagan way is evident. I learned a great deal about basic topics such as the Wheel of the Year and how and when to celebrate its holidays, historical information about paganism, as well as more specific and everyday ways to celebrate and revere nature. The book is a pleasant, enjoyable read, packed with wonderful tips, suggestions and bits of wisdom. I highly recommend this book, specifically for those new to, or wishing to learn more about, pagan spirituality.

Please note that I received a complimentary electronic copy of this book from I was not required to post a review of any kind, whether positive or negative. The opinions stated here are my own.

Review: On Being Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreua

vegandownloadWhat a fantastic resource for new vegans, and even for vegans who aren’t so new, but who are struggling with some of the emotional (and sometimes confrontational) reactions they face from others. I found this book by doing one of my “simple” two-hour book searches on 🙂 I love searching for books, and will go through pages and pages of them on a particular topic, until I find one that really calls to me.

On Being Vegan” called to me, and I’ll admit that it was due primarily to the great price of the Kindle eBook version. And I’m glad that I have it in my library, because it’s phenomenal.

The book is well-organized, and broken out into very specific segments which make the book a fabulous resource for quick future reference. The author covers the common “definitions” of veganism, her personal journey to veganism, the emotional and physical benefits of veganism, how veganism is a “means to an end” and not the end in itself, among other topics. It is a great read, and Colleen’s writing style is personable yet very credible and authoritative.

The most important aspect of this book, for me, was the author’s emphasis on the fact that veganism isn’t about perfection–about never, ever, ever making a mistake, or accidentally eating something with some sort of obscure animal product in it. Veganism is about doing what we can. It’s about doing our own personal best, defining veganism for ourselves, in a way that is compassionate toward living creatures and to our environment. It’s about compassion and kindness, not about beating ourselves up to achieve an impossible-to-achieve ideal of perfection.

This book has made me less afraid to actually call myself vegan, because it helped me realize that I don’t have to defend my veganism when others (including friends and family) become confrontational about my not eating animal products. I don’t even have to discuss it with them if I don’t want to. It’s my decision, my choice, and I don’t owe anyone an apology or defense.

Here is a fantastic presentation that the author gave in 2011. 

Review: Zen Under Fire by Marianne Elliott

ZenUnderFire-book-imageZen Under Fire” is the memoir of Marianne Elliott, who lived and worked in Afghanistan as a human rights attorney for the United Nations. Marianne’s storytelling is thorough, detailed and inspiring. Before reading this book, I really did not know much about why my own country is in Afghanistan, nor what the war is truly about. This book has inspired me to learn more about the conflict, and to “get off the fence” in terms of what I believe my country’s government is doing. It also inspired me to seek out news sources other than the mainstream media I had been watching, in order to get as much information as I can regarding current events. Before reading this book, I really was in a state of ignorance.

The author gives such excellent descriptions of the intricacies of the conflicts and issues that  the people of Afghanistan face each day, such as violence against women, war-related conflict, tribal conflict, and the struggle to find and grow food. Her stories are very vivid and flow beautifully. Marianne also describes how her growing yoga practice helped her to cope with the extreme stress of her harrowing experiences in Afghanistan.

The only parts of the book that didn’t fully appeal to me were the minimal portions of the book that pertained to the author’s personal relationships with two men in her life. She described her experiences and feelings very well, but I preferred the humanitarian portions of the book. I do understand that the author included these personal stories in order to illustrate that, while she was living a very isolated and dangerous life in a war-torn region of Afghanistan, she was also going through private struggles of her own.

Overall, I loved this book, and would recommend it to anyone. I particularly recommend it to people in the United States who want to understand more about the conflict in Afghanistan. The book is well-written, educational, and yet very personal and poignant. It has inspired me to make several important changes in my life, most importantly to seek out objective world news sources and to proactively educate myself on my country’s international policy and actions. “Zen Under Fire” also instilled in me a huge sense of gratitude. I have so much, and live in virtual luxury compared to what so many in the world face.

Please note that I received a complimentary electronic copy of “Zen Under Fire” from The review I have written here is my own opinion, and I was not required to write a positive review. I will be purchasing a hard copy of this book for my personal library, as I truly do feel that it’s one of the most eye-opening books I’ve ever read.

opening my eyes

all i knew about darfur was that it is a word angelina jolie uses a lot. but i hadn’t cared enough to find out more.

now i care about darfur and the sudan. about rwanda. about syria. there is a lot more to the world than i knew. all these years, i never cared enough to…care.

ashleythat has changed, and i owe the change to ashley judd‘s memoir “all that is bitter and sweet.”

the book has very mixed reviews on, and i’ll admit that i did not read it with the intention of learning about anything other than what it’s like to be a famous person in a famous family.

but this book has truly changed me from the inside out. reading about ashley’s life, about her struggle with depression, dysfunction and mental illness, and especially about about her humanitarian travels with Population Services International (PSI), has opened my eyes to so many things. i hadn’t thought about women in parts of africa who have to choose between selling themselves or feeding their nearly-starved children. i hadn’t thought about women who are enslaved in a life (if it can be called a life) of prostitution, risking their health, their sanity, their lives multiple times a day, every day, until they are of no use any more to their “owners.”

yes, ashley is wealthy, educated, famous. but she is a woman who totally gives herself to her humanitarian missions, to the people she encounters. she gives of herself to the point of exhaustion and physical illness, and then gives some more.

coming from a background of neglect and dysfuction, she is a woman who knows depression well, but yet she is also a woman who lives for helping the suffering, both human and animal.

the book switches back and forth between stories of her childhood and stories/journal entries from her travels into some of the poorest parts of the poorest nations with PSI. although some reviewers noted that this made for somewhat choppy and disoriented reading, what i found was that these back-and-forth perspectives were a chronology of ashley’s healing process. as she travels the world helping and meeting with individuals in some of the worst possible situations, where hope is all but non-existent, the experiences she goes through help her to process through many of her own life experiences and memories.

i loved every bit of this book, and plan to use its message to open my heart to the world, and to do all that i can to help those who suffer. i live such a privileged life–just the mere facts that i have clean, running water in my house, that my children are well-fed, and that i don’t have to walk the streets of my neighborhood in fear show how wealthy my life truly is.

i’ve learned gratitude from this book, and i plan to read every book i can find on the plight of women and children in poverty. ashley judd isn’t just a mesmerizing beauty. she is also a mesmerizing and shining example of kindness and sacrifice, and i am so happy that she has shared her story.