Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

18 Books I Would Recommend From My 2017 Shelf



At the end of December, or the first week of January at the latest, everyone posts their favorite books from 2017.  But the fact that I'm posting mine now, solidly in the middle of January, just means that it will stand out more, right?  I'm going to pretend the late date of this post was done purposefully for this reason!  Aren't I so smart?

This last year was a pretty good reading year for me, overall.  I didn't read too many duds, and I have a fairly substantial list of books I think were well worth my time, and yours!  Let's just get started, because this will be a long post.  

The non-fiction list is much longer than the fiction list.  I'm hoping to read more end-of-year-post worthy fiction in 2018.  Click on the links to read my more extensive reviews on Goodreads (including content warnings where applicable).

Non-Fiction

Strange Fire: The Danger Of Offending The Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

I had been reading this book through 2016, and finally finished it in 2017.  This book is basically a critique of the modern charismatic movement, particularly the branches that are theologically and biblically unsound (I'm not saying everyone who labels themselves "charismatic" would fall in this group, but it is worth a careful evaluation).  I think MacArthur comes off a bit harsh at times, but I couldn't disagree with anything he said, and I think there is definitely reason for concern about the charismatic movement.  Worth a read because we all should have our eyes open on these issues.


I listened to this as an audiobook, and I regretted not buying a paper copy because I would have been highlighting all over the place!  I love how Wilkin walks us through different pitfalls to avoid in studying the Bible and outlines a sound method for Bible study.  The paperback is definitely on my list to buy, so next time I can go through it with highlighter in hand.


I wish this book was a little more focused so I could give a better summary of it here, but I guess I'll just say that it addresses problems with women's ministries and the way women are often viewed in church, all mixed in with a call to discernment.  It got five stars from me specifically because of the challenge to discernment, and it made me realize the areas that I have been a little lazy with discernment.


One of my more intellectual reads of the year, this book series presents different world religions and what they believe, but does it from a biblical perspective.  It presents Christianity, how these different religions differ from the Christian belief system, and how to witness to people who may be involved in these different religions.  I'm collecting this whole series for my own information, and also to use as a religion/apologetics study for my kids when they reach high school.


This book tackles some tough topics surrounding gender, but I thought it was biblically grounded and really deep.  It gave me so much to think about, and I particularly found the chapter on motherhood to be encouraging.


One of those books that made me want to say "THANK YOU!" throughout, but it also made me think about many of these stories from the Bible in a different way.  Very grounded in a proper interpretation of Scripture, and I thought his tips for avoiding misinterpreting Scripture were right on.



The information in this book was based on a survey of adults who went to church as a child but no longer do, and it was completely fascinating.  Lots of solid information here that parents can apply to training their children, picking a church, etc.  It also may have you thinking about ways you may have compromised God's word, and how that might be affecting your kids.  A great, and possibly convicting, read.


A pleasant reading surprise, this book talks about the biblical view of work, and how our work in the home (which often seems mundane) brings glory to God.  I wished I had read this a year earlier when I was struggling with no longer working outside the home!  I listened to the audiobook and will probably be listening to it again.


One of my reading goals for 2017 was to read more about the Cold War.  I got distracted by the whole having-a-baby thing and didn't read as much as I wanted to on this subject, but I did read this book and it sucked me in!  A narrative non-fiction from a former KGB spy.  It was fascinating to read about the process of becoming a spy, and I loved that it ended with his testimony of coming to Christ.  Great read!


This was another one of my pleasant surprises of the year.  I had never heard about this author, and was unsure of this book, but it was excellent!  A solid look at the history of the Bible, why we can trust the it is the Word of God, and lots of great Bible Study tips!  I'll be reading this one again.


I didn't agree with every point in this book, but overall I found Merkle's message really encouraging! I love the idea that we as women could do so much more with our work in the home if we would just throw ourselves into it, instead of pining after the same roles as men.  And Merkle has quite a high view of women and their abilities that is evident in this book, so don't get your hackles up before you give it a read.  I'll probably be coming back to this one.


This was a really fascinating look at the feminist movement and some of the consequences that we are just starting to see now.  This made an interesting companion read to Eve In Exile because it looked at feminism from a slightly different perspective.  Of course I liked both of these books because I am decidedly not a feminist in the modern sense, so if you consider yourself a feminist, prepare to be challenged (and probably offended).  Just warning you now.



Fiction

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

This one was difficult to read because of emotional reasons, and it had some content issues, but I don't know, I thought it was worth mentioning here.  The story follows an autistic girl in the foster system, and her struggles to find her "forever home".  Sweet and suspenseful, sad, but the ending was hopeful and I liked that.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Have you ever watched "The Wonder Years"?  This book reminded me of that show, except I like this book better!  Holling Hoodhood finds himself stuck in class alone on Wednesday afternoons with a teacher who doesn't seem to like him, but we get to see how his studies and activities on those Wednesday afternoons help him grow up over the course of the year.  I loved this book so much I went right out and grabbed the companion book, Okay For Now.

Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt

I loved this book too!  Similar in type to The Wednesday Wars, this one follows Holling's friend Doug as he moves to a new town.  Doug stumbles upon the library and an original volume from Audubon, and between learning to draw the birds and his friendship with the girl he met in front of the library, he starts to make the most of his less than ideal circumstances.  The ending of this one seemed just right to me, happy, but a little bittersweet too.


This one was purely for fun!  Some content issues, but a funny and happy read.  The main character goes to "Austenland", a resort that puts it's guests into the world of Jane Austen.  I don't think I really need to say more than that.  I also liked the sequel, Midnight In Austenland which was more of a mystery.  Both of these would be fun summer reads!

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Have you seen the movie?  The book is basically the same as the movie, and I loved them both!  I'm a sucker for a good coming of age story.  

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

My first Kate Morton, and basically the best novel I read all year!  (Well, maybe tied with The Wednesday Wars/Okay For Now.)  The main character saw her mother kill a man when she was a teenager, and the story follows her investigation to figure out what really happened that day.  This book will surprise you!  I loved it.

All of these books are ones I would recommend to a friend!  But now, friends, what would you recommend to me? What should I add to my reading list in 2018?  

What were your favorites from last year?



Hello Mornings Book Review - Well, Rats



2.5/5 stars

So, this book did not make a great first impression on me.  Here we go.

Negatives

My main issue with this book is that I felt from the very first chapter the gospel was presented very weakly, or even misrepresented because of ommission of the key points of the gospel.  Kat Lee opens the book with this explanation:

“Friends, I don’t know where you are in your journey with God.  I don’t know how many times you’ve tried to spend time with Him or read the Word or prayed and felt as if you failed.  But I do know that He does not merely stand at the finish line awaiting your triumphant victory.  Our loving God, our faithful Father, is fighting to come alongside you in the journey.  To push past all the discouragements and distractions.  To speak words of love, hope, and courage over you. To wrap His arms around you and finish the race with you.  Because of Jesus, God does not require our perfection; He wants a relationship with us.”

This is all good and fine if she is speaking exclusively to fellow Christians, but I fear that for the many non-Christians that may be reading this book, she leaves out any real explanation of the gospel here.  I kept looking for a fuller explanation, and Lee never got there.  The truth is that God does require our perfection, but we are wholly unable to attain perfection, and that is why Jesus came - to cover our filthy sin with His perfect righteousness when we quit trying to save ourselves and put our trust in Him.  That is why we who trust in Jesus no longer have to worry about perfection and can have a relationship with God.  To me, she really missed the boat on explaining that here.  

It didn’t help when later in the chapter she mentioned that some women reading this book may have had a great life and "wish they felt like they needed Jesus a little more".  If a Christian is feeling that way I’m not sure they really understand the weight of their sin.  Even if we haven’t had a single difficult thing to deal with in our entire lives, we are still in desperate need of Jesus because of our sin!  We can't be righteous enough to be in a right relationship with God on our own.  This is the problem Jesus came to solve!  He didn’t come mainly to help us through the difficult seasons of life or to overcome our feelings of a lack of purpose, and I am afraid the way Lee presented things in this chapter gave the impression that this is all we need Jesus for. 

Positives

Once I got past this frustration in the first couple chapters, I thought Lee had a lot of good things to say about developing a morning routine.  I definitely appreciated her tips about how to develop habits effectively.  She gives a lot of ideas for different habit-forming methods and how you can apply them to developing morning routine.

The Hello Mornings method focuses on three areas for a morning routine - time with the Lord, time to plan the day, and a jumpstart for making physically healthy choices during the day.  I thought this was a thoughtful way to focus a morning routine in a short amount of time.  She encourages developing a three-minute morning routine with these three things.  While that sounds like it wouldn't be enough time, I liked the idea of having an "anchor" habit so that whether I have only those three minutes or a much longer stretch of time, I can start the day off right.

I also really appreciated how Lee focuses on the "why" of developing a morning routine, which is to serve the Lord better through focusing on Him first thing, making a plan to be effective for Him that day, and developing healthy habits so we have enough energy to serve the Lord well.  The section at the back of the book where Lee includes different ideas for Bible study time was also a great thing to include, and I thought these suggestions were really solid.  

Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that I'm a little bummed about this book.  This would have been a higher-star-rating for me if it wasn't for my frustrations about the way she didn't explain the gospel.  

While I can understand that she was mainly writing this book for Christian women, I don't think any Christian author should assume their readers already know the gospel, especially when it's a book about a subject that would be of interest to non-believers as well.  I thought that because she didn't explain the gospel it gave the impression that she was saying that if you just "spend time with God" each day, you're good to go.  That's just not the case.  We need to trust in Jesus's sacrifice for us on the cross and His righteousness to save us from our sins and an eternity in Hell.  Only when we understand that, and stop relying on our own works to save us, can we have a relationship with Him and look forward to eternal life.  That piece was missing from this book, so I wouldn't recommend it to someone who I didn't feel was a solid believer already.  So that was a bummer.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Why I Didn't Rebel Book Review - Meh





It was sheer curiosity that prompted me to pick up Why I Didn't Rebel by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach. The subtitle states that the book is written by a millennial who did not rebel as a teenager and I was also a millennial who did not rebel as a teenager, so I wanted to see if our experiences were similar.


I thought the author presented some interesting reminders in this book. I could relate to a lot of the points she made because a lot of the things that she experienced in her family were things my parents also did.  I think this book may offer some value in helping parents to start thinking about how they can aid of their children in not rebelling (or how they may inadvertently push them toward rebellion). So many of her points had to do with building a strong family unit through communication, traditions, and a family identity, and I thought she had great things to say on these subjects (though her "evidence" is almost purely anecdotal).

However, there were some areas where I felt that the author's lack of experience on the parenting side started to show. I am a millennial who is a little further down this road because I have children of my own now. Coming at this as a parent of young children, I felt that some topics that she tried to cover can be a bit more complicated than she made them out to be. A good example is the chapter on discipline. Entire books have been written on the topic of discipline from many different perspectives, including different strategies than the ones she presented in this book. I felt that she oversimplified that whole topic and didn't take into account viewpoints that were different than her own.  I was also surprised that she didn't mention any biblical principals in this chapter, because God obviously has something to say in the matter of how to train children. The only mention of Scripture here was an expert's opinion on why he thinks the Bible doesn't advise spanking (which people obviously also have a lot of opinions on, but only one side was presented). A huge opportunity was missed here to make this whole book more biblically grounded, so I found that disappointing.

(It also irked me when she stated her opinion that it was better not to focus on what are right and wrong decisions when talking to teens, but rather what is "smart or dumb". Why can't we include both? I think it is more effective to include both angles, so I disagreed with her here.)

The further I got into this book, the more something started to bug me.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it until the last chapter, and I think it boiled down to two things.  First, I felt that the way she presented her points in this book came off very formulaic, as if doing certain things would almost guarantee that your kids wouldn't "rebel".  And while I thought a lot of her advice was good, I finally figured out why her approach was bugging me - it's because overall, this book felt very weak to me on the Gospel.  The author mentions "authentic" Christianity, and even repentance or forgiveness of "mistakes", but it is never tied together into a full picture - that ALL children are naturally rebellious against God.  That's called sin.  And in order to not rebel against us, they first need to stop rebelling against God, turn from their sin, and believe in Jesus Christ and His righteousness to cover the debt of their sins that they cannot pay.  

If our children aren't first truly saved, it doesn't matter one wit if they don't "rebel" in the traditional sense - they are still lost in their sins, and that is the most serious rebellion of all.  I thought the author was perhaps trying to communicate that with her "authentic Christianity" talk, but it sounded like a bunch of buzz words, and to me, she failed to communicate what should be the main point for Christian parents, which is communicating the Gospel effectively to our children in every way we can, in word and deed. 

So overall, I don't know, maybe I'm being a little hard on this book, but something didn't sit right. I won't be recommending this book.  I feel there are more complete resources for Christian parents out there.

(If you are looking for a more biblically grounded book about raising children, including preventing rebellion and teaching them how to trust Jesus as their Savior, I highly recommend John MacArthur's Successful Christian Parenting.)

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Everyday Watercolor Review - Highly Recommend




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This fall, before I had Georgie, I decided to try to get better at watercolor painting.  I have dabbled in it for a couple years, but I haven't been consistent about practicing at all.  I love the look of watercolor and it's one of those things that I know I need to practice more consistently in order to get better.  I signed up for an online class this fall, and I snagged Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey as soon as I saw it!

This book is a thorough introduction to modern watercolor painting.  Rainey explains her choice of supplies and color theory in the introduction, and then she jumps right into 30 days worth of watercolor projects designed to help you develop your own painting skills.  I loved that Rainey didn't just tell you how to paint each project, but she really explains the reasoning behind the different techniques that she uses so you can take them and apply them to different subjects.

The book is also just gorgeous to look at.






I really appreciated how Rainey guides the reader into thinking about the shapes of the subjects and how the light should fall, and I am excited to practice.  I love Rainey's style of painting, and this book is perfect if you would like to learn to paint in a similar style.  After reading this book I feel like learning to pain in watercolors is that much more attainable. 

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to read this until after Georgie was born, and I haven't been able to actually sit down with paint between adjusting to five kiddos!  But one of my goals for the new year will be to get back into practicing, and I'm excited to work through all the projects in this book.  I'll hopefully share some of the projects in 2018 - my goal is at least one a week!  Highly recommend if you are interested in the watercolor medium.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

The Austen Escape Review



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I've only read one other book by Katherine Reay (Dear Mr. Knightly), and I really enjoyed it, so I was excited for the opportunity to read another one of her books for review!  Though the publisher is Christian, I wouldn't say Reay's novels are Christian or even religious at all - but they are clean, sweet stories, usually with a little romance thrown in.

The Austen Escape is about an electrical engineer, Mary, who has a crush on a consultant at work, Nathan.  She also has a tumultuous relationship with her childhood best friend, Isabel, but Mary ends up going with her to England anyway for an Austen-era experience at a house in Bath.  While they are there, Isabel has a nervous breakdown and thinks she is actually living in the early 1800's, and Nathan shows up to help Mary.  

I would say I enjoyed this book, but I thought it could have been stronger.  While in Bath, Mary works through a lot of her own internal feelings about the way Isabel treats her, but I felt the ending left a lot of things unresolved.  Isabel has a moment of repentance at the end of the story for the way she treats people, but it didn't really feel like she and Mary were fully reconciled.  Through the story we also learn that Mary had emotional problems connecting with her mother growing up, and while I suppose knowing this about Mary added some depth to her character, I didn't really see how that struggle added to the story since there was no realization related to this in the end aside from a brief conversation with her father.

I also felt like the main character was a little hard for me to personally relate to, probably because of personality differences.  Mary's character was very introverted and analytical, and though Reay tries to convince us at certain places in the book that Mary is a "romantic at heart," I didn't get that at all.  Nathan seemed to be the one in the relationship that was more emotionally in tune with Mary.  Though I'm not saying that women can't be analytical or men can't be emotional, I do think that it is a less common relationship dynamic, and somehow with the way it was executed I had a hard time buying it.  

I also felt that some of the relationships with the peripheral characters could have been developed a little better, and it would have strengthened the story.  But then, there was a lot of emotional issues going on in this book, so maybe it would have been too much.  I just know that I would have liked the secondary characters integrated more into the main storyline, and Mary's inner turmoil focused a bit more.

Aside from some of my frustration with the elements listed above, I did actually enjoy the book!  Reay's novels are always slower-paced, but while they take longer to get into, they have a comforting vibe to them.  I also think it could be argued that the multi-faceted emotional side of the characters does add a real-life element to her books, because rarely do we have all of our emotions resolved and tied up into a neat little package in real life.  In that way her characters and situations are really believable.  

I really liked the ending and thought it was nicely done, though I wish I could peek a little further into the future and make sure it all turned out well long-term!  Maybe she'll give us a glimpse of some of her characters in future books? (Katherine Reay, if you are reading, that's a request!  Because I will pick up more of your books in the future.)

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

My No-Stress Christmas To-Do List




Okay, maybe "no-stress" is a bit ambitious, but my goal is to keep my Christmas to-do's as low-key as possible this year!  Here are a few things I would like to squeeze in.  If they get done before Christmas, that's great, but I also love the idea of celebrating the whole yuletide this year and extending the fun activities beyond the 25th too.  So if some of this doesn't get done, we're just going to celebrate Christmas until January!

1. Gingerbread House.  The kids all requested a gingerbread house this year, so I want to make sure that happens.  Derek put the structure together last night, and we're hoping to get to the decorating this week!

2. Christmas Cards.  I addressed cards to all the critical people, like family, and I'm just going to keep this low pressure and either 1) write a few addresses here and there as I have time or 2) just focus on returning cards to people who send them to me.  

3. Baking.  There really isn't any way to simplify the work of baking, so my goal is just to do one type of cookie a couple times a week until Christmas, and then freeze them.  I've already got ginger cookies in the freezer.

4. Finish our stack of Christmas books.  I rented a whole stack of Christmas picture books from the library,and we are slowly working our way through them!  The kids are so excited every time I pull one out.  We also got this adorable book from Tommy Nelson to add to our permanent collection!





Christmas Blessings has a different Christmas poem on each page, and my plan is to pick this up this week and read one poem a day to the kids.   The poems are sweet celebrations of different aspects of Christmas.  I think my littler ones will especially like this book, because the illustrations are so cute, and it would be fun (and easy) to even memorize one of these poems with the kids!  I also love how so many of the poems point in some way back to the reason we celebrate Christmas as Christians, which is to remember what Christ has done for us through His birth, and later his death and resurrection! This book is a great starting point for reminding little ones of that.

5. Wrap Presents.  I have a couple presents left to wrap for my extended family, but I'm happy to report that Derek and I knocked out most of the present-wrapping before Georgie arrived!  So there is not much left to do here.

6. Advent.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law make doing advent with the kids so easy, so this one is more for me to remember to do my own advent devotionals each day!  As I wrote last week, I have to make time for focusing on Jesus at Christmas, or I start to resent all the Christmas to-do's instead of celebrating the joy of His birth.

Notice one thing that is not on the list is shopping!  I am very happy to have all of that done early this year, but if you are still struggling for some gift ideas, I've got a post on Tommy Nelson idea with gift ideas for boys that will last!  Read and tell me what you think. 

What do you have left to do before Christmas?

Note: I received a copy of Christmas Blessings for free from Tommy Nelson in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

The Four Tendencies Review

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You get a bonus book review today!  As you all know, I've been on a personality kick lately, and one of the personality books I picked up was The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.  I haven't read anything else by her, but I've listened to a couple episodes of her podcast, and I heard her talking about this concept.  It seemed interesting, so I was excited to read the book!

In The Four Tendencies, Rubin presents a theory of how different people respond to expectations, both internal and external.  We have the Upholders (who respond well to internal and external expectations), Questioners (who resist external expectations only), Obligers (who resist internal expectations only), and Rebels (resist both external and internal expectations).  She argues that a person's "tendency" affects how they respond to everyday situations and interact with other people.  If you know other people's tendencies, you can present things in a way that will make sense to them and let them respond positively.  If you know your own tendency, you can implement strategies that will make it easier for you to form good habits.

I am a little skeptical about some of Rubin's claims (like tendencies being part of our personalities from birth - I don't know that there is a way to prove that), but the more I read of this book, the more her overall points made sense.  She covers each tendency in detail and gives examples of difficulties and strengths related to each tendency, how to relate to different tendencies, and how to improve your own life by working with your tendency instead of against it.

I learned that I'm an Obliger, and I'm pretty sure Derek is a Questioner - so we keep each other on the straight and narrow!  I kind of hate being an Obliger, as the tendency that has trouble saying no and can tend to run ragged and get resentful of all the external obligations that "must" be kept.  I had started to recognize this about myself even before I read this book, and it confirmed to me that for my tendency, it's a really good thing to be setting boundaries around my time and energy (as I've been trying to do this year), so I don't go into "obliger rebellion" as Rubin calls it.

Anyway, if you struggle with setting good habits, have conflicts with those in your life about what "should" be done, or just want to understand yourself and others a little better, this book was interesting!  This is a secular book, so not everything in it is something I'd condone or agree with, but overall I thought Rubin had some interesting things to say.  I'd recommend it for personality junkies for sure.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

A Book You Should Read (And Brief Thoughts On Gender Roles In Church)




How's that for a blog post title?

A few years ago, I discovered a podcast produced by Moody Radio called Up For Debate.  It's a podcast where Christians on different sides of certain issues come together and have a "debate".  It's about as friendly as a debate show can get, and though I usually pretty strongly agree with one guest over the other, it has been helpful to me to understand different arguments on "gray areas" within Christian circles.  The host, Julie Roys, always wraps up the debates by giving her opinion, and I've come to really appreciate hearing what she has to say.

So, I found out Roys had written a book, and I decided to pick it up recently.  This is one of those reviews that is going to be hard to write, because I am just not sure I have the words.  There is just so much in this book (in a good way).

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In Redeeming The Feminine Soul  God's Surprising Vision For Womanhood, Roys shares her own story in discovering more about biblical femininity, and more personally, how it applies to her own life.  Her story starts out with her struggle in not really understanding or accepting her feminine nature in some ways, and how that lead her into discouragement related to her spiritual gifts and dangerous relationships.  However, God lead her to read more about the unique ways that masculinity and femininity reflect the character of God, and her perspective began to change.  She eventually got to the place where she could see the true value in the feminine that she was missing before.

On the way she tackles so many issues, like gender roles in the church, misogyny (not what you think), gender identity, feminism...like I said, there is a lot in this book.  I have a bit of commentary on gender roles in the church below, but first let me say that I thought this book was very well-done.  Roys keeps a good balance as she discusses these issues, while also not wavering on biblical truth, which is a brave thing to do in this culture.  Overall, I thought her arguments were very well thought out and presented, and she supported so much of what she said biblically and also with research.

This book was not a light skim-over of these issues, she took a surprisingly deep dive in a short amount of pages, and I left with so much to think about. For example...

My (Very) Brief Thoughts On Gender Roles In Church 

At one point in this book, Roys shares her struggles in coming to terms with biblical gender roles within the church.  She shares her story of feeling called to preaching, but not being allowed to, and the internal conflict that caused her.  Eventually she comes to a complimentarian understanding of gender roles in Scripture (meaning God created men and women to fill different roles that complement each other), and how these roles (especially in marriage) are a symbol or reflection of the relationship between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit within the Trinity - particularly how the Son (Jesus) submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Son and the Father.  Our relationships as men and women, our very genders and their accompanying biblical roles, are meant to be a reflection of those relationships in the Trinity, and that is how we should be framing the whole “submission” issue. 

I am pretty familiar with all that already, but the part I found interesting and that made me think was when she also applied this understanding of being a reflection of the Trinity to gender roles within the church.  She presents the concept that men's and women’s roles within marriage and the family are meant to reflect God’s character and relationship in the Trinity, and that the church also reflects that as well by reflecting the family (this is biblically backed up by the way Paul refers to himself as a spiritual "father" of different congregations, etc.).  

Here she argues that though the main leadership biblically should be reserved for men in order to maintain that very important symbolism, women can be allowed to preach and teach as spiritual “mothers” in the church as well, while submitting to the leadership of the spiritual “fathers”, so not having ultimate authority over men in the church. This is to be done from a position of mutual love and respect between the men and women in the church, while also acknowledging and honoring their respective biblical roles.  

I never really thought about it that way before.  I’m still mulling it over, though I will say that in general I think it is fine for women to speak in church occasionally, even to the men - I grew up in a (conservative) church which occasionally heard presentations from our female missionaries when they were visiting on a Sunday morning, and women in the congregation were welcome to contribute to the church service during prayer, testimony time, etc.  There was a pretty beautiful respect of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ there, and the older I get, the more blessed I think I am to have experienced church as I did growing up.  I am supposing that this kind of thing may not be allowed in some conservative churches, but since I grew up in that kind of environment, Roys's understanding of this makes sense to me.  I agree that these occasions don’t constitute women having “authority” over the men, so they don’t contradict 2 Timothy 2.  

The one thing I don’t agree with Roys on though is when she implies that she thinks it’s fine for women to be given the title of “pastor” under a head pastor - I think the very word “pastor” conveys authority, and would seem to put men in the church under the woman’s authority, muddying the gender roles again.  This was the one sticky area in the book where I wasn't always sure where Roys was going, but like the rest of the book I thought she did a pretty good job of staying balanced and seeking truth from God's word, even if I don't 100% agree with her application.

Back To The Book

So that probably gives you an idea of what I mean when I say that each chapter was a deep-dive into these issues...I really don't know how this book is not much longer.  

She does discuss "healing ministry" in this book as well, and I felt that might need a note because I think the term is confusing - from what I gather, when she refers to healing ministry, she's not talking about something hokey but about biblical counseling ministries to help people overcome wounds from their past, whether they be emotional, sexual, etc.  I get a little leery of putting too much emphasis on psychology, but the way she described the healing ministry from which she received counseling put me more at ease, which included Bible study/prayer, and personal application and discussion/counseling within groups.  I did feel the term could get confusing though, which is why I put this little explanation of my take here.

I really appreciated the chapters on our culture's misogyny (hatred of the feminine that is often perpetuated by women today), and the chapter on motherhood was so personally encouraging to me - I know I will be going back to read that one again.  I'm not saying this book won't step on your toes in some way, because it probably will, but if you are ready to think more deeply about these issues and God's original design for us as women, this book just gave me so much to think about.  And she explains everything so much better than I am doing here, so if something I said seems confusing, I'd just say check out the book yourself and tell me what you think! I definitely recommend it.

(Also, I can count this review as part of my memory-keeping 31 Day Challenge, right?  I shared a memory from my childhood church, after all!)

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.






Before You Hit Send Review

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I picked up Before You Hit Send by Emerson Eggerichs 1) because I think Eggerichs usually has interesting points to make, and 2) couldn't we all use a little more help when it comes to thinking before we comment?  In person and online?  I think so.

This book wasn't quite what I expected, but I still had plenty to think about while I was reading it.  

I would say the title of this book is a little misleading in that it doesn't actually talk specifically about social media.  I was all ready to be self-righteous and nod my head as he gave reasons against social media rants, but this book focused more on interactions with people in general.  There were no self-righteous head nods as I realized that yes, I do have some of my own problems with each of the points he listed, and it challenged me to think a little more carefully about how I am communicating.

His focus in this book is to remind readers to ask themselves four questions (that you've probably heard) before speaking: Is it true?  Is it kind? Is it necessary?  Is it clear?

He takes a section for each question and shares different ways in which people may not be true, kind necessary, or clear in their communication.  I thought he did a good job of breaking things down and getting you to think about different ways that you may be falling into less-than-helpful communication habits - including some that weren't as obvious.  I think we can all think of an interaction where someone else was less than true, kind, necessary, or clear, but Eggerichs made me think about where I need to work on those areas, which made this book really helpful.

My only complaint is that some of his suggestions for what to say to different types of people about their communication didn't necessarily come off as kind to me, but that probably depends on the tone in which it is said (or maybe it's just because my personality is different than Eggerichs).

This book is definitely helpful if you want to become a more constructive communicator, so if it sounds interesting, check it out!  (Just don't expect a lot about social media.)

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Loving My Actual Christmas



A little confession: I've struggled for the last several years to really enjoy the Christmas season.  Maybe it's the extra pressure that comes from being a mom and having more people to juggle, maybe expectations outside our immediate family have ramped up...I don't know, but no matter how much I prepare, the season still seems to be more stressful than I would like.

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Knowing this about myself, when I saw Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall, I knew I had to grab it.  Because I am self-aware enough to realize that I do need to take some pressure off myself and learn to love the actual Christmas I have, even if it doesn't look the way I want.

This book is less a how-to, and more of a personal memoir of how the author herself managed to enjoy her Christmas even amidst all the hustle and bustle.  Each chapter is centered around a week of the Christmas season and focuses on a theme - hope, love, joy, and peace.  She writes about how her actual Christmas season pans out as she tries to keep her focus on these different themes each week.  

It might seem like reading about someone else's Christmas experience wouldn't be overly helpful, but I actually found this whole book really encouraging.  Because it wasn't perfect, and she was busy, and she cried a couple times, but in the end she found she enjoyed the season more because amidst the busyness she took time to focus on her themes, and how they relate to the reason we celebrate in the first place!  

I loved how she ties it all back around to the nativity, and how God became a man in order to save us.  It wasn't preachy, just reflective, and it gave me hope that maybe this Christmas season I can find time to prepare my heart too.  That's really what I think I'm personally missing during December, the focus on Jesus's birth.  I've usually blamed it on not enough time or space to really reflect, but I have tried preparing early and the busyness still gets to me - I need to find time to focus on Christ in the midst of all the Christmas tasks, and this book encouraged me that it's possible.

(I also just have to say that I LOVE the idea of Christmastide that she includes in this book - i.e.. extending the Christmas celebration and reflection beyond the actual holiday.  I think this might provide me some of that space and time that I want so desperately at Christmas.)

The line that really got me was in the last part of this book:

"...I wondered if that's the point of this Christmas.  The over and over.  The message on repeat.  In all circumstances. Whether we acknowledge it or not, this message of "I love you" this love note of a Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes - more importantly, wrapped in skin - is to be the wave over us every year. "I love you."  And again, "I love you".  And a year later, when we've had a heck of a go at life and things aren't looking as we thought the would or should, "I love you" again." pg. 91

Isn't that a beautiful way to look at the Christmas season?  As a yearly reminder, a yearly "I love you" from the Lord.  I hope to take that attitude with me this year and leave some of the stress behind.

Overall, I recommend this book if you are consistently finding yourself stressed out every Christmas season - it encouraged me, and I'm hoping to take some of her ideas into the season in a couple months!

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Recent Reads




I had every intention of doing a reading update every quarter this year...and that obviously didn't happen.  I've been meaning to write this post for the last six months.  Whoops!  I've been really enjoying reading everyone else's book round-ups lately, so I finally felt inspired to write up my thoughts.  These are a few of my most recent reads...excluding the books that I've already posted about on this blog.  To see everything I've read in 2017 so far, you can check out my Goodreads shelf (I write full reviews for every book I read on there).

Fiction

I've found that I typically can't handle really heavy or depressing fiction since I found out I was pregnant...so I've felt myself drawn to middle-grade fiction lately.  I think I've discovered a new favorite genre!  Not only can middle-grade fiction be surprisingly deep, but there is no danger of inappropriate language or situations, which I also have little patience for these days.

(Some affiliate links below...to help support my reading habits, you know!)




Flipped (5 stars) - If you've never seen this movie, GO RENT IT FROM THE LIBRARY RIGHT NOW!  It's an adorable coming of age/ middle school crush plot.  And I think I've mentioned before how I'm a sucker for coming of age stories.  The book is basically the movie in written form - they stuck really close to the book with the movie, so you could really read the book or see the movie and not miss much.  Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.




Wonder (4 stars) - This is coming out as a movie soon, so there's been some buzz around the book...and the audio was only $4, so I decided to try it.  I really enjoyed this story, about a boy with a facial deformity, and how he copes with it as he starts at a new school.  I totally fell in love with the characters in this book, and I thought it struck a nice balance between addressing more serious topics (like bullying) while still being fun to read (listen to), and not too painful for my pregnant sensibilities. I took off one star because of some references to reincarnation, which I thought parents should be aware of should their kids read this book.



 

Austenland/Midnight In Austenland (4 stars) - Total fluff.  I know it's total fluff.  But I loved every minute of these books too!  The plots of these books are based around a secretive vacation spot where women can go live for two weeks completely immersed in a Jane-Austen-era experience - included actors who romance them, so they can be just like an Austen heroine.  Some sexual innuendos in these books, but generally pretty mild compared to most secular fiction.  The plots were just too fun, I laughed out loud several times, and the endings were cute.  I liked the second one even better than the first, but start with the first.


 

The Ark Plan/Code Name Flood (4 stars) - These novels are set in the future, after biologists bring back the dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs take over the world, forcing mankind underground.  If that plot synopsis doesn't suck you in, I can't do anything for you.  Nothing too meaningful in these books, and some evolutionary references, but I could hardly put them down.




The Secret Keeper (5 stars) - I read grown-up fiction too, really!  This was my first Kate Morton book, and I'm kind of scared to fully dive into another one now, because I loved this book so much.  I'm not sure any of her other novels will compare.  The thing that really drove this up on my list of favorites this year was the way the book ended.  There was a twist, and I loved the way it all turned out.  I don't do sad endings.  See Goodreads review for full content disclaimers, but I really liked it.




The Husband's Secret (1.5 stars) - I keep trying Moriarty books because I liked What Alice Forgot so much, but I've generally been disappointed.  Nothing can measure up to Alice.  I really didn't like this one.  A lot more inappropriate content than some of her books, and I didn't like all the cheating.  It left me regretting the time I spent reading it.  Bleh.


Non-Fiction

I've read some pretty stellar non-fiction this year, and several of those books already received their own review on the blog, so please check them out here!   Here are a few more though.




Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide To Unshakeable Peace (5 stars) - I listened to the audio of this, and I thought there was a lot of encouragement and practical advice for homeschool moms here.  I'll probably re-read this one again, to catch some of the stuff I missed on audio, but I found it really helpful to gear me up for starting homeschooling this fall.




Boundaries (4 stars) - This is practically a classic, but I've never read it before a couple months ago.  I picked it up because I've recognized that I am one of those people that often has trouble saying no, and I've been trying to get better at it this last year.  This book is about setting boundaries in your various relationships, and also with yourself.  I didn't agree with everything in it, but it was still an interesting read!  If you're into psychology at all, you'd also probably find this one interesting.




Escape (4 stars) - Prepare to be disturbed if you pick this one up!  Carolyn Jessop tells her story of escaping the fundamentalist Mormon church.  I found a lot of the (pretty graphically described) abuse in this book disturbing, but it was also hard to put down because I wanted to see how she finally escaped.  It ended on a bit of a hopeless note though, which didn't help with my general level of disturbedness (that's a word, right?) - but I did learn a lot about Mormonism, and it made me add Jessop to my prayer list.



Why Men Hate Going To Church (3.5 stars) - I've heard this author speak on a couple of my podcasts, so when the audio of this book went on sale, I grabbed it.  He brings up a lot of interesting points about why church (as in church services on Sunday) is not appealing to a lot of men.  The thing that bugged me about this book was that a lot of his points were supported by personal anecdotes...I thought the book would have been a lot stronger if he could have provided some research to back up his thoughts.  However, it did get me thinking about how churches are generally more geared toward women (which is pretty undeniable), and what to look for in a church if you want your man and/or sons to feel at home.  It came in pretty handy since we've been in a position of looking for a new church recently.




Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church And What You Can Do To Stop It (5 stars) - I read this book for free online, and you can too!  Or you can buy the Kindle version for only $3 right now.  We are young earth creationists and Ken Ham fans in this house - if you aren't, your toes may be stepped on with this book, I'm not going to lie.  Ham argues that a big reason many young people have left church is because they do not take a strong view on the authority of Scripture (including Genesis) - and he presents evidence that they are picking this up because of a weakened view of Scripture in our churches (and homes).  Unlike the book above, this one was really well supported by a survey study, and Ham breaks down the results and gives his opinion on where we are going wrong.  I found it really fascinating, and once again, the points he made were good to think about as we were picking a new church.




Currently, I am reading World Religions And Cults: Volume One by Bodie Hodge (really interesting and informative so far), Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra KuyKendall (I need as much help as I can get in this area), and More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom (financial stuff, which I could also use help with since our budget is a lot more restricted this year).  I've also abandoned many books that just weren't doing it for me this summer (maybe those deserve an extra post).

Have you read any of these? What have you been reading lately?

Books For Littles - Night, Night Train Review



 
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I am preparing a post for next week about homeschooling and all our curriculum choices - it's exciting having older kids and introducing them to some of the books I loved as a kid!  I am loving that we get to dip our toes into chapter books, and when my kids recognize a literary character my heart is just so happy.

However, one thing I am trying to be cognizant of is that while I am a mom to an elementary school kid now...I am also still a mom to toddlers and preschoolers.  And they need some books geared toward them too.  I'm trying to make sure I make time to read books that are on their level during our homeschool day too!



Tommy Nelson has so many adorable books for younger kiddos, and my recent favorite is Night Night, Train by Amy Parker.  This book goes through different night-time routines as the characters prepare to board the train to "Sleeptown".  All in rhyme!  (I am particularly fond of books that rhyme.) If that doesn't give you an idea of how cute this book is, let's look at some pictures, shall we?




Not only are the illustrations adorable, but this book is about trains!  Trains are Clyde's current favorite subject, and one of the transportation words that Clarice has latched onto, so this book is perfect for our family right now.  We'll definitely be incorporating it into our nighttime routine!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from Tommy Nelson in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.


Praying For Girls Review



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I wrote a couple months ago about verses I want to pray for my daughters, and I mentioned in that post that I wish someone would write a book about praying for girls - well, little did I know that book was in the works!  I snagged Praying For Girls by Terri Lynne Underwood as soon as I saw it, because it seemed so timely.

This book covers 20 different prayers to pray specifically for our girls.  Each chapter starts with a personal story and commentary from the author, then moves into fill-in-the-blank prayers (a pre-written prayer where you can insert your daughter's name).  Each chapter closes with a section for moms (since we often struggle with the same things we are praying for our daughters!), and a practical suggestion section, with activities for opening up the conversation with our "little", "middle", and "big" girls.

I really liked the idea of this book and the way it was organized.  I thought the author brought up a lot of specific things to pray for girls that I wouldn't have thought about.  Though I was a girl once, I often forget just how many emotions and struggles I had as a girl - and this book was a good reminder for me to try to put myself back there when I'm raising my daughters, so I can remember the kind of things they are likely going through and pray for them!

Still, I kept having mixed feelings about this book as I read it.  At times I really appreciated what the author was saying thought this was a great guide.  At other times, I felt like it was missing...something.  I think in a lot of ways this book focused so intently on struggles girls may have in their growing-up years, and part of what was missing for me was a more wide-angle view of not only their current struggles, but praying for the kind of women we want our daughters to become.  Maybe not everyone will agree with me on that, but it's the closest I can get to explaining what wasn't quite working for me.  I wanted focus not only on the feel-good prayers for our girls (ex: knowing she's loved, loving others, having an undivided heart for the Lord), but also for qualities of character (love for truth, courage, honesty, etc).  I felt this book was a little more focused on the former, which are certainly important things!  But when I think about the women I hope my girls will become I also largely think about praying they will be women of character, so I would have liked more character-qualities addressed here too.

I also thought the author shared an awful lot about her daughter's struggles in this book, and I found myself wincing at times and hoping that she got her daughter's permission to share certain things!  She probably did, but I can't remember if she spelled that out for the reader.  

Overall, I would recommend this book, but I think a more general praying-for-children book would be a good companion read as well!

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

The Lucky Few Review



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I'm not sure what made me pick up The Lucky Few by Heather Avis.  I didn't follow her Instagram account, and had never heard of her before.  But I am so glad I grabbed this book!

In The Lucky Few, Heather tells her motherhood story - how she struggled with infertility, finally decided on adoption, only to discover that God was leading her and her husband to adopt a little girl with Down Syndrome.  

The author really tells this story well - even when she was describing the more ordinary bits of motherhood I found myself completely caught up in the book.  This is not only an interesting story, but also a powerful testimony of the beautiful things God can do with someone who is willing to take the gifts He is offering, even when they may not look they way we thought.

This book was a quick read, and uplifting and encouraging.  I highly recommend it!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

The Most Misused Stories In The Bible (Highly Recommend)



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I saw this book, and the title intrigued me.  I wanted to know "The Most Misused Stories In The Bible"!  I am so glad I picked it up because this book exceeded my expectations.

Bargerhoff tackles so many issues and misinterpretations in this book, some that I was not even expecting.  However, the part that I was really pleased with is how he incorporates principles for proper biblical interpretation while sharing these stories.  He not only tells you how and why they are misunderstood, but how a proper Bible study method and interpretation of Scripture can help us avoid similar mistakes.

Everything in this book was biblically sound, the author shows the biblical support for his arguments about how certain Bible stories are misused, and he really got me thinking about new things with some of the stories he presented.  He also is not afraid to shy away from controversial topics, taking a strong stand on the truth of God's Word.

The drawback of having literally no complaints about a book is that the review ends up being rather short - but it's a pleasant problem to have.  This book was excellent, and I'd highly recommend it.  I think I'll be picking up the other book by the author, The Most Misused Verses In The Bible as well!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Sweetbriar Cottage Review



2.5/5 stars.

Whenever I see a new Denise Hunter book up for review, I have to snag it because I always enjoy how her books are quick, easy reads.  She has a way of sucking me into the story, and even when I think I can't take the drama anymore, I somehow can't help myself from turning the pages!

In this Sweetbriar Cottage, Noah and Josephine thought they got a divorce 18 months ago - only to realize that a paperwork glitch resulted in them still be married.  Through the book we find out more about how their relationship started, how it ended, and glimpses into Josephine's troubled past.

I have to say, this wasn't my favorite book by Hunter.  The main character's past was pretty dark, involving r.ape, and subsequent promiscuity, all that she hid from her husband while they were married.  I thought Hunter handled it all in a tactful way, but it was more than I was expecting and the subsequent problems in Josephine and Noah's marriage got all psychological, more so than in her other books.  Hunter also has had a tendency in all her books to focus on the physical attraction between her characters too much for me, and it seemed especially pronounced in this book - I'm assuming because of the sexual sin in the character's past, and remembrances of previous intimacy in her marriage to Noah.  Like I said, it all ended up being too much.

Also, we find out a lot about Josephine and her past, but hardly anything about Noah's.  He didn't seem to have as much of a backstory, and I wish he had.

My final complaint about this book is that the salvation message was really weak.  Josephine asked Jesus "into her heart" as a child, but obviously turned away from Him.  She has a renewal of "faith" in this book, and "the cross" is briefly mentioned, but it is never clear what she is being saved from.  She is plagued by the guilt of her past sins in this book, but her sin is never called sin (neither is Noah's, as he acknowledges his lust several times) and it's never clarified that that's why Jesus died in the first place - to cleanse us of our sin when we repent and put our trust in Him.  He didn't die for us so we could feel less guilty about our sin, He died so He could take our sins away from us and give us His righteousness.  This wasn't communicated well at all, and that troubled me.  The message seemed to be about Jesus's "unconditional love" for us, but didn't address sin and repentance really at all - and that's pretty much crucial to salvation.  So I was disappointed in that.

All that said, I did shoot through this book.  Like I said, she always keeps me turning the pages to find out what happens.  But this book wasn't my favorite.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Jane Of Austin Review

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As you probably saw on my list of books I brought on vacation, I have dipped my toes back into Jane Austen novels again this summer.  I have also read other books that I enjoyed by Hillary Manton Lodge, so when I saw that she had written a modern retelling of Sense And Sensibility, it was just meant to be!

In Jane Of Austin,  Jane and her sisters lose all their respectability when their father is accused of a financial crime - since they can no longer work in the financial world, they decide to open a tea parlor.  However, when their landlord dies they are kicked out of their tea shop's rental space, and decide to start over again in Austin.

First, I'll say that whenever I see that a novel has been published by a Christian publishing company, I expect some sort of Christian element to it, even if it's slight.  However, this book really had zero spiritual references at all, and I wouldn't consider it a Christian book.  So going forward with this review, I'm approaching it as a secular novel.



Content: The only objections I had to the content were some sexual implications.  One of the characters speculates on whether a couple of the main characters may have moved in together (they didn't). One of the characters suggestively says that Jane should "come back to his place" (she doesn't).  And there is a lot of making out.  

These things would have bothered me more if I had been thinking this was supposed to be a Christian book, but like I said, I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn't.  However, considering it is coming from a Christian publisher, I think it's just a good example of why we shouldn't necessarily trust "Christian books" to never present questionable morals.

Characters:  The story is told from the perspective of the "Maryanne" and "Colonel Branden" characters in this book, which I was excited about when I began reading.  Their love story is my favorite one in Sense And Sensibility, and I was excited to see how the book would play out from this perspective.  However, I have to say, Jane ("Maryanne") just really wasn't working for me.  I liked her character well enough, but she just seemed too Type A to be really "Maryanne-ish" to me.  My picture of Maryanne is that she is this free-spirited, creative type; and while Jane was creative, she was like snooty-type-A creative.  Lodge tried to make her passionate and emotional, but I felt like those emotions didn't seem to fit as well on the character of Jane because I saw her as more logical/Type A.  It just didn't jive with my vision of who Maryanne was.  That's just my personal opinion, others will probably disagree with me here!

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed the way Lodge managed to incorporate all the elements of the story of Sense And Sensibility into this book!  She did a really good job, and I found myself remembering different parts of the original story as I read.

I thought the tea shop aspect of it was particularly fun, and Lodge includes a lot of recipes for some of the foods mentioned in the book.  She did this in her other books too, and just from the writing it is obvious the author knows what she is talking about culinarily.  I just loved the extra coziness all the recipes add to Lodge's novels, and her food descriptions made me hungry.

If you'd like to read a Jane Austen retelling, this one was a fun, clean one, and I'd recommend it overall!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.
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