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?

2020 Reading Challenge List and Recommendations

Image from Pixabay

Well friends, if there is one positive thing we can say about 2020, it’s that it was a good year for reading! This year’s list was longer than expected, largely due to ALL THAT EXTRA FREE TIME… but I’m not complaining! I am always grateful for more time to read! 

If you are new to my blog, I do a reading challenge every year to help direct and track my reading. I started a few years ago as a way to stretch myself, both in the quantity and quality of books I was reading, and the tradition stuck. I use http://www.goodreads.com to save books I want to read, track my progress, and write reviews (well, sometimes… most of my reviews end up here on my blog!). 

There is no right or wrong way to do a reading challenge—just do whatever works best for you! I try to balance fiction and non-fiction, maybe a few biographies, throw in some books written for younger readers and young adults (YA Dystopian/Fantasy is my jam!), and suddenly, I have a list! If we are travelling (you know, that thing we used to do back before COVID), I might choose books with our destination as the setting. I have read books by local authors, books set in my home state, books with one word titles… there are tons of ways to keep it interesting! And the majority of my recommendations come from many of you, so thanks for sharing!

Enough about that, though. Here is my 2020 Reading Challenge List, along with some brief reviews and recommendations. I definitely recommend all the ** books. If you just want my top picks for 2020, scroll down to the bottom!

Non-fiction (Spiritual/Devotional)

  • **The Armor of God for Teens (Priscilla Shirer)
  • **Be Still My Soul (Elisabeth Elliot)
  • **Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster)
  • Choosing a Life that Matters (Dennis Rainey)
  • The Gospel According to Satan: Eight lies about God that Sound Like the Truth (Jared C. Wilson)
  • **Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket: 101 Real World Tips for Teenage Guys (Jonathan McKee)
  • **Intimate Moments with the Savior (Ken Gire)
  • A Lamp Unto My Feet (Elisabeth Elliot)
  • **Living Prayer (Robert Benson)
  • Love Does (Bob Goff)
  • **Made to Move Mountains: How God Uses Our Dreams and Disasters to Accomplish the Impossible (Kristen Welsch)
  • **Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth (Thomas Ashbrook)
  • **Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram (Alice Fryling)
  • Monks and Mystics, Volume 2: Chronicles of the Medieval Church (Mindy & Brandon Withrow)
  • **The Next Right Thing (Emily P. Freeman)
  • **None Like Him (Jen Wilkin)
  • **One Woman Can Change the World (Ronne Rock)
  • Present Over Perfect (Shauni Feldham?)
  • **Secure in the everlasting Arms (Elisabeth Elliot)
  • **Something Needs to Change (David Platt)
  • **The Road Back to You (Ian Morgan Krohn)

Non-fiction (Business/Writing)

  • **Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)
  • Debt-Free Degree (Anthony O’neal)
  • **The Entitlement Cure (John Townsend)
  • On Writing (Stephen King)
  • **On Writing Well (William Zinsser)
  • **Start With Your People (Brian J. Dixon)
  • **Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling (Matthew Dicks)

Non-fiction (parenting)

  • **Experiencing God at Home (Tom and Richard Blackaby)
  • **Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)
  • 10 Gifts of Wisdom: What Every Child Should Know Before They Leave Home (Sally Clarkson)

Fiction

  • **The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise (Stephanie Dees)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)
  • Memories of Glass (Melanie Dobson)
  • **Persuasion (Jane Austen)
  • **The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  • **The Tattooist of Aushwitz (Heather Morris)
  • The Wedding Dress (Rachel Hauck)
  • When All is Said (Anne Griffin)
  • **Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

YA Fiction/Fantasy

  • **The Cage Series (3 books, Megan Shepherd)
  • **Four Dead Queens (Astrid Scholte)
  • **Divergent Series (4 books- Veronica Roth)
  • **The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)
  • False Memory Series (3 books, Dan Krokos)
  • The Raft (S. A. Bodeen)
  • **A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes Series) (Sabaa Tahir)
  • **Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked (Book 8.5) (Shannon Messenger)

Middle Grade Fiction/Fantasy

  • **The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • **The Prince Warrior Series (3 books, Priscilla Shirer)
  • **The Winter War (Prince Warrior Series Sequel, Priscilla Shirer)
  • **Dream Traveler’s Quest series (4 books, Ted & Kara Dekker)

(Auto/)Biographies

  • **I am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)
  • **Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (Ellen Vaughn)
(Most of my top picks… just missing the Armor of God Study for Teens)

My Top 10 Picks of 2020:

(In no particular order… )

Something Needs to Change (David Platt)

If you need a reminder of what our calling is as followers of Jesus, read this book. The quality of writing is not exceptional; it is written more as journal entries detailing the events of David’s trip to ________________.  The content, however, is riveting, convicting, and inspiring. It is good to be reminded that there is still great suffering and persecution in the world, far beyond what we experience or can even imagine in the United States. Perhaps we are here for such a time as this!

Living Prayer (Robert Benson)

If your spiritual life feels a little dry and your devotional time has become more habit than heartfelt, this book might be just what you need. Robert has a folksy writing style that I find endearing, and his words have a way of opening my soul to Jesus. This book left me wanting more— more of his writing, but more importantly, more of Jesus.

Mansions of the Heart (Thomas Ashbrook)

Not everyone is interested in the process of spiritual formation, but if you are, this is an extremely interesting read. It is a modern take on classic writings from Saint Teresa of Avilla and Saint John of the Cross, and does a great job of describing the non-linear process of spiritual growth in different areas. I was especially intrigued by the later stages, as most churches and Christian circles never teach past the first few stages, and so many Christians are then left feeling like, “Is this all there is?” It does drift into some mysticism towards the end, but since God is so much greater than we can comprehend, it makes sense that deeper formation will be less concrete and more of the spirit. That said, if any element of mysticism bothers you, you will not like this book. And if you are a new Christian, this book will likely be more overwhelming than helpful for you. But if you have walked with Jesus for a long time, are consistent in spiritual disciplines, and wonder if you’re missing it, this might give you a glimpse of a roadmap for what lies before you.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

Most of us appreciate parenting books that are practical in nature. We read them because we are struggling in certain areas of our parenting and we need someone to tell us what to do! This book is more philosophical than practical, but it actually may be my new favorite parenting book. Each of Tripp’s principles are Biblical in nature, and they will directly affect your parenting. More likely, though, God will use them to reveal areas in you that require growth. And when you surrender these areas to Him, He will transform your thinking and change the way you parent. I have found almost all of these principles to be true in my own life, and to impact the way I have parented our children, whether they were itty-bitty or about to fly the coop. I will be re-reading it in 2021, and recommend you do the same!

Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket (Jonathan McKee)

This book 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. I recommend this easily for high school boys and with discretion for younger middle-school boys. (There are a few chapters on girls/sex-related themes that younger teens may or may not be ready for.) Otherwise, keep this in mind for the teen boys in your life!

The Armor of God Study for Teens (Priscilla Shirer)

I cannot say enough about this study! So often I find curriculum written for teens to be cheesy, un-relatable, or unhelpful. This study, however, is well-written, extremely relevant, and will get teens in the Word while teaching them about spiritual warfare and the armor of God. 

Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

I loved this book! 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. This was easily my favorite fiction book of the year.

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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, IMO), but overall, I definitely recommend it to Hunger Games fans!

(*Honorable Mention goes to A Sky Beyond the Storm because I love the entire Ember in the Ashes series, and to The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise because it is such a sweet story written by my friend, Stephanie Dees!)

The Prince Warrior Series by Priscilla Shirer

This series 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. 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 alike. 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.

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn

You can probably tell from my reading list that I am an Elisabeth Elliot fan. Someone gave me Passion and Puritywhen I graduated from college, and her words have been speaking into my life and shaping my faith ever since. I am always shocked when I realize how many people have never read her books or even heard her story. This biography, written by Ellen Vaughn, covers the growing up years, which shaped her faith and personality, through the end of her missionary journey in the jungles of Ecuador. There will be a second volume detailing her later years of life and ministry. 

What I love most about this book is how the author captures Elisabeth as a young adult, totally committed to Jesus but without the spiritual maturity she’s known for from the majority of her writings. It is easy to project the faith of her older years onto the twenty-something widow, but most of the wisdom she shares in her books was gained through her years of suffering. It never occurred to me that someone who lived such a surrendered, inspiring life could feel like she had failed in her mission because she did not accomplish what she thought she was sent for. So what if she and her young daughter were instrumental in sharing the gospel with the tribe of Indians who murdered her husband? She had gone to Ecuador with the intent of translating the Bible for unwritten languages, and was thwarted in all her attempts to do so. In addition, we catch a glimpse of not just her unwavering trust in God’s faithfulness, but the depth of her grief in losing Jim so early in their marriage (and after such a long-awaited union!). While her faith and devotion is clearly inspiring, she became more human to me through this book. 

If I could only recommend one book for the year, it would be this one. There is much for us to glean from her life, faith, and example. This generation needs an everyday hero like Elisabeth Elliot!

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Well, that’s it! Whew! For more info on any of the books on my list, search the title or “book stacks” in the blog search bar for my reviews.

What were your top reads in 2020? I’m always looking for new books, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

My November Book Stack

I am obviously a little behind in posting my monthly book reviews, so I am going to use this week to catch up! 

Due to various Heath children being quarantined for direct COVID exposures—at different times, of course— I found myself with a little more time to read than I normally do at this time of year. I managed to get through four books in November and eight books in December! Whoo hoo! I am excited to share them with you.

Here’s what I read in November:

Storyworthy— Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling  by Matthew Dicks

This book was recommended by several people in the H*W Facebook group, and it did not disappoint! It is a craft book, meaning it is written specifically to help train people in the art of storytelling. Matthew Dicks is an expert at what he does, and his personal stories engage the reader throughout the book. I found the way he breaks down his craft into simple, bite-sized applications to be super helpful. This book is very engaging and reads less like a text-book than many other craft books of its kind. I definitely recommend it for authors, pastors, teachers, and anyone else who enjoys telling a good story! 

Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling

If you follow my book reviews, you may remember that I started learning about the Enneagram this summer. With my psychology background, I am always interested in things that help us better understand and relate to God, ourselves, and others. I have found the Enneagram to be a very useful tool for learning to understand the differences in the way people think and providing language to explain some of our internal motivations, while also shedding light on our personal weaknesses and blindspots. 

A few of my friends were interested in learning more about the enneagram, so we decided to a study together. While I really like the descriptions and explanations found in Ian Morgan Kron’s book, The Road Back to You, I chose this book instead specifically because of its Biblical framework.

Fryling does a great job of reminding her readers that while the enneagram is a useful tool that God can use to help us live more fully into who He created us to be, it is ultimately just that— a tool, and nothing more. There are many people who take the enneagram into a mystical realm, giving it more power and weight than it deserves, so I appreciate that Fryling keeps it in the proper perspective. While she does a great job explaining the various “numbers” and descriptions, as well as how they overlap in both positive and negative ways, she always brings it back to Scriptural applications. I especially enjoyed her Biblical reflections at the end of each chapter.

If you’re looking for a study on the enneagram with a very solid, Biblical foundation, this is a great choice!

The Curse of the Shadowman (Dream Traveler’s Quest, Book 2) by Ted & Kara Dekker

I read the first book in this series last month, and was looking forward to reading more. This book continues where the first one left off, following our unlikely middle school hero, Theo, as he embarks on another quest in the “other world.” This time, his classmate, Annelee, joins him. This particular quest sheds light on how quick we are to (wrongly) judge ourselves and others. By the end, they learn to see themselves through Elyon’s eyes, building on what they learned in the first quest. This is a great series for upper-elementary and middle school readers, particularly boys. The spiritual allegory continues, and the books are filled with great spiritual metaphors to help middle readers better understand their faith journey.

The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth by Jared C. Wilson

I was so excited to read this book! A dear friend recommended it, and I found the topic so intriguing. The introduction outlined the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, emphasizing how Satan was able to deceive them using lies that sound like truth, and makes the case that we are still vulnerable to the same tricks. Each chapter confront a cultural “lie” that sounds like truth, and breaks it down to reveal the ways Satan uses it to draw us away from God.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the introduction was the best part of the whole book.  I really liked the first 2 chapters, but after that, I felt like Wilson was reaching. I didn’t necessarily disagree with him; in fact, I actually did agree with most of his points. But I feel like his focus often wasn’t the best application of the “lies” he chose, and he seemed to continually create unnecessary conflict in ways that actually detracted from his real points. He said a lot of good stuff; it just got lost in all his words and arguments. Also, he likes to slam others and tout himself (and his books), which annoys me. 

Still, it was an interesting read, and I am glad I read it. It introduced me to some theological viewpoints and ideologies I was not familiar with. And I always appreciate learning from voices and perspectives different from my own. If you ascribe to Reformed theology, his points and arguments may really resonate with you. Otherwise, you can decide for yourself whether to take or leave this book. I probably wouldn’t recommend it.

And that’s it for November! Stay tuned for my December Book Stack and my Year End Review & Recommendations. Hopefully both will be published in the next week or so!

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 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?