My August Book Stack

Hi Friends!

There are two things you will probably notice very quickly about my August book stack. First, I finally made it back to the library, as you can tell by all the stickers. And making it back to the library means my August book stack is full of fiction! Whoo hoo! 

Incidentally, that’s also why there are seven books. 

Want to know a secret? I am able to read fiction books much more quickly than, say, biographies, so they really help me reach my end-of-year reading challenge goal.  Shhhh! We all have our secrets, after all…

Anyway, let’s get started! Here are the details on the books I read in August.

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The Entitlement Cure by John Townsend

This book was not at all what I expected. Having four children and working with teenagers like I do, I honestly expected it to be targeted more towards the younger generation. While these principles can definitely be applied to teenagers, they are actually written more for adults, making it more difficult to apply them to children. That said, I really enjoyed this book!

I think understanding the principles of how to counteract entitlement can definitely re-shape the way we parent, which will be beneficial to our children. I also found it helpful in revealing my own entitled attitudes in ways I would not necessarily have noticed on my own. And because Townsend uses so many workplace illustrations, I think this book is particularly helpful to those in leadership positions in the workplace. So while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone struggling with an entitled 8 year old, I did find it worth reading for the general public and especially for those in the workplace.

False Memory Series by Dan Krokos

As most of you know, YA dystopian fiction is my guilty pleasure. I came across this series at the library and quickly checked out all three books. Oh, how I missed the library during quarantine! I was so happy to have a little mindless reading again. Well, this series did not disappoint on the “mindless reading” front… It turned out to be a YA science fiction series instead of dystopian, which is not really my jam. Still, the overall plot was interesting and the characters were likeable enough to keep me reading.

It has a kick-butt female protagonist with two heroic guy friends, forming the expected love triangle. As it happens, the teenagers were created (cloned) to “save the world,” but end up embarking on their own mission to save the world from their creators. For my teen friends, be aware there is some language and pretty intimate physical contact between the characters on multiple occasions. While it doesn’t come close to making my favorites list, it was still fun to have some mindless YA fiction to read again for a change!

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

This book has been on my list for awhile, so I was glad to finally be able to get it from the library. For some reason, the description led me to believe it was historical fiction, another favorite genre- a vintage wedding dress is found in an old trunk at an estate sale, which leads the protagonist on a search to find out the mystery of it’s origin and reappearance. She traces the dress to three different women, seemingly unconnected, from different generations. Intriguing, right?

Well, it turns out the book is really a Christian romance novel, so I was a little disappointed. However, it was well written and the mystery of the dress was still a fun story line, so I’m glad I read it! Again, it won’t make my list of favorites, but if you like Christian romance, you should definitely check this one out.

The Raft by S.A. Bodeen

I also found this book at the library, and honestly, I was drawn in by the cover. A girl floating half-dead on a raft in the middle of an ocean screamed high adventure.  After months of being confined in the same place, that was just what I was looking for! This is a YA fiction book, definitely intended for a middle to high school audience. It was a quick read, and enjoyable, though very predictable. There were some political agendas woven pretty obviously throughout, but I have come to expect that in YA fiction. Overall, it wasn’t a very-well developed book, but it was a quick read and an enjoyable story! (FYI- there is a mild “attack” encounter in the beginning which may be a trigger for girls who have been assaulted)

Intimate Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

I have read this devotional book multiple times over the years. I bought it shortly after I graduated from college and find myself drawn back to it every now and then. Ken Gire has a beautiful writing style, which brings the Scriptures alive. He has a unique way of drawing a bridge between people who encountered Jesus and how we encounter Him in our own lives. In this book, we come face to face with Peter, Mary and Martha, Nicodemus, and others, and are able to learn from their experiences how to become more intimate with Jesus. I pulled this out after reading an excerpt in an old prayer journal about His encounter with Peter, and after all these years, that particular chapter is still my favorite. This is not deep, theological reading; it is the kind of writing that draws your heart to the Lord in an intimate way. It’s a classic, and you can be sure it will end up in another book stack of mine down the road.

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Well, as you can probably tell, August didn’t turn out to be my favorite collection of books. It has actually dampened my desire to read this month, so you can expect a smaller selection for September. But as far as I’m concerned, an okay book is better than no book! Just like you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince, maybe you have to read a lot of books to find those few that really resonate with you. It’s worth it!

So friends, what’s on your nightstand? I’d love to know what you’ve been reading lately! Share in the comments!

My July Book Stack

Y’all, how is it August already?? 

2020 has proven to be the strangest year. At least it is passing quickly, right? I’m not going to bore you with what we have and haven’t been doing. Instead, we’ll just jump right in! Here are the books I read last month:

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Start with Your People by Brian Dixon

Brian Dixon is one of the co-founders of Hope*Writers, the online writing community I joined several months ago.  I bought his book after listening to him on a podcast. He shared his story of how God changed his heart from valuing productivity to valuing people, and I was hooked. I am all about people! He shares his story more in depth in this book, so you’re in luck!

This is a great book for everyone, whether you are leading a family or a company. His premise is simple; our productivity won’t matter if we neglect people along the way. The best way to reach people is to serve them… (Hmm, that sounds a lot like Jesus!)

I appreciated his emphasis on all relationships, especially family relationships, as that is often lacking in business-focused books. And he gives some great application steps at the end of each chapter.  I read through this book pretty quickly. If you tend to focus more on accomplishing things than on your team, you should definitely read it- it may actually be life changing for you! Or at the very least, life giving. 

The Winter War by Priscilla Shirer

This is the sequel to the Prince Warrior series I wrote about in April. It was great! Young readers will dive back into the story head first. Shirer weaves powerful metaphors of deep spiritual truths all throughout this series, which can open the door to great conversation. If you haven’t read the earlier books, you can read about them here. I highly recommend this series for both boys and girls. If you have a reluctant reader, try reading it out loud together. It will hold their attention and is definitely worth your time!

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest

There are so many deep, powerful truths in this book. Niequest shares her journey of moving out of the rat race of productivity and accomplishment into the simplicity of connecting deeply with God and others. I love this quote: 

Sometimes being brave is being quiet. Being brave is getting off the drug of performance. For me, being brave is trusting that what my God is asking of me, what my family and community is asking from me, is totally different than what our culture says I should do. Sometimes being brave looks boring, and that’s totally, absolutely, okay.” (p. 126)

While I enjoyed it, I found this book a little lacking in structure. Many of the chapters are repetitive, especially early on, and I found myself almost drowning in her desperate emotions. Let’s just say I was ready to move on, and wasn’t really sure if we were ever going to get there. However, though I am not currently in that place, I have lived through similar identity crises, and I can appreciate her struggle. This is a great book for women who feel like they’ve lost themselves and are struggling to find themselves and connect with God. 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I read this series years ago and pull it out again almost every summer. It is still one of my favorites! My girls and I watched the movies last month, so I couldn’t resist. Just being honest- I totally have a thing for Four. Don’t tell my husband. (Well, he already knows, but still… we probably shouldn’t draw attention to it!) 

Divergent is your basic dystopian fiction story: the world as we know it has ended, and mankind has found a way to re-start civilization in a unique way. In Roth’s world, peace is maintained by everyone being assigned to one of five factions. The factions are based on an “innate” character trait of what one deems most valuable- intelligence, honesty, kindness, selflessness, and courage. The premise, of course, is that a balance of all these traits will keep the world at peace. (Unless, instead, they end up fighting for control.) At the age of 16, each person may choose to stay in their faction or join another one. 

The story begins the day before the Choosing Ceremony in which we meet our protagonist, Beatrice (Tris). I imagine most of you have read it, so that’s all I’m going to say. If you haven’t read it, you should!  Full disclosure- I HATED the third book. No, really, I HATED it. Not so much for the ending (though you’ll probably hate that, too) but for a number of other reasons. But that’s a post for another time.

Love Does by Bob Goff

This was my first encounter with Bob Goff. I had been told by countless people that I needed to read his books, and now I know why! This is a feel good book at its very best. Goff has an endearing and inspiring way of looking at (and living) life. He is a storyteller at heart. Each chapter is a story- well, a tale, really, of someone interesting he met or someplace interesting he travelled, or maybe something not so interesting that happened in real life that becomes interesting when he tells it. I found myself laughing hysterically in one chapter and had to read it out loud to my boys! He uses stories to shed light on simple truths about God and life. Some of them were a little bit of a stretch, and I’m not sure I agree 100% with some of his connections, but it’s his book, not mine, so it’s fine. All in all, it was a fun, uplifting book. And he definitely seems like someone I’d want to be seated next to on an airplane!

A Lamp Unto My Feet by Elisabeth Elliot

Now, this one is kind of cheating, because it already appeared in my February book stack. However, it is a six month devotional, so I finally finished it and thought I’d give it a quick review. As always, God used the words of Elisabeth Elliot to fix my eyes on Him and breathe life into my soul. Her boldness in speaking hard truths resonates so much with me. This devotional, however, did not carry the weight for me that her other books have. I think her words have more impact and meaning within a bigger context. I am used to reading her work and having the Lord speak to me on every single page. In these shorter snippets, I found they were hit and miss- as many devotionals are. So, would I recommend it? Absolutely! But I think I’ll stick with her longer form writing myself.

Choosing a Life that Matters by Dennis Rainey

This last one is a tiny book I bought on sale. I thought it might be good to give to my graduating Seniors, and I wanted to read through it first. I’m glad I did! Rainey draws from his own experiences and gives some great insight into what really matters in life. His concepts are right on target and great advice! However, it was a little deep for my small group girls. He wrote it with college and seminary graduates in mind, and obviously, my girls aren’t quite there yet. But I read it as a devotional, one chapter a day, and found his reflection questions insightful and thought-provoking. So this would make a great devotional or graduation gift for a young person entering the “adult” world!

And that’s it! I have several great books on my list for August, but I always love hearing what you recommend. 

What’s on your nightstand?

My June Book Stack

It’s summer.

Long, lazy days hanging out by the pool. Hot afternoons with my toes in the sand. Hours upon hours with no one around and nothing to occupy my time except the book in my hand…

Okay, well it sounded good anyway! 

Yes, it is summer, and while I have spent a few afternoons relaxing in the sunshine and dangling my feet in the water, mostly my days have had more of the same crazy twilight-zone-feel as the previous months. 

Usually my summer book lists are filled with fun, easy reads: dystopian fiction, historical fiction, YA fantasy… and maybe a spiritual book or two. I love spending an hour browsing through shelves in the library, choosing random books and, if I’m lucky, stumbling upon a new Young Adult series I haven’t read yet.

This June, however, my trip to the library consisted of a curbside pick-up of books I reserved on-line; no browsing, no discovering, no surprises. So my book stack feels a little different, too- not as fresh, a bit more serious, much like most of us feel if we’re honest.

So let’s get to it.

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I Am Malala by Malala Ousafazai 

I Am Malala is an autobiography written by a teenage girl about her experiences growing up in Pakistan and her passion for girls to have access to education. Published in 2013, this book has actually been lying around our house for a few years waiting to be read, and I uncovered it while doing a little “pandemic cleaning.” Malala is a normal, delightful teenage girl who happens to also be extremely brave and passionate about education. I enjoyed reading her story, particularly her experiences with the Taliban and her relationship with her father. She seems like the kind of person I would invite over for dinner; only, before long, she’d be beating everyone at board games and asking us to pop some popcorn. Sure, she can drop names as easily as Oprah, but her accomplishments at such a young age speak much more to her character than the people who’ve had the privilege to meet her. This is a great book for American children to read to gain an appreciation for the freedom and privilege of going to school.

When All is Said by Anne Griffin

I saw this fiction novel on someone else’s book list recently, and I was so intrigued by the plot description, I immediately added it to mine. 

“If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said and done?”  (Goodreads, book description) 

This is the story of an old Irish gentleman named Maurice who is sitting at a hotel with five different drinks. With each drink, he offers a toast to a different person who made a difference in his life… and that’s all I’m going to tell you! It was an interesting read, a bit melancholy, but sweet. The character development was fantastic, and I felt like I was overlooking his Irish farm all throughout the story. I was not a fan of the ending, though, so if you don’t like sad endings, you might want to avoid this one. I think maybe I would like to write a book similar to this myself one day.

One Woman Can Change the World by Ronne Rock

This book was a complete surprise- literally! Around two months ago, I applied to be on a launch team for a fellow Hope*Writer’s new book (which involved pre-ordering a copy) but I never heard anything back. Fast forward a few weeks, and this beautiful book arrived in an Amazon package on my doorstep- I had completely forgotten about it!

Seriously, y’all, I love everything about this book. If you have a heart for missions and love to see God using ordinary people in extraordinary ways, you need to read this. Ronne Rock takes us on an adventure to meet several women she has encountered in different parts of the world. She shares their stories, and along the way, we get to glean from the lessons they have taught her about God’s love, His faithfulness, and His purposes for each of us. This is not a book about “Girl Power”… it is a book about God’s power flowing through the lives of His girls. You will fall in love with these women and their stories, and you will feel empowered and inspired to live with purpose and grace wherever you’ve been planted.

I loved this book so much, I bought an extra copy and used it for a giveaway in my private Facebook Group, The Surrendered Life Community. Let’s hear it for happy surprises!

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile

If you have heard of the enneagram, you have probably heard of this book. The enneagram is an ancient tool with uncertain and somewhat sketchy origins. It is similar to a personality test, but instead of focusing on behaviors and actions, it is designed around core motivations, longings, and “deadly sins” (emotions that hinder our relationship with God and keep us from being our healthiest selves).  

Cron and Stabile do a good job of explaining the overall concepts and exploring the deeper meanings of each number from a Christian perspective. The chapters give detailed descriptions for each type, with the goal of helping us better understand ourselves and those around us, as well as how we relate to God and what hinders our spiritual growth. 

With my background in Psychology, I find the enneagram fascinating and helpful. It is not magical or concrete or infallible- it is simply a tool, which like any tool, can be misused or can be useful for helping us become all God intends us to be, particularly in how we relate to Him and others. It has already helped me better understand some things about myself, my hubby, and our children. It’s definitely worth a read! 

If you enjoy it, I also recommend Annie Down’s podcast, That Sounds Fun! She has some terrific interviews that have really helped put skin on some of these more abstract concepts for me.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

A Christian classic. I have wanted to read this book for a long time, but find I sometimes shy away from more theological books. I never went to seminary, though I considered it for a few years. However, all my spiritual leaders and many of my close friends were seminary trained, so I feel like I pretty much got the education, just without the extra debt! 

In any case, this book has been recommended to me more times over the years than I can count. Jeff happened to pull it out a few weeks ago as a resource for the college ministry we lead, so I quickly snatched it up and decided it was now or never. I’m so glad I did!

This book covers all the basic Disciplines of spiritual growth (meditation, prayer, fasting, Bible study, etc) plus several others that I was not as familiar with, or had never really thought of as spiritual disciplines, such as simplicity. I think I copied half this book into my prayer journal, and there are a few chapters I need to go back and read several times so I can fully grasp them. If you want to go back to the basics but in a much deeper, more authentic way than ever before, this book is definitely worth your time!

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So that’s what I was reading last month! Have you read any of these books? What’s in your beach bag or sitting on your nightstand?

I’m always looking for recommendations!

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