March 2021 Book Stack

Hey Friends!

How is it possibly April already? This year seems to be flying by (maybe because time seemed to be crawling this time last year? Who know!). In any case, we just finished our Spring Break and the Heath Fam is ready to be DONE with school! Six more weeks… we can do this!

My book stack for March has a lot of variety. Two books came from my local used bookstore, one I have owned for nearly 30 years, and one I couldn’t wait to order from Amazon! They are all different lengths and genres; two are fiction and two are non-fiction. So this should be fun! 

Which leads to our first book…

That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs

If you listen to Annie’s podcast (also titled That Sounds Fun), you will likely hear her voice in your head as you read this! She has the type of personality that makes you feel like you are friends even though you’ve never met, and that comes through in her writing as well. Each chapter felt like I was sitting across the table from her as she told me her stories!

The main thread she weaves through each chapter is the concept of “missing Eden;” of being created for a perfect world in which we have complete joy and constant communion with our Father, yet living in an imperfect, fallen world that includes pain and sadness. The distance between the two worlds creates a tension in us; a longing for what we were made for, a desire for something our souls miss… Eden. Thus, her stories include things that make her sad and things that bring her joy, and in many cases, which do both. But always with a glimpse of Eden thrown in!

This book is much like having a conversation with a friend (especially an enneagram 7, LOL!)— it’s a little unorganized and has a bunch of random comments thrown in to make you laugh— but that’s all part of what makes it so fun! I especially recommend this book to my single friends, as Annie is so vulnerable in sharing her struggles and successes in that part of her journey. I am confident she will be a great encouragement to you!

How To Listen to God by Charles Stanley

This book is a classic. I am always surprised to find so many of my Christian friends have never read it! It was published in 1985, but I first read in the mid 90’s, shortly after I graduated from college. 

Everyone wants to hear from God, right? Yet, so many of us don’t want to take the time to listen, and even if we do, we may not know how to listen. That’s where this book comes in! The chapters are well organized, and the content is easy to understand. Dr. Stanley shares why God speaks to us, how to discern His voice, and how to prepare our hearts and minds to hear Him (among other things).

This is a relatively short, simple to understand book on an extremely important subject. It is especially beneficial for new believers or anyone who is serious about following Jesus. Charles Stanley has remained a voice of Biblical truth throughout the decades, and I am grateful for how his words have shaped my faith over the years!

The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

I grabbed this book from the used bookstore mostly based on the cover. The summary declared it a “near-future dystpia” and compared it to The Giver. While I was not nearly as drawn into the storyline or characters as I was with The Giver, I still think it would be enjoyable for middle grade readers!

After the death of his grandfather, Devin makes his way alone into the city looking for someone to help him run their farm. Several days into his journey, while navigating the dangerous chaos of the city streets, he teams up with a homeless girl, Kit, who helps him find food and seek shelter during a torrential rainstorm. From there, he befriends an older boy who offers to take him to a special home for abandoned children where there is everything a child could dream of— food, safety, playgrounds, swimming pools, and more. Devin agrees to go only if Kit can go with him, and their adventure continues.

It turns out there is something very sinister going on at the home. The children are being used somehow to bring joy to “the visitors,” but no one wants to talk about it. Before long, Devin uncovers the secret and hatches a plan to free them all.

The plot was fairly predictable, though a middle grade reader might still find it suspenseful. Also, we learn early on (a little awkwardly, in my opinion) that Devin has a special ability which connects all his senses (for instance, he feels colors). This becomes a contributing factor towards the end of the book, but it felt forced, as though the author was trying to create something unique instead of just having him be really smart. I’m afraid it might be a little confusing to kids who are reading it; they may waste time trying to figure out why those sentences are in there instead of just enjoying the book. By the end, though, it all makes sense. 

Beyond that, it was an enjoyable story with several really kind, likeable characters (and a sideline redemption story). It has the potential for creating some good conversation on ethical dilemmas associated with aging. I don’t think Eli (7th grade) would like this story too much, but I think Noah (5th grade) would probably enjoy it!

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

As I mentioned, my latest trip to our local used book store was very productive; this is the other one I grabbed. It is historical fiction, this time set in Russia in the 1700’s, which is a time period I know almost nothing about. The hook is that it is told from the viewpoint of a spy in the palace, which was so intriguing! I really enjoyed it!

Our narrator, Barbara/Varvara, begins the story as a young teenage girl, brought to the palace upon the death of her parents as a favor to her father. Throughout the pages, she weaves a beautiful yet tragic tale of a queen who stole the throne and lives in constant fear of losing it, her foolish (and a bit crazy) nephew who is heir to the throne, his kind and naïve (or so we think) wife, and others who come in and out of life at the palace. It is a tale of love, hate, passion, betrayal, friendship, deception, and above all, lust for power. It was not a quick read, but it was quite enjoyable, and there were several unexpected twists along the way, which I love.

If you are a fan of historical fiction and are interested in a glimpse of the behind the scenes workings of Russian palace life, this one is worth reading!

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I told you there was a lot of variety! And I am already a couple books into my April stack, so get ready for more great suggestions! If you missed them, you should check out my January and February Book Stack posts for more ideas on what to read. 

As always, I love to hear your recommendations. What books are you loving these days? What’s on your nightstand?

My February 2021 Book Stack

Maybe I’m weird, but something about cold weather makes me want to read. There is nothing like curling up by the fire under a blanket with a good book!

Thankfully, there was plenty of cold weather last month. So, here’s what I read in February:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is one of my all-time favorite books, so choosing this book was a no-brainer. Hannah is a master at historical fiction; she is able to recreate settings and build characters in a way that completely immerses her readers in the story. The Great Alone was no different.

Set during the mid-1970’s, the story unfolds of a young family grappling to make things work. Ernt Allbright is a caring husband and doting father; but his time as a POW during Vietnam changed everything. Struggling with PTSD (long before they knew that was a thing), Ernt finds it difficult to keep a job or stay in one place too long. His wife, Cora, and 13 year old daughter, Leni, do their best to keep him happy as they cling to what’s left of him. Upon learning of some property given to him by a fallen comrade, Ernt convinces Cora and Leni to pack all their belongings into a VW van and drive to the end of the world— the wilderness of Alaska.

However, what awaits them in Alaska is more than they ever expected! There they find breathtaking views, the most loyal friendships, and a beautiful, unforgiving frontier. While Cora and Leni make preparations to survive their first winter, Ernt spends his days attempting to tame both their property and his temper. Life is better for a while, but as the weather grows colder and the nights grow longer, darkness crawls into the cracks of his soul, and the danger within their home soon overshadows the dangers outside. This is a story of the loss of innocence and coming of age, faithful friendships and tragic circumstances, survival and co-dependency. Hannah masterfully weaves her tale of love and heartbreak with threads of courage and weakness that kept me staying up way too late at night reading “just one more chapter.” 

The imagery of Alaska in this book is breathtaking and makes me long to experience it in person. The characters become friends as the story progresses, and I found myself wishing I could do something to help. Her depiction of the violence that can be associated with PTSD is difficult to read, but so very real. Anyone with domestic abuse in their past may want to skip this one or be prepared for possible triggers. For the rest of us, it is a beautiful story written with great compassion for those who wrestle with their own nightmares and experiences, while still prioritizing the safety and health of those who love them. I highly recommend this book, but only if you want to book a trip to Alaska afterwards!

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

This was another fun fiction read. I came across it at our local used bookstore, and it jumped right into my pile of books! (Okay, that was super corny. Sorry.) Y’all know I am a big fan of YA fantasy, and what book-lover doesn’t love the idea of the real life and story-life overlapping? That’s exactly what happens in this story.

Amy Lennox is a teenage girl struggling to find herself amidst the cruelty that accompanies adolescence. She usually escapes into her books, but this time when her mother suffers a difficult break-up, the two of them run away to her mother’s childhood home on the island of Stormsay. Their adventure is shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and Amy could never have imagined the secrets she would uncover. 

The author did a great job of adding in enough twists and turns to keep the ending unpredictable, which added to the suspense and kept me reading. Part mystery, part fantasy, and part teenage coming-of-age, this is a fun story for anyone who loves books!

In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me this book, and it had a profound impact on my spiritual life. Though In His Steps was written in 1896, its message is just as pertinent today as it was to its original audience. It is the fictional story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the “Christ-followers” are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly challenges the congregation to compare their own actions to the teaching and example of Jesus, wondering if perhaps they like the idea of claiming to follow Jesus more than they like actually obeying Him.

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of conforming to the world. This is a life-changing concept, and one of the reasons this book has been a favorite for thirty years. If you are interested in pursuing this further, check out my 31 Day Discipleship Challenge!

Into the Region of Awe by David C. Downing

I came across this title in one of my readings last year, and since I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis’ books, I thought I’d check it out. In Into the Region of Awe, Downing challenges the modern mantra that mysticism and sound doctrine cannot coexist. What better way to do that than to use C. S. Lewis as an example? After all, he is one of our most famous apologists while also being one of our most well-loved writers of fantasy. Downing makes the case that, while Lewis was firmly grounded in his theology and never called himself a mystic, his work and correspondence are filled with plenty of mystical elements and beliefs. 

In my opinion, Downing did a great job defining mysticism and then supporting his thesis using both Lewis’s fictional and non-fictional writings. To remove any mystical element from God is to make Him merely human; and to limit Him to the realm of supernatural experience is to ignore the reality of Jesus and risk falling into the trap of false mysticism (and universalism). Through Lewis’s works, Downing introduces us to Christian mystics whom Lewis admired and the context in which they wrote and served. These are in great contrast to many modern “mystics” who seek “experience” without any notion of sacrifice or service.

This book is academic in nature and much of it reads almost like a textbook, so at times it was difficult for me to get through. But I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to find a balance between solid doctrine which is not swayed by emotion and personal encounters with the Presence of God (which, by their very nature, are mystical experiences). Downing makes a good case for not just the existence of both, but the necessity of both in our relationship with Christ.

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So, that’s what I read in February!

What about you? What’s on your nightstand?

My January 2021 Book Stack

New year, new reading challenge… Let’s go!!

I am still adding books to my 2021 Reading Challenge. If you’re interested, you can follow my account on Goodreads. And feel free to leave book recommendations here in the comments! 

If you’re new around here, my word for 2021 is TRANSFORM, so you’ll notice that several of the books I read this year will contribute to that theme. Three books in my January book stack fit in that category; one was just for fun. I do not plan to be so ambitious every month; something about January always makes me start strong! 

I enjoyed all these books. If any of them sound interesting, you should definitely add them to your own reading challenge!

 Essentialsim: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

I ordered this book after listening to an interview with McKeown in my hope*writer’s group. He told his personal story of what led him to focus on what is most essential, and discussed the importance of not only knowing our true priorities, but making space to actually live them. 

In this book, McKeown takes those ideals and breaks them down into bite-size applications, making it a bit simpler for the rest of us to follow along. It is filled with inspiring quotes, such as: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” “If it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a clear no,” and “Less, but better.” I claimed that last one as one of my transformation themes this year! 

I particularly enjoyed Part III (Eliminate: How can we cut out the trivial many) and Part IV (Execute: How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless). While parts of the book seem repetitive, most of that repetition reinforces his main points and help to serve his purpose. It was a quick read for me, easy to pick up and put down in short spans of time, and I have a feeling I will return to it several times this year. If you read it and like it, McKeown just released a follow-up book, “Effortless,” which you might want to check out!

A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller

This book is so rich! I participated in a book exchange for Christmas (also through hope*writers… have I mentioned how much I love my writing group??), and this is the book I received. The reviews were fantastic, so I couldn’t wait to start reading!

This book is broken down into five sections: Learning to Pray Like a Child, Learning to Trust Again, Learning to Ask Your Father, Living in Your Father’s Story, and Praying in Real Life. The first section moved a little slow for me (perhaps because I don’t struggle so much in that area), so I feared I might be disappointed. I was not!

This book got better and better as it went along! On page 35, Miller says, 

“You don’t create intimacy; you make room for it. This is true whether you are talking about your spouse, your friend, or God. You need space to be together. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly. If Jesus has to pull away from people and noise in order to pray, then it makes sense that we need to as well.” 

The goal of this book is to help us create intimacy with God through our prayer life. In chapters 9-11, Miller discusses how cynicism has crept into our culture and into our spirit, often leaving us paralyzed and unable to live in faith. I found this whole concept fascinating, and appreciate his steps for recognizing this and moving forward. In chapter 18, “Surrender Completely,” he emphasizes our tendency to rely on ourselves, turning only to the Father out of desperation (which is the opposite of abiding). This was transformation for me.

My favorite part of this book, however, is his very practical concept of Prayer cards. I have written in a prayer journal almost daily since college (more sporadically before that), and have used several systems to help organize and encourage the act of praying for others. His prayer card system resonated with me so strongly, I quickly began making cards of my own. I will share about this soon in a Transformation Update on prayer, so watch for that!

 Two as One: Connecting Daily with Christ and Your Spouse by Ryan & Selena Frederick

This book actually started out as a series of Instagram posts. The Fredericks then turned them into a 30-day day devotional with the intent of helping couples connect daily with one another and Jesus. Each day consists of an inspirational image/quote, a few short paragraphs centered around that specific theme, and two relevant discussion questions, followed by a space for written prayers. 

Some of the images are extremely powerful. The devotional thoughts are short and sweet, but not too “surface-y”. So often I find Christian marriage devotionals cheesy and irrelevant to couples living in the real world, but the Fredericks do a great job of addressing some real issues and connecting them to spiritual/heart issues in a few short sentences. Jeff mentioned he would have liked them to dive deeper into many of these areas, and I agree. But alas, Instagram has a word limit! I think most of the discussion questions can actually lead to thoughtful conversation, but I find it unlikely that couples will write out their prayers in the same book. That aside, I really enjoyed this little devotional and have recommended it to several friends.

Fable by Adrienne Young

This was my “fun read” for this month and I loved it! The front sleeve reads, “Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit form it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.” This Young Adult fantasy novel is a cross between Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean, and the result is an adventure that kept me reading page after page. Fable is a strong, endearing protagonist in the same vein as Katniss (Hunger Games) and Tris (Divergent), and West drew me in from the beginning. As with most modern YA novels, two of the supporting characters are in a same-sex relationship, so this can open the door for great discussion if your teens are reading it. Otherwise, it ends with a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel, which is supposed to release next month!

And that’s what was in my January 2021 book stack! What about you, friends?

What’s on your nightstand?

My October Book Stack

Okay, y’all, I warned you. My October book stack can barely be called a “stack”…

A duo, maybe. A couple. Two books.

Seriously?

Yep, seriously. Two books. And if I’m honest, I still have a few pages left in one of them!

I have two other books I started reading last month, but they are both part of group studies, so I am still in the process of reading them. Hopefully they will make it into my November book stack.

At this rate, who knows?

But the good news is this will be a short blog post and a quick read! Let’s go!

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Experiencing God at Home by Tom and Richard Blackaby

If you are anywhere near my age and were involved in church in the 90’s, you are probably familiar with the “Experiencing God” Bible study and the Blackaby name.  The youth version of that study is by far the best tool I have found to help teenagers learn to hear God’s voice and recognize Him at work around them. So when I saw this book written by two of Henry Blackaby’s sons, I was immediately interested! This was not my first time reading it— I actually pulled it out as a resource for an online parenting discussion Jeff and I were involved in last month. It is on my bookshelf for a reason!

Experiencing God at Home takes the seven basic steps from the Experiencing God study and uses them to help parents recognize and join God in how He is working in their children’s lives. It also provides tools to teach their kids how to apply these principles themselves. The authors provide plenty of personal illustrations from their own families, which are easy to relate to. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection/discussion, making this a great book for parents to read together or to study with a small group. This is actually one of my top 5 favorite parenting books, so if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it!

Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket: 101 Real World Tips for Teenage Guys by Jonathan McKee

I know, I know, this is a really weird book for a 47 year old woman to be reading! But I have preteen boys, y’all, and growing up is a thing whether we like it or not. I have read a couple other books by Jonathan McKee, and he has a great grasp on the current teen culture. Not only that, but he does a terrific job relating Biblical truth to teens in a way that comes off helpful and appealing, not preachy. This book is no different.

I REALLY like this book! It is set up in one-to-two page chapters, making it perfect for teen guys to use as a daily devotional. Each chapter includes questions to think about which help the guys apply what they are reading to their daily life. It would be easy for a leader to pull some of these questions out and use this as a guide for a small group or accountability group. The topics are super relevant, and McKee’s approach is both Biblical and authentic. He comes off like a big brother or older friend, giving guidance on subjects such as technology use, friendship, dating, prayer, and making wise choices.  

What age is this book geared towards? Well, our oldest son, Eli, is twelve and in 7th grade. I read this book with him in mind, and honestly, I think he would love it. There are a few chapters about girls and sex-related themes that I don’t think he and many other boys his age are quite ready for. At the same time, I know there are some who are. It is definitely appropriate for high school boys. However, if your son is in middle school, I encourage you to preview it yourself first. You know your boy and what he is ready for. This might be a little too much, too soon, or it might be exactly what your son needs to draw his heart towards Christ! Either way, it should definitely be on your radar for the teen boys in your life.

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Well friends, that’s it! I was only able to get through two books last month, but don’t worry- November’s book stack will be larger! I should have at least four books ready to review when this month is over. (Spoiler: I hate one of them! And I rarely say that!!)

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to pass on suggestions of books you think I might like!

What’s on your nightstand?

September Book Stack

Well friends, here we are in November. When I sat down to write about my (really small) October book stack, I realized I never posted my books from September!

What? How did that happen? 

Honestly, y’all, October was just a really strange month for me. First, we kicked it off with our annual family Disney trip; except Sarah had to quarantine at college at the last minute, so it didn’t really feel like a family trip for any of us. Then, the temperature outside kept bouncing between highs and lows, which was totally reflected in my mood. And because I couldn’t get out of my own head, I ended up spending WAY too much time scrolling on social media, and very little time reading or writing (or doing anything remotely productive).  

Thankfully, Sarah finally made it home for her first visit last weekend, and suddenly I feel like I can breathe again! Isn’t it crazy how we can be dealing with emotions internally and have no idea how they are affecting us? Apparently I was missing our girl way more than I realized. 

Anyway, a weekend of Heath Fam adventures was good for my soul. So, I am back in the game again! And my September book stack seems like a good place to start.

Here you go!

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Memories of Glass by Melanie Dobson

I added this book to my 2020 reading challenge after a friend recommended it. When I picked it up from the library, I was a little disheartened. I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the cover consists of several old-fashioned glass perfume bottles, which screamed cheesy romance novel to me. Ugh! 

Thankfully, though, it turned out to be a historical fiction novel after all, with a little bit of mystery thrown in (and a smidge of romance on the side). The matriarchal grandmother and CEO of the family business has secrets from her youth that slowly begin to leak out, threatening the family’s reputation and relationships. As usual, secrets have a way of being found out, and in this case, they end up bringing people together. This story does contain some overt spiritual witnessing, for lack of a better phrase. Y’all know I am a Jesus girl and I am all for weaving Jesus into one’s writing, but in this case, several of these moments seemed to be awkwardly inserted, and more glaringly obvious than necessary. It would have been more effective, I think, to take a less obvious and more natural approach to the character’s faith. However, that’s a minor point for sure! If you like historical fiction, this was an enjoyable story and worth a read!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. Most people have read or are at least aware of Passion and Purity and Sense and Sensibility. However, Persuasion is not as well known, even though it was her last completed work. There is so much I love about this book! While I have read it before, her books never get old to me.

Anne Elliot is Austen’s oldest protagonist, and as so, brings such depth to the story. I love the premise of an unrequited love given a second chance, particularly when those involved have such strength of character and integrity. I find myself rooting for them all the way through the novel, no matter how many times I read it. If you don’t know the story, Anne and Frederick Wentworth were acquainted in their young adult years and formed a strong attachment. However, Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot, and her guardian, Lady Russell, did not approve of their union, feeling his financial and social status were unworthy of her position in society. Though Anne very much loved him, she felt it was dishonorable to continue the relationship without their approval. In letting him go, she felt as though she were doing the right thing, while also wondering if she had given up her one true love in life.

The actual story begins seven years later, with both characters still unmarried. Circumstance finds them once again dancing in the same circles, but this time with walls of hurt and regret between them. Austen has a unique and wonderful way of peeling back the layers of her characters throughout the novel, slowly revealing their strengths and weaknesses, and weaving their stories together as she goes. People are never quite what they seem, and in the end, their true character is revealed. Persuasion is no exception. By the end, Anne learns that while it is important to seek wise counsel, sometimes the best counsel comes from your own heart and mind. If you are an Austen fan but have never read Persuasion, put it on your list!

Into the Book of Light by Ted & Kara Dekker (Book 1 of the Series)

This middle grade book is the first in a series by Ted Dekker and his daughter, Kara. It reminds me quite a bit of Priscilla Shirer’s Warrior Series, which y’all already know I loved! In this series, the main character, Theo, is a middle school boy who is plagued by fears and finds himself the target of a mob of school bullies.  As he seeks refuge in a secret room in the library, an ancient book falls into his lap, and he soon finds himself transported to another world. 

In this new world, he meets strange creatures and new friends, and is sent out on a quest to find the 5 Seals of Truth. The authors use wonderful imagery to describe everything Theo encounters on his search for truth. There are dark bat-like creatures who aggressively hinder his progress and seek to deceive him. There is a black fog of knowledge which, when breathed in, only increases his knowledge of fear and blinds him to the truth. There is cleansing water and the characterization of God as a lion… and a boy. After a powerful encounter with Elyon, Theo is able to respond with courage in the face of fear, earning the first seal—the seal of Light.

It is a great allegory for many Biblical truths, and teaches children to turn to God with their fears, trusting He is big enough to handle them and take care of them. I have no doubt that my boys will enjoy this book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth by R. Thomas Ashbrook

I absolutely loved this book! It is the kind of book that resonates when you read it and then stays with you, begging you to pull it back out and read it again. 

Based largely on the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, Mansions of the Heart describes a modernized ancient framework of spiritual growth for Christian believers. It is, perhaps, the best book on spiritual formation I have ever read.

Asher takes great care to point out that spiritual formation is not linear in nature, while still giving us a basic road map to use as a guideline. He emphasizes that we can be in more than one stage at the same time, and that we often move in and out of a given stage for a period of time. Most churches and books on spiritual growth direct us towards prayer, Bible Study, and other spiritual disciplines, but with no clear path or picture of where/what our relationship with Christ is going. What often happens, in my experience, is we find ourselves in that stage, vascillating between periods of  silence from God and closeness with Him. When we are hearing Him clearly, we feel like we are growing, but in long periods of silence, we may question what we are doing wrong or if, perhaps, we’ve had it wrong all along. Most of the believers I know never make it any further than this, and live with ongoing frustration sprinkled with moments of closeness, or worse, settle into an apathetic faith.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it gives a further path beyond just prayer and Bible study. It validates these periods of silence, termed “dark nights of the soul,” and encourages us to not only expect them, but even to appreciate them for their place in the process of drawing our hearts to Jesus. Asher points out the stages often coincide in many ways with our overall maturity and the life stages we find ourselves in. I definitely find this to be a true and logical correlation. I am both intrigued by and somehow hesitant to embrace the mysterious, mystical elements of the later stages he describes. As a culture, we do not like to embrace things we don’t understand and can’t explain… and yet, isn’t that exactly who God is and how He works? Having experienced personally a few spiritual encounters of this nature, and having read of significantly deeper encounters than mine by “spiritual greats” who were much purer in heart and faith than myself (Amy Carmichael, C.S. Lewis, Brother Lawrence, etc.), I am compelled to believe there is certainly a path forward beyond what many of us ever realize. Reading this book has encouraged me to continue pursuing communion with God at a deeper level than I was beginning to think was possible.

All that said, this book is not for everyone. If you are fairly new to the Christian faith (or to actively growing in your faith—ie., Stage 1 or Stage 2 of spiritual growth as described in the book), I am afraid you will find this book overwhelming and largely irrelevant. In my opinion, it is better suited for people who are further along in their faith journey and already practice spiritual disciplines fairly consistently. Additionally, if you have a strong negative opinion of any sort of mystical element to Christianity, you will likely find this book a waste of time.

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Well, friends, those are my books from the month of September: Historical fiction, a Jane Austen novel, middle grade fantasy, and Spiritual formation. How’s that for variety? Ha! 

What’s on your nightstand?

Feel free to share suggestions or feedback in the comments! 

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 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 April Book Stack

I really thought I would have a huge book stack to show you for April with all this time on my hands, but as often happens, much of that time has been filled in other ways. On top of that, our library has been closed due to COVID restrictions, which means my reading options have been limited to what I have on hand…

So, friends, here is what I’ve been reading this month and some thoughts about each book!

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, was recommended to me awhile back by my friend, Will, who thought I would love it. He was right! Ed Catmull is the co-founder and retired President of Pixar animation (creators of Toy Story, Incredibles, Up, and more), and his book is filled with tremendous wisdom. While I found myself getting lost in the tech talk at times, the struggle was worth it. This book is especially beneficial to those in the creative arts field, but should be read by CEO’s and moms alike- anyone who manages or is part of a team. His insights on creating an environment conducive to creativity and open discussion, expecting (and even celebrating) failure, and watching for weak areas are just a few of the many takeaways in this book. I highly recommend it!

The Prince Warrior Series by Priscilla Shirer was not on my reading list for this year. However, our youngest son was given the first book for his birthday, and he enjoyed it so much, I ordered the next two for his Easter gift. I have been reading them ahead of him so we can talk about them, and they are great books! They fall in the Christian fiction/fantasy genre for middle readers, and are great for upper elementary through middle school. The story follows a group of middle school boys and girls (and one younger brother) on their journey through a portal into the unseen world of Ahoratos. There they claim their titles as Prince/Princess Warriors and earn various pieces of armor while listening to their Guide and fighting the enemy. These books are full of action and adventure, and will be loved by both boys and girls. Priscilla Shirer also has a children’s Bible Study, “Unseen: The Armor of God for Kids,” and a 365 day “Unseen” devotional, which make great companions to this series.

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte. I just happened to pick this YA fantasy book up from the Library right before it closed, and it was an enjoyable read. The murder mystery plot and intriguing characters drew me in quickly, and the unexpected twist at the end, while a little underdeveloped, was still interesting. The world-building was reminiscent of Divergent, which was kind of fun. As with most YA novels these days, there was a semi-prominent LGBTQ theme, just FYI. Overall, it was a good book, but not one I would necessarily recommend or read again.

Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot. For those of you who don’t know, Elisabeth Elliot is my all time favorite author. She has mentored and discipled me through her writing since my college days, and her books strongly influence my faith and my writing. This was not my first time reading Be Still My Soul, but it was still just as impactful. This book is about suffering well (she defines suffering simply as “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have”), about accepting our circumstances as within the will of the Father, and allowing them to shape us more and more into His likeness. If you are pursuing a life lived in full surrender to Jesus, this book (and any of Elisabeth Elliot’s books, really) need to be on your nightstand.

Well, that’s what I’ve been reading this month. I’m going to have to order some books if the library doesn’t open back up soon, so let me know if you have any suggestions! What’s on your nightstand?

My February Book Stack

Can you believe we are already over halfway through February? Where does the time go? My daughter, Sarah, mentioned last week that we are only 14 weeks from her high school graduation. What?? (Cue the crying!!)

Anyway, I have had a few people ask me what I’m reading now, so here is my February book stack, a little late. Sorry about that!

Debt-Free Degree by Anthony O’Neal is endorsed by Dave Ramsey as a resource on how to attend college without going into debt.

When I was growing up, I just assumed that I would go to college. My parents used language like, “When you go to college,” and “After you graduate from college,” so I never realized it was an option to not go to college. Not only that, but I also knew it was going to be up to me to pay for it. My dad was stationed in Germany throughout my middle school/early high school years, which gave us amazing opportunities to travel around Europe. My parents told us they decided it was in our best interest to take advantage of those opportunities rather than saving for college (which I am thankful for), so we would be responsible for our own college expenses. 

That was thirty years ago (yikes, I’m old!), and college was much less expensive than it is now. With Sarah going to college in the Fall, and three more in line behind her, I am hoping this book will be beneficial to our family. The truth is, while I am so grateful my parents raised me to value the importance of a college education, with the way Universities and the work force have changed over the past few decades, I no longer believe college is essential for every student or the best path for every young adult to take. I am curious to see if anything in this book changes my mind or just reinforces that opinion.

In Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, David Platt shares about how a trekking trip through the Himalayas “opened his eyes to the people behind the statistics and compelled him to wrestle with his assumptions about faith.” (amazon) David Platt is the real deal; his ministry is both authentic and compelling, and I find myself consistently challenged by his messages to be more like Jesus (and not just talk about it). This is definitely the book I am most excited to read this month! Especially since I am almost finished reading the next book on my list…

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a historical fiction book about a (warped) fundamentalist-Baptist missionary who takes his family to live in the Congo in the late 1950’s. Kingsolver does a great job of paralleling the traumatic events of a nation with the equally traumatic events of their family. While I am definitely enjoying reading it, I need to finish it and process a bit before I decide whether or not to recommend it. Reverend Price’s application of Christianity and the Bible is certainly not portrayed in a good light (nor should it be), but thus far, it seems easy for readers to assign that same assumption to all Believers and the Christian faith as a whole, which would be both misleading and unfortunate.

10 Gifts of Wisdom: What Every Child Should Know Before They Leave Home by Sally Clarkson is a book I’ve had on my list for awhile. I pulled it out to read before we send Sarah off to college, and plan to start it once I finish The Armor of God for Teens (which I am still reading from last month’s stack, since I am doing it as a study with my Senior SG girls- and loving it!!).

I am also currently reading The Mysterious Benedict Society with my 6th grade son for school.  He is not a big reader, but he is enjoying this story so much! And with my affinity for middle-readers and young adult books, I decided just to read the whole thing as well. It is a great fantasy story with a young male protagonist that encourages teamwork, good morals, and kindness, among other things.

 Finally, A Lamp Unto My Feet is a devotional by Elisabeth Elliot. Though I never met her, she has been one of my greatest spiritual mentors since college through her writing. I thought I had read all her books, but recently found several I somehow missed along the way. This is one, and I am grateful to have her insights into Scripture speaking into my life once again!

So, there it is. These are the books in my stack this month.

What about you? What did you read last month worth recommending? What is currently on your nightstand?