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Sanctuary of Your Own: Create a Haven Anywhere for Relaxation and Self-Renewal

Caroline Dow. Llewelyn, $17.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7387-6242-5

Herbalist Dow (The Healing Power of Tea) guides readers in designing spaces for reflection in this charming work. Dow’s blend of spiritual practice and interior design urges readers to look closely at the mood and goals of rooms, as well as how one can engage the five senses in one’s home, car, office, or elsewhere. The senses and their interplay with psychology, which create a “symphony of delight” and “reach deep into our subconscious,” inspire Dow’s suggestions for wall paint (she breaks down each color’s psychological effects) and her advice for utilizing different light sources. While there are tips for each room of the home (including how to make a home office feel removed and how to turn a bathroom into a personal sanctuary), Dow’s main focus is on creating a personal sanctuary that “reveals what is harmonious or out of balance.” Many of the concepts are low cost and pragmatic, such as threshold protections, altar areas, talismans, and the basics of feng shui. A lengthy appendix provides metaphysical and medicinal knowledge about plants, crystals, wood, colors, and numbers. Dow’s thorough text will appeal to domestic spiritualists of any tradition. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Buddha’s Office: The Ancient Art of Waking Up While Working Well

Dan Zigmond. Running Press, $18 ISBN 978-0-7624-9458-3

Data scientist and Zen priest Zigmond (Buddha’s Diet) turns to Buddhist wisdom in this insightful guide to addressing the stresses of the modern workplace. Though the Buddha “never worked a day in his life,” Zigmond writes, his teachings offer guidelines for “right livelihood,” one of the steps of the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Zigmond suggests that work, being such a critical part of modern life, is “an integral part of truly waking up.” He asks readers to take a step back, pay attention, and be more conscious in creating and sustaining healthy relationships with oneself and workplace colleagues. Along the way, Zigmond covers the fundamentals of Buddhist thought and encourages mindfulness meditation as the basis for everyday navigation of work situations, among them office disagreements, career advancement, workplace friendships and romances, work-life balance, and multitasking. Working Buddhists and those interested in Buddhist mindfulness will find this to be an accessible, down-to-earth handbook for finding a “middle path” while at the office. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Magic of Marie Laveau: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

Denise Alvarado. Weiser, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-57863-673-0

Anthropologist and Louisiana folk magic “rootworker” Alvarado (The Voodoo Doll Spellbook) rejects the sensational accounts of voodoo queen Marie Laveau (1801–1881) to present a comprehensive, intensely researched, and imminently readable narrative of her life and spirituality. Alvarado examined legal documents, historical interviews, oral tradition, testimony of voodoo practitioners, and Laveau’s genealogy to create her account, which also features a compendium of prayers, rituals, and spells associated with voodoo. Laveau was born a free woman of color in New Orleans and was a devout Catholic, slave owner, philanthropist, nurse, and volunteer who performed many charitable works, and was likely a hair dresser to upper class white women. Beginning her career as a voodoo queen in the 1820s, Laveau was a driving force in the formation of New Orleans voodoo and the Creole voodoo religion, combining African traditions, Dahomean cosmology, the loa spirit Papa Legba, and Hoodoo magical practice. Nearly half of the book contains spellwork, including candle magic, Catholic conjure, fetishism, gris gris, and water rituals—for purposes including keeping a lover, finding a lost person, healing, and attacking enemies. This insightful resourceful is a thorough examination of Laveau’s legendary status and will be an invaluable reference for devotees of the Laveau voodoo tradition. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth

Jared C. Wilson. Thomas Nelson, $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-40-021204-0

In this vociferous work, Wilson (Supernatural Power for Everyday People), director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, explores what he believes are eight common lies that Satan uses to deceive Christians as they seek fulfillment, beauty, and enlightenment. “Before there was death, there was the lie. But before the lie, there was the Liar,” Wilson writes, declaring that, ever since Satan’s actions in the Garden of Eden, he has been creating doubt in Christians with the question: “Did God really say...?” Wilson names falsehoods, such as “You need to live your truth” and “God helps those who help themselves,” and explains why they can be so appealing and dangerous. For instance, one should look to God for foundational truths, he writes, not the vagaries of the cultural moment. To counteract Satan’s false gospel of widely accepted lies, Wilson contrasts them with opposing biblical tenets. Among others, the topics include materialism vs. Christianity, “YOLO” (you only live once) vs. eternal life, and feelings of despair vs. hope and faith. With insightful questions and fruitful discussions on temptation, Wilson asks Christians to “combat hellish lies with heavenly truths.” This fervent invective against sin will appeal to Christians who enjoy the works of Joyce Meyer. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Godless: 150 Years of Disbelief

Edited by Chaz Bufe. PM Press, $19.95 trade paper (256) ISBN 978-1-62-963641-2

Bufe (20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity), publisher of anarchy-and-atheism-focused See Sharp Press, selects essays on atheism from the late 19th century to the present day in this deeply uneven collection. Chosen texts include selections from Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary and Bufe’s American Heretic’s Dictionary (one of three pieces by Bufe in the volume), as well as pieces by early-20th-century activist Emma Goldman, English ethicist Joseph McCabe, and French anarchist Sébastien Faure. One of the most stimulating entries is Bufe’s afterword, which provides a whistle-stop overview of the history of atheist publishing. Most of the selected texts appear to be excerpts from larger works, but Bufe provides no citation information to help the reader along. Despite this, some of the seminal works included, such as Goldman’s “The Failure of Christianity” and Faure’s “Twelve Proofs of the Nonexistence of God,” will be of interest to novitiates of atheist thought. However, those looking for a nuanced discussion of atheism would do well to look elsewhere. Despite a few bright essays, this largely underwhelming volume plays at all times straight to the gallery and will appeal only to the likeminded. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The World Turned Upside Down: Finding the Gospel in Stranger Things

Michael Heiser. Lexham, $12.99 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-68-359322-5

Drawing analogies between the Bible and story lines from the Netflix series Stranger Things, Heiser (The Unseen Realm) provides a novel take on spiritual warfare and Christian beliefs about the supernatural conflict at the heart of the salvation of mankind. Each chapter focuses on a different character or subplot from the show and a corresponding spiritual concerns, such as the power of love, the cost of sacrifice, and the ongoing battle between good and evil. For instance, he sees the show’s chief of police, Jim Hopper—someone who “can’t admit [he] needs help instead of trying to change the unchangeable”—as representative of the “dilemma” of Jesus’s gospel: “our inability to fix ourselves and resolve our separation from God’s family.” Heiser also concludes each chapter with a “Right-Side Up” section summing up his intended spiritual lessons—a reference to the show’s fictional town, where the disappearance of a young boy exposes the reality of an unseen world, dubbed “the Upside Down,” where monsters set on the destruction of human life reside. Though Heiser’s detailed retelling of the show’s myriad subplots can get tedious, his insights into the series and firm belief that life apart from God would be akin to living in Stranger Things’ horrifying Upside Down will please Christian fans of the series. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Why I Am Not a Buddhist

Evan Thompson. Yale Univ., $26 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-300-22655-3

Philosopher Thompson (Mind in Life) presents a convincing case against Buddhist exceptionalism and scientific defenses of the tradition. He opens by showing how the image of Buddhism as especially rational, wise, and empirical arose relatively recently and ignores the historical complexities of the tradition and its faith claims. He next critiques evolutionary psychology as an insufficient, flawed model for asserting the truth of Buddhism. “The self that the Buddha targets as the object of self-grasping—the self as a personal essence—isn’t the only way to understand the self, especially in the context of cognitive science and philosophy today.” He persuasively unpacks the mindfulness craze to show that research on the benefits of meditation (including brain scans of those meditating) is “tentative” and that “the experienced benefits of mindfulness practices... are inseparable from the social and communal settings.” Thompson challenges the aligning of “enlightenment” with scientific understanding by Buddhist modernists as inconsistent because nirvana has many meanings and is based on faith. In his conclusion, he calls for a robust cosmopolitanism that welcomes debate among divergent ideas. The clarity of Thompson’s arguments, including his explanations of models of consciousness, and his genuine regard for Buddhism (despite his skepticism toward claims of superiority) avoid the pitfalls of many similar critiques. This cogent argument will interest readers who are skeptical of Buddhism. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Mindful Thoughts for Runners: Freedom on the Trail

Tessa Wardley. Leaping Hare, $9.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-78240-764-5

Wardley (The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming) combines mindfulness and running in this intuitive but slight work. In these 25 essays, Wardley proposes many ways to enliven and deepen one’s running routine, such as running “creatively” (by mentally “releasing the flow” of sensations as one runs), running “free” (for pleasure, without measurements or goals), and running as “ritual” (to build confidence or start a new routine). A compendium of pithy reflections usher runners through ways to more mindfully enjoy the outdoors regardless of the weather, and also how to better deal with injuries. Wardley never gets too deep with any of these ruminations, which is a bit of a blessing and curse; while the brief musings are digestible and simple to consider, they sometimes skim the surface of rich topics including the rituals of running, embracing pain, and the connection between running and wilderness. Despite this, anyone interested in making exercise more intentional and meaningful will benefit from Wardley’s compact collection of reflections. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Farming Grace: A Memoir of Life, Love, and a Harvest of Faith

Paula Scott. West Butte Publishing, $15.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-0-57-843749-1

Novelist Scott (The Mother Keeper) opens up about her early life, including her childhood on a farm, being kicked out of her home, and a rocky start to her marriage, in this affecting but uneven memoir. Growing up in Sutter Buttes, Calif., Scott lived a largely sheltered existence on her family’s farm. The story jumps sporadically between scenes from her childhood, moments during college, and early in her marriage when she struggled to figure out what she wanted out of life. At the end of high school, Scott met her future husband, and the two began a relationship, which caused her strict Catholic father to kick her out. Floating between college and waitressing jobs in Reno, Nev., and Chico, Calif., Scott parties, abuses drugs, and a has tumultuous relationship with her future husband. After the two marry, her husband begins a career in the Navy, and the two live in 10 cities over a dozen years. While the difficulties of raising children (they have seven) and military life wear on Scott, the voice of God and the hope of returning to Sutter Buttes always guides her. While the erratic narrative jumps can be disorienting, this hopeful tale of redemption and the lasting power of home will appeal to Christian readers. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Confessions of a Proverbs 32 Woman: How I Went From Messed Up to Blessed Up Without Changing a Single Thing

Kerri Pomarolli. Harvest House, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-7369-7748-7

Comedian Pomarolli (She Rises Late and Her Kids Make Her Breakfast) explores with wit and candor her life as a Christian and mother. She takes off the “Insta-perfect Christian mask” to reveal hilarious tales about taking jazz dance class with teenagers and reading her college diary (detailing a string of boyfriends), but also difficult topics such as marital strife and depression, all the while anchoring her life’s story to her connection with Jesus and the notion that she is far from what the Bible cites in Proverbs 31 as the ideal woman, but is still trying: “Accepting that you are a Proverbs 33 Woman is the gift of being convinced that God is crazy about you.” Including an eye-opening mission trip to Africa that helped her foster trust in God’s plans for her life and tips for trusting God that she learned during a tough divorce, her testimony and scripture suggestions feel genuine and never overly preachy. While some advice—such as leaving inspirational notes around the house—is not new, she backs up all her suggestions with hilarious stories of parenting and overcoming loneliness . For Christians who love a bit of sass, this delightful guide poignantly explains how to praise God while accepting the messiness that life brings. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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