My May Book Stack

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

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

So here it is. 

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

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

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)

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

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)

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

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

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

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

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

Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing

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

And finally, Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 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!