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 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 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 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?

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?

Why I Do an Annual Reading Challenge (and you should too!)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Apparently, I am a girl who loves a challenge.

Maybe it is because I played soccer on boys teams, or because I grew up with brothers, or because I read a lot as a child and have an adventurous heart. Whatever  the reason, I have always found it difficult to turn down a challenge!

All these years later, I am finding that to work in my favor…

I know a lot of people make resolutions this time of year, but they don’t work out very well for me. I am kind of an all or nothing person, so when life gets in the way, as it inevitably does, I end up throwing my hands in the air and bumping my resolutions to the curb like last week’s trash. 

However, I do much better with a challenge! There is something inherent in a challenge that brings out my competitive nature and renders me much more likely to succeed. 

So, over the past few years I have found myself participating in a variety of challenges: I have participated in 30 days of praying, de-cluttering, detoxing, and more. This year, around Thanksgiving, the Lord put it on my heart to start writing more intentionally, so I began a 30 day challenge to write at least 500 words a day. You can read about that HERE and HERE (and you have that to thank for this blog post!). 

My favorite challenge, though, is my annual Reading Challenge. I used to love to read, but somewhere along the way, between work and children and adulting, life got busy and it slipped through the cracks. One of the things I appreciate most about homeschooling our children is that it reminded me of my love of reading. Having a daughter who loved to read helped, too, because I previewed a lot of books for her, which gave us a special way to connect.

At first I mostly read things my friends (and my daughter) recommended, but then one year I stumbled across the idea of a reading challenge. I quickly found out there are at least a bazillion different ways to do it! So I ended up creating my own. I decided to use it as a way to keep from getting stuck in my usual genres and stretch myself into intentionally reading other things.

I still take recommendations, but I make sure to include biographies, classics, historical fiction, and non-fiction books, as well as a couple written from a different viewpoint than mine (politically, spiritually, etc).  I like to add some fun categories, like a book with the setting as your hometown, a book written by someone you know, or a book centered around somewhere you plan to travel. This year I am also adding several books on writing, and then I will fill in the rest of my list with my go-to genres: Christian non-fiction and my favorite, YA fantasy/dystopian fiction (don’t judge me, it’s my guilty pleasure!). My list is fluid; I add to it throughout the year as I get new suggestions or pick up a new book, and I rarely read everything on it. That’s okay, though- those books become the base for next year’s list!

I check out the majority of my books from the library (I am still a sucker for paper books; can’t quite transition to the kindle yet), and I use Goodreads to create my lists and track my progress. It is also a great resource for reading reviews to determine if I want to read something, as well as for finding similar books when I really like a subject or an author. I haven’t quite made it to reading a book a week yet, but I am still amazed to finish the year and find I checked off 45+ books! I think my goal the first year was 20 books, so that’s quite an improvement!

And there was a year or two early on when I didn’t meet my goal, so if that is you, don’t be discouraged. Just remind yourself that whatever you accomplish is better than not accomplishing anything- this is a challenge after all, not a resolution!

In my next post, I will share my 2019 reading list and some of my thoughts about the books, including which ones I recommend and which ones I didn’t like at all (there was only one). But I couldn’t end this post without sharing a few of the gems that I found through some of my previous Reading Challenges! These are books I highly recommend that I would probably never have read without the incentive and intentionality of a reading challenge:

Fiction:

The Nightingale (Kristen Hannah)

Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly)

The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)

The Swan House (Elizabeth Musser)

Non-fiction/ Biographies:

Fearless (Eric Blehm)

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

Under our Skin (Benjamin Watson)

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

Choosing to See (Mary Beth Chapman)

Missing Kylie (Mark Myers)

And there are a few more on my 2019 list, so be sure to check out my 2019 Reading Challenge Year End Review, coming soon!

What about you? If resolutions are not really your thing but you have a competitive streak, perhaps you may be up for a Challenge. I’d love to hear about it!

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