My May Book Stack

Friends, the past few weeks have been crazy, to say the least!

There is a lot going on, and it has been difficult to know what to post. Then suddenly I realized I had not yet shared my May book stack with you!

So here it is. 

Monks and Mystics, Volume 2: Chronicles of the Medieval Church 

I bought this series by Mindy and Brandon Withrow many years ago as part of our Church History curriculum when were homeschooling. This is the second book in the series, and it relates the stories of medieval Christians such as Boniface, St. Francis, Thomas Aquinas, and John Wyclif, as well as outlining events like the Crusades, the forming of Universities, and the Councils of the Medieval Church. Since it is written with the intent of making history come alive for older students, I find it is very readable and way less boring than most church history accounts! There were several stories I was not familiar with that were quite encouraging. This is a great book (and series) for anyone wanting to learn about the path of Christianity through the ages or for middle/high schoolers studying Church history.  

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)

This was such a fun book! It reminded me quite a bit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It took me a bit to get into it, but I’m so glad I stuck with it! The character development was terrific, and it was thick with British humor. It covered the subject matter brilliantly, and while I had a pretty good idea where the plot was going to end up, it took a few twist and turns getting there. Overall, it was a beautiful tale of not judging a book by its cover, while addressing delicate issues such as depression, loneliness, and friendship in a unique and charming way. (Trigger warning: If you have suffered abuse, this book may not be for you.)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)

My oldest daughter, Sarah, made a special trip to the store just to surprise me with it because we are both big fans of The Hunger Games series. (Thanks, Boo!) In this prequel to the original book, Collins takes us back to when President Snow is a teenager, living in the Capitol, struggling to survive after losing both parents in the war. He is chosen to be a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games and is assigned- you guessed it- the girl from District 12. Y’all, I loved this book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll stop there, but Collins does a great job of weaving in so many elements from the original series, which made it an extremely fun read. The climax at the end felt just a little bit rushed (kind of like the end of Mockingjay, in my opinion), but overall, I definitely recommend it to Hunger Games fans!

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

This book has been on my list since I joined Hope*Writers a few months ago. The title stems from a poem often quoted by my favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot: “Do the next thing.” Freeman takes it a step further by reminding us that there might be many good choices in front of us, so we need to find the next right thing. While this is a book about making life decisions, I love that it is not a “5 step formula to choosing the right thing” type of book. Instead, each chapter shares a different approach for discerning your next right step. So while they may not all apply to every individual, something will surely apply to everyone! Some of my favorite chapters were Name the Narrative, Look for Arrows, Know what You Want More, Quit something, and Stop Collecting Gurus.

Since the chapters are short, I decided to use it along with my devotional time in the morning, which worked really well. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a “practice” section, which helps the reader apply what they are reading.  There are so many good things I got out of this book, but if I had to pick one quote for how God spoke to me, it would be this one from p. 53:

God often gives a faint vision of things before they ever come to be. It’s not a full form, more of a shadow, not focused or clear… Instead of those black-and-white answers we tend to love so much, what if we began to look for arrows instead?”

Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing

Arrows instead of answers. Yes!! This is a great book to read if you find yourself in a place of transition and need a little help discerning your next right step.

And finally, Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

I loved this book, too! It was a good month for fiction reading. J This is the story of Kya, a young girl who is abandoned by her mother and older siblings and eventually by her abusive, alcoholic father, left to fend for herself in the North Carolina marsh. It is a coming of age tale; a beautiful story of abandonment, love, trust, betrayal, and friendship. Oh yeah, and then there’s a murder mystery, just for kicks! Seriously, the world building, character development, and storyline of this book are all top-notch, and the writing itself drew me in from the beginning. My favorite scene is when Kya’s friend, Tate, is teaching her how to read: 

“Slowly, she unraveled each word of the sentence: ‘There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.’”

(He goes on to encourage her that now that she can read, she’ll never not be able to read again, to which she answers:)

It ain’t just that.’ She spoke almost in a whisper. ‘I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.’”

Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing, p. 135 (Large print edition)

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but that is such simple and beautiful truth.

I definitely recommend this book. It would make a great read for the beach or pool!

Well, friends, those are the books I read in May! Not a bad one among them. Summer is here, and we all have a little extra daylight, which hopefully will include a little extra time to read, too!

What’s on your nightstand or in your beach bag? I’m always looking for suggestions. Feel free to share in the comments!

My March Book Stack

Well friends, one of the good things about being at home indefinitely is that it frees up my evenings for reading!

I entered the month of March with several of my February books unfinished, so I wasn’t sure how this month was going to go. Fortunately, I have had plenty of time to catch up! I was even able to sneak in a quick trip to the library before everything shut down, so I grabbed a few YA fiction books (my guilty pleasure!) to get me through this month. I just found out our local used bookstore is offering call-in purchases with curb-side service, so I plan to utilize that in April!

I lightened up my list a little this month with some fun books, and I even read one authored by a longtime friend of mine! So exciting! Here are some quick reviews for those of you looking for books to add to your reading list.

Made to Move Mountains: How God Uses Our Dreams and Disasters to Accomplish the Impossible by Kristen Welch. I so enjoyed reading this book! Kristen Welch has a gift for communicating her heart in a very authentic manner, and Made to Move Mountains is no exception. I love that she doesn’t try to wrap her stories up in shiny packaging and pretty bows, because how often in life is that really the case? No, one mountain often leads to another, and we rarely have time to recover before we are forced to start climbing again.

And yet, we don’t climb alone. Kristen continually points our eyes to Jesus and His faithfulness, reminding us of His invitation to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Kristen’s books always challenge me to live beyond complacency, and this one is no exception! Reading it on the heals of David Platt’s book, Something Needs to Change, made it even more impactful!

The Cage Series (which includes The Cage, The Hunt, and The Gauntlet) by Megan Shepherd is a trilogy in the YA Fiction/Fantasty/SciFi genre. The first book drew me in quickly with likable, well-developed characters and great world-building, and the plot carried well throughout all three books. I found myself especially drawn in by the action in the third book! Overall, the characters and writing were engaging enough to keep me reading, which is exactly what I look for in this genre!

The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise is a romance novel written by my dear friend and amazing author, Stephanie Dees. I do not typically read romance novels, but I have wanted to read Stephanie’s work for a long time and finally got around to ordering one of her books. It did not disappoint! This was a sweet, well-written story with many layers beyond just romance. Reading it felt like watching a Hallmark movie! Stephanie did a great job tackling some tough, real-life issues with compassion and hope. If you like romance novels, you definitely need some Stephanie Dees books in your life!

And finally, Living Prayer by Robert Benson. This is another book that has been on my list for awhile, and I am so glad I finally ordered it! It is, in essence, Benson’s journey into the world of liturgical prayer and what he has learned about faith and God Himself through the rhythm of the Ancient prayers. I’ll be honest… I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. But it is rare that I am unable to find something redeeming in a book, especially when I like the author, so I kept reading.

Y’all. There is so much good stuff in it, I don’t even know where to begin! My prayer journal is filled with quotes and passages that have been speaking to me as I read, and I have been reminded of experiences along my own journey which have paved the way to my understanding of prayer. I have one chapter left- I have been reading a chapter a day during my God Time- and I am actually sad to finish it; it’s that good. Benson kind of has a folksy flair to his writing (and life), so if that style irritates you, then maybe you should skip it. Otherwise, I highly recommend it!

And that’s what I’ve been reading this month! What’s in your book stack? Any books you recommend? Feel free to share in the comments!

My January Book Stack

Well friends, I am off to a slow start on writing this year. Thanks for being patient with me! Now that my 30-day writing challenge is over, it has been more difficult for me to stay motivated and disciplined, especially with Jeff traveling so much and the craziness that comes with four kids. But I have been reading a lot, so maybe I can start there!

I still need to add a few more books to my 2020 Reading Challenge list; I will post it once I have it organized. For now, I will share my current book stack with you.

I am kicking off the year with these six books solely because they are the ones I have access to right now. I already own four of them, and I was on the waiting list at the library for the two writing books while I was doing my writing challenge. I don’t usually read more than one book at a time, so this stack is a little deceiving. I do, however, like to have a devotional (or Christian non-fiction) book that I read during my prayer time, as well as another book to read in my free time.

The Armor of God for Teens book is actually a Bible study that I am doing with my Senior small group girls. It is fantastic- one of the best studies I have ever done with teen girls- so I am excited about finishing it!

None Like Him focuses on different attributes of God, and it was my first devotional book this year. The author, Jen Wilkins, is one of my favorite writers of Women’s Bible studies because she is so committed to accurate Scriptural context and interpretation. I find that many popular authors and speakers today gain a following based on little more than their personality, and too many women are being led into a false or twisted understanding of Scripture simply because the authors are so likable. Jen Wilkins is both relatable and solid in her teaching, and I highly recommend her books. I read In His Image last year and loved it.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family– I bought this book several months ago after reading some of Paul David Tripp’s other material.  It is more of a philosophical book than a how-to manual, so I am interested to see what insights he has to share. I started it this morning- I will let you know what I think!

Stephen King’s, On Writing, is part memoir and part instruction. I enjoyed reading about his childhood and pathway to becoming an author. His instructions on writing are geared towards fiction writers, as that is obviously his area of expertise. Since I don’t write fiction, that wasn’t very helpful to me, but there were still plenty of tips I hope to apply to my writing, and overall it was enjoyable.

The Tattooist of Aushwitz  is a true account of a young Jewish man who found himself tattooing numbers into the arms of those who arrived at Aushwitz and how that job enabled him (and others) to stay alive amidst the horrors surrounding them. It is also a love story, sharing how he fell in love with a young woman at the camp, and their struggle to survive in hopes of a future together. It reads like historical fiction, but is even more impactful since it is a true story. 

Finally, I just finished On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  Much of the material is similar to what I already read in King’s book, so I found myself skimming quite a bit. This book is geared towards non-fiction writers, thus it was more applicable to my writing than King’s book. While I am glad I read it, I was also glad to finish it! I doubt I will ever read it again. 

And that’s it! Those are my January books. Hopefully I can squeeze in one or two more before the end of the month.

What about you? What books are currently on your nightstand?

My 2019 Reading Challenge List, Reviews, and Recommendations

As the New Year begins, I find myself tying up loose ends from 2019. I shared in a recent post how I use an Annual Reading Challenge to keep me reading and broaden my choice of books (you can read about that HERE).  Over the past few days, I have spent several hours wrapping up my 2019 reading list and preparing my list for the coming year. 

I just typed and then deleted a whole bunch of stuff because, truth be told, if you are reading this, you probably just want to know which books I read and whether or not I like them. So, I will get to right to it!

Here are my 2019 Reading List, Reviews (or random thoughts), and Recommendations.

Disclaimer: This was not a stellar year of quality book choices for me. There were a few that I loved, a few that I liked, and the rest were fine but not earth-shattering. I had a lot of really good books left on my list at year’s end that I am looking forward to reading this year!

2019 Reading List:

Non-fiction:

  • Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (John Acuff)
  • Meeting Rich: A Litergy. A Legacy. A Man with a Guitar in my Living Room (Caleb J. Cruse)
  • Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall)
  • The BIGS: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals about How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Ben Carpenter)
  • Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith (Voice of the Martyrs)
  • Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Adam Barr)
  • Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope (Jenna Bush)
  • *The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
  • Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life (Robert Benson)
  • The Art of Work (Jeff Goins)
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)

Non-Fiction (Parenting):

  • Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids (Scott Turansky)
  • One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World (Julie Ferwerda)
  • Your Boy: Raising a Godly Son in an Ungodly World (Vicki Courtney)

Fiction:

  • A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)
  • The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey)
  • Austenland (Shannon Hale)
  • In the Heart of the Canyon (Elisabeth Hyde)
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis (Patti Callahan)
  • Necessary Lies (Diane Chamberlain)
  • Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)
  • The Women in the Castle (Jessica Shattuck)
  • The Housemaid’s Daughter (Barbara Mutch)

YA Fiction:

  • *Hunger Games series: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
  • Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
  • Uglies Series- Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras (Scott Westerfield)
  • Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)
  • Impossible (Nancy Werlin)
  • The Truth About Forever (Sarah Dressen)
  • Lorien Legacies (I am Number Four) series: I Am Number Four, Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, The Fall of Five, The Revenge of Seven, The Fate of Ten, United as One (Pittacus Lore)
  • The Program series: The Program, The Treatment, The Remedy (Suzanne Young)
  • *Flashback (Keeper of the Lost Cities #7)- Shannon Messenger
  • Legacy (KOTLC #8)- Shannon Messenger

REVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Didn’t Love:

Of all these books, the only one I didn’t actually finish was The BIGS (and the rest of its really, really long title). tried, I really did! If you are all about making it big in business, no matter what, then this book might be for you. I can usually pull something out of a book that is helpful or applicable, but I had a hard time finding anything relevant in this one.  Also, the author’s voice came off a bit arrogant to me, for whatever reason. So if your reading tastes or life passions are at all similar to mine, skip this one.

Overall Favorite Non-Fiction Books:

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins was the second to last book I read in 2019, and if I had to pick a favorite, this would be it. It is an easy read, fairly short, and super inspiring.  It is a terrific book for college-age students who are searching for their life’s calling and profession, as well as for all those who find themselves longing to do some sort of significant work with their life. Finish is another book in a similar category, which is worth reading if you are good at starting things (like me) but not so good at finishing them (also like me).

Same Kind of Different as Me is a true story, written in novel form, and I loved it. It is the story of two men from very different walks of life who are brought together by God and eventually grow to become family. The perspectives shared and the lessons learned by both men are pertinent to all of us and very inspiring.

Compassion Without Compromise was another favorite. It is co-written by two pastors; one who experiences same-sex attraction and another who has spent many years counseling others who do. It is an honest, insightful, approach to an issue many Christians struggle knowing how to respond to. To me, the authors do a wonderful job of speaking both grace and truth. They give a lot of insight into the true spiritual questions underneath what most people focus on (which applies not just to homosexuality but every other sin!). If you are looking for answers on how to address specific situations, you will not find them here. While they do answer some FAQ’s, most of their answers direct people to pray for God’s guidance in their specific situation and relationship, which I find extremely wise. This is a great book for Christians who love ALL people, but wrestle with how to respond in grace without compromising the truth and authority of Scripture.

Non-Fiction (Parenting):

I liked all of them! The first one (Say Goodbye to Whining, etc…) is one of my all-time favorite parenting books. I have read it multiple times and it never gets old! The last one, Your Boy, has fantastic content, but the edition I have is a bit outdated as so much has changed in recent years, with smart phones and social media. Even so, it is worth reading if you have a pre-teen or teenage son!

Fiction:

If you enjoy historical fiction, there are several books here you should add to your list. Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a delightful, engaging back story of C.S. Lewis’ future wife and their developing friendship turned romance. Necessary Lies is set in the 1960’s on a small town in rural North Carolina. It is an insightful story of compassion, unlikely friendship, and horrors of eugenics.  Winter Garden and The Women in the Castle both stood out in this category as well. My favorite, though, was The Handmaid’s Daughter. Set during a civil war in Africa that was completely unfamiliar to me, this tale of class structure, hidden secrets, friendship, and survival was difficult for me to put down. 

The Snow Child is a sweet retelling of classic Russian fairytale. It was a perfect book to read sitting by the fire on a snowy day, with a mug of hot chocolate! 

And then there is A Man Called Ove. I’ll be honest- this one took a little while to grow on me. The main character’s grumpy, negative attitude was difficult for me at first. But after a few chapters, the old curmudgeon began to grow on me, and I was so glad I didn’t put it down. 

YA Fiction/Fantasy:

I read a lot in this genre during the summer, and usually pull out a few old favorites to re-read, which is how Hunger Games made the list. I won’t highlight it here, but obviously I like it.  I especially enjoy reading series, as it keeps me in the created world a bit longer. I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies) was surprisingly my favorite YA series this year. It has some sci-fi elements, which I don’t usually love, but which totally worked in this book. The characters were well developed and the story drew me in- I think I read all 7 books in a week and a half! It is a great series for teen boys, which can sometimes be hard to find. 

The Program series was a unique twist on dystopian, centered around Big Money/the government trying to “fix” the depression and suicide epidemic among teenagers. The middle book in the trilogy was weak, but the other two were fun to read. The Uglies series was also enjoyable. Honestly, I think I shied away from it for years because of the name, so I am glad I finally read it. It is typical teen dystopian and somewhat predictable, but that never stops me from being sucked in, and this series was no exception! 

Keeper of the Lost Cities has been a favorite series in our home since the first book came up several years ago. We always pre-order the next release, and then my oldest daughter and I fight over who gets to read it first (she won this year). Legacy was as enjoyable as the others. Several of the scenes were a little too long and wordy, but I’ve gotten used to getting more info than is really necessary in these books- I just chalk it up to good character development! If you follow this series at all, you won’t want to miss this book, as we finally get some answers to a few long-awaited questions.

As stand alone books, both Speak and Code Name Verity were definitely worth reading. They are completely opposite in topic, and I would recommend both books for older teens, due to mature content (Speak addresses date rape) and quite a bit of language. Both authors use a unique writing style, and handle their topics extremely well. Some of my more conservative friends might want to avoid these two. 

TOP FIVE PICKS OF 2019:

So, if I had to pick my top 5 from this year, they would be:

  • The Art of Work
  • Same Kind of Different as Me
  • The Handmaid’s Daughter
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis
  • Compassion Without Compromise

And there you have it! I already have some fantastic books on my 2020 Reading Challenge list, many that I didn’t get around to reading this past year. I will post that list soon for those who are interested. But if you have some suggestions, I would love to hear them!

A BOOK REVIEW of Under Our Skin (by Benjamin Watson

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race- And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us is a fantastic book for anyone hoping to understand a clearer p41Y7mrZ25cL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgicture of the ongoing race issues in America.

I read Benjamin Watson’s Facebook post following the Ferguson trial results in 2014 and was impressed with his sincere, compassionate, intelligent, faith-inspired response. I try to be someone who ponders the different perspetives involved in an issue rather than reacting emotionally out of my own experience. I was not looking for an extreme perspective (black or white) on the current race issue- our media takes care of covering those “sides” all too well. I consider myself to (hopefully) be pretty open-minded and somewhat in “the middle” on issues such as race, so I wanted to read a level-headed, considerate perspective from someone whose experience was different than my own. Benjamin Watson did not disappoint. This is a thoughtful, enlightening, and challenging portrayal of what it’s like to grow up as a black man in America. I was surprised by some of his experiences and found some of my own pre-conceived ideas to be false. I appreciated his willingness to look at different angles to these complex situations and to readily admit how his own life experiences had led to bias and prejudice, even when he didn’t want them to. Those confessions resonated with me as my own viewpoints were brought under scrutiny.

The only thing missing, in my opinion, was a broadening of a police officer’s perspective in Chapter 5. Particularly after explaining how the majority of the black community is raised with a great fear of the police, it would have been so beneficial for those readers to understand what “a day in the life of a typical police officer” is like. After reading this book, I have a much greater understanding of why a young, black man’s first instinct is to run when he encounters an officer, and I think it might help the black community to understand why a police officer’s first instinct is to react (or perhaps in some minds to overreact) a certain way in certain situations. That outlook seemed to be notably missing in a book that otherwise did a great job of being open-minded and showing multiple sides of the current issues.

Under Our Skin was insightful, challenging, and thoughtful. It is not politically correct, nor is it (in my opinion) politically motivated. Watson gets to the heart of this and so many other issues that plague Americans when he names it for what it is: sin. He does not throw out easy answers or artificial solutions, but points us to the higher perspective of our mutual Creator as the starting place for healing and reconciliation. By all accounts, he seems to be a man who walks what he talks, thus earning the right to speak boldly on this subject. I see things differently after reading this book, and highly recommend it to everyone.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26167262-under-our-skin