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

A Serial Killer's Daughter | A Review



Occasionally I'll get on a true crime kick, and it was one of those days when I found out about this book and requested it to review.  I am usually interested in true crime because I like to see how law enforcement solves the crime and catches the bad guy.  And I guess it should have been obvious from the title, but this was not that sort of book. However, it made me think alot more about the families of criminals and how they are affected by these crimes.  It's not something I considered that much before, and I'm glad I read this memoir for that reason.

Kerri Rawson was an adult when she found out that her father was the BTK (Blind-Torture-Kill) killer.  I just cannot even imagine the shock of that.

Most of the book is Kerri sharing some of her childhood memories of her dad, particularly different situations that she would later come to correlate to the times of his crimes.  The picture painted here is just surprisingly...normal.  She describes her father's sometimes erratic moods, and a couple occasions when he did physically abuse his family, but most of her memories are not terrible.  The family was never tormented by their father in the way he tormented his victims.  He was living a complete double life, and no one had any idea or inkling that he could have done something like this until he was arrested.

Kerri shares some of her journey of faith in Christ through the book, and the trauma and healing she had to go through when she found out what her dad had done.  I was so sad for her.  She loved her father, and still loved him even after he was arrested.  She continued to communicate with him and attempted to show him love and encourage him to get help, even while she was hurting so badly.  I thought that was inspiring, and also heartbreaking at times when her father failed to show proper remorse.

There is no tidy way to wrap up a memoir like this, but Kerri still manages to end the book on a hopeful note.  Though I can tell I have some theological differences, I appreciated her inclusion of how Christ died to save us from our sins and will forgive us when we turn to Him.  This book was hard to read in many parts, but it gave me a new perspective on the true crime genre, and alot to think about.

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


Wooing Caddie McCaffery | A Mini Review



I'm going to do something a little different for this book review today and keep it short and sweet on my actual blog.  If you want the long version of what I thought about this book, head on over to Goodreads for my full breakdown.

I haven't read a Christian "chick-lit" type book in a long time, but I was at a point in my reading life when I really wanted something light and fun, so I requested Wooing Cadie McCaffery by Bethany Turner. The description said that in this book, Will and Cadie have been in a relationship for a while, and Cadie decides it's going nowhere and calls things off.  Then Will tries to win her back through emulating famous romantic comedy movies.

Sounds cute and fun, right?  I started reading the book and I initially loved it.  The characters were quirky, the writing was fun and light, just like I needed.

Then suddenly the two characters who were supposed to be Christians committed to purity before marriage slept together.  And now this book is dealing with a pretty serious situation where these characters have to deal with how this sin has affected their relationship, and it's all a mess and just not a fun, light book anymore.

I was particularly annoyed with this book because it did not fit my expectations, and it was not the light read I was needing.  I felt like it promised something that it did not deliver.  I also thought the topic of what to do after falling into sin was really weakly dealt with in the book. There were some ridiculous parental characters that I just couldn't get behind.  And there were lots of examples of what I will teach my children NOT to do in a relationship.  Some of these situations and miscommunications were probably supposed to be funny, but with some of the heaviness in the plot, and also because of my frustration at this book not being what I expected, the misunderstanding tropes were just painful.

By the end I was so ready to be done with this book.  I'm disappointed because it started out so strong.

If you want more specifics, you can read my full review of Wooing Cadie McCaffery on Goodreads.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday - A Review



Are you all ready for a really long review? (I'm sorry in advance, but I couldn't make it shorter.)

I saw Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday by Valerie Woerner when a blog friend shared a few really good lines from one of the chapters.  I've developed an aversion to books written for Christian women in general, but I thought the points from the book that my friend shared were really interesting, so I decided to give it a go.  And I do have thoughts.  A lot of thoughts.

Before I start, I just want to say up front that I really agonized over this review for one main reason - I'm really hoping the author will read this review.

I'm hoping she will read it because I think she is actually really talented.  It's no small thing to write a book, and her voice is relatable and fun.   I can tell that she really has a heart for the Lord and wants to serve the Lord well, and that goes a long way in my book.  She also mentions a few times in the book the value of having a teachable spirit and being able to listen to a critique.  I do have some critiques to give that I think are really important.  I'm hoping the author reads this because I have no doubt that she will write another book in the future, and I hope she can consider these points when she does.

First, let's talk about what she did well!



Positives

This is such a great topic for a book in today's culture.  I fully agree with the author's assessment of the problems with being a grumpy mom, and how the different aspects of modern mom culture (like wearing "hot mess" like a badge and one-upping each other on how little sleep we got, for example)  are only contributing to our general grumpiness about motherhood.  Her chapter on not being constantly offended is right on the money, while also being really self-aware of her own areas of weakness when it comes to being offended.  She hit on alot of great points throughout this book, and really did a great job in pointing out some of the problems in our collective attitudes about motherhood.

As I said, her voice is also really relatable, and the writing was overall fun to read.  Alot of her personal stories reminded me of the days when my kids were a little younger, and also of some of my own struggles as a mom right now!  This book does an excellent job of letting mothers know they are not alone in their struggles, and that I think is definitely valuable.

Negatives

This is the not-so-fun part for me.  I feel like I need to preface this section with saying that to me, this book actually felt like two separate books.  I felt like the underlying focus of the advice in the first 40% of the book, and the last 3 or 4 chapters was completely different than the middle. The first part and the last few chapters were mostly focused on more secular concepts with a Christian twist (by secular concepts, I mean concepts that would apply to anyone, secular or Christian, or that you could read in many psychology or self-help books), while the middle was packed with many more Bible references and a more biblical approach to the problems.

I don't know that much about the book writing/editing process, but it felt like the first part and the last part were written at the same time, and then the section in the middle was written later during a period when she grew in her faith and biblical knowledge.  If I'm right, it's a great thing that her outlook grew to focus more on Scripture.  For the sake of the book, it was not a great thing that the book couldn't all have been written after she decided which type of advice she wanted to focus on, because like I said, it felt like two completely different books.  All that to say, some of the critiques I give below are more prominent in the first half and last few chapters.


1.The gospel is poorly presented (and even misrepresented) in this book.

I am bringing this up as someone who has made the same mistakes in my writing in the past, so I hope it can be read with that in mind.

It was clear that the author was addressing her book to an audience that are already believers in Christ. The problem is that in the current culture, you can’t assume that everyone who picks up a Christian “self-help” type book will actually be a Christian. Especially with a title like “Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday” - all kinds of moms who struggle with grumpiness will be picking this up. As a Christian author, you have to keep this in mind.  If any nonbelievers pick this book up, it will do them absolutely no eternal good if they learn how to be less grumpy at their kids, but they still don’t know what it means to be saved.

In the first few paragraphs the author assured the reader that the Holy Spirit will help her on this journey.  She can make no such assurance though, because unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit. 

There are two things that need to happen to explain the gospel - you need to tell WHY we need to be saved, and tell HOW we can be saved. Unfortunately, the book missed the mark on both counts.  

Just to be clear, the gospel is NOT that God will help us to be better, less grumpy people. The gospel is not about doing our best for God.  The gospel is not about God helping us live our lives more abundantly. The gospel is not about self improvement.  Some of those things can RESULT from the gospel, but it’s not how we are saved.

Unfortunately alot of this book gives the impression that this is all there is to being a Christian, because the actual gospel is never explained in full, though in some of the middle chapters it is touched on.

The author makes an attempt to explain the gospel in Chapter 9 after admitting that until fairly recently, she was relying on works to save her, until she realized she could never do enough. But I was disappointed when the only thing she described being freed from was her “guilt” (not her sin and it’s consequences). She prays “Only you can save me from my own requirements for righteousness that I put on myself.” 

The problem is not that we are guilty of not living up to our own standards. We are guilty of not living up to GOD’S standard (Romans 3:23), and His standard is perfection, because He is perfectly holy. We have earned nothing for ourselves but eternal punishment in Hell, because we have sinned against an eternal God and broken His laws (Romans 6:23Matthew 25:46).  Even our supposed good deeds are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).  We cannot pay this sin-debt, we cannot make ourselves righteous.  Which is why we need Jesus, because HE is the only one who meets God’s standard (Corinthians 5:21), and He took our punishment for us. 

God loves us, and because He loves us, He didn’t leave us in our sins, but provided a way for us to be saved. God became a man, Jesus who was fully man and fully God. He lived the sinless life that we couldn’t, and then died in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. Then He rose again, defeating sin and death, proving He was God! And now all we must do to be saved is repent, meaning to be sorry for our sin and turn to Jesus, putting our faith in Him to save us and not in any work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we do that, He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), so we can stand blameless before God. He also gives us the Holy Spirit, who then empowers us to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.

I’m not saying the author doesn’t understand the gospel, I think she does because of different things she writes. But no one could read this book and put the gospel together unless they already knew the gospel themselves.  Elements of the full gospel are scattered in various phrases throughout the book, but it’s like a super-confusing Easter egg hunt, one that starts with the results of the gospel and works backward. But even the reason Jesus died for us is never explained, His resurrection never mentioned. 

The whole gospel is awfully hard to find in this book amidst all these disjointed and missing puzzle pieces, and perhaps an opportunity to reach unbelieving moms who pick up this book is missed. Worse, I’m afraid that because our sin problem isn’t addressed and the gospel isn’t fully explained, some may leave with a confusion about what it really even means to be a Christian. This is so important to get right in any Christian nonfiction book, in my opinion, and the lack of a clear explanation of how to be saved was my biggest problem with the book.



2. There was more of a focus on self-help than biblical advice.

A lot of the advice in this book is repackaged self-help, with a few Bible passages sprinkled in to support her points. I thought this was a shame. The Bible actually has a ton to say about complaining, selfishness, worry, grumbling, unthankfulness...all the things that make us act like grumpy moms. This book could have been so Biblically rooted if the author had started with the Bible and worked out from there, but she often starts with her own thoughts (many of which are not that different from other self-help books) and her own experiences with Christian living, and then the biblical references felt tacked on in order to support her points.

In all fairness, this critique applies more toward the beginning and last few chapters of the book. She hit a better note in the middle. 


3. She seemed afraid to address the actual root cause of being a grumpy mom. 

The truth is, we are not grumpy just because we aren’t flexible enough. We’re not grumpy because we don’t take enough time for self-care, or because we rely too much on chocolate. At the root, being grumpy at our kids is really a lingering sin struggle.

We don’t like our kids interrupting whatever we’re doing because we’ve put our interests ahead of theirs (Phil. 2:4).  We complain about all the work kids involve and how we never have time to brush our hair because we are viewing a gift from God as a burden, harboring ungratefulness.  

These are just examples from the book, but hopefully you can see my point.  These things won’t be fixed by bandaids like more flexibility and self-care. Selfishness, complaining, and ingratitude are all sins, and ones the Bible has plenty to say about, but she didn’t include any of the really relevant verses, or address them as sins at all. She didn’t explain how Jesus has freed those of us who believe in Him from the power of these sins in our lives BECAUSE He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. This book would have been so much more powerful and useful if she had spent more time on these things. Christians still need to be reminded of the true gospel too.  I think that’s the most effective way to overcome these struggles -when we are focused on what Christ did to save us from sins like these, they automatically lose some appeal.

I got the feeling through some of the book that the author just wanted to be positive and not address the hard truths. She seemed mostly hesitant to use the word “sin” through most of the book, mainly using euphemisms like “mess” and “brokenness”.  

There is such a thing as being too nice - and it’s when it causes us to avoid speaking the truth in love because we are worried speaking the truth clearly might cause hurt feelings. Avoiding saying hard things might be “nice”, but it’s not kind.

4. Questionable use of Bible translations.

Warning: This is just a pet peeve of mine.

I almost hate to bring this up, because a lot of you may just tune me out here, but can we all just be a little more careful with our use of the Message? This is not an actual Bible translation, and it’s not God’s Word. It’s a paraphrase. If I paraphrase something you say, I’m not spreading your words, I’m taking what you said and putting it in my own words. A paraphrase of the Bible is man’s word, not God’s Word.  There is nothing wrong with referencing it occasionally, but please, let’s not quote the Message as if it’s God’s Word. Because it’s not. 

The author did okay with qualifying that it was a paraphrase at the beginning, but she used the Message heavily throughout this book and then eventually dropped the qualification. 

Whether you like the Message or not (can you tell what I think about it? ha!), the Message should not be referenced or read as your main “Bible translation”. Because it’s not an actual translation. 

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now.

---

To sum it up, who would I recommend this book to?

Because of the problems with presenting the gospel clearly and the confusion that might result, I would absolutely not recommend this to anyone that I was not already sure was a strong Christian who really understands the gospel.  

Because of the weak beginning and end, I am hesitant to recommend the book to my Christian friends too.  There are some gems in this book, but they are buried beneath too much soft or confusing language, and a hesitancy to address these issues as sin.  I just think there are alot of other books that are more rooted in the Bible and the gospel (Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is one).

Again, I'm sharing all this not just for people who want to know what to expect, but also because I hope the author sees this.  Valerie, if you are reading, please know that I tried my best to approach this review in love, as a sister in Christ.  I've been praying over this review, and hope you can see my heart and give some thought to these issues.

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

What I Read | First Quarter 2019



When I set my reading goals for this year, I only had one goal.  I told myself I wouldn't buy any books this year - I would only read the books from my unread shelf.

I only have one word for how it's going: ha!

In my defense, I've bought almost all my new books with a gift card I had, so technically I am counting them as gift books and still attempting to limit the amount of books I buy.  I have not, however, been limiting library books very well, so my totals are not very satisfying this quarter.

Books I Read: 16
Books I Bought: 10 (ugh!)
Books Off My Unread Shelf: 5

I lost ground.

However, checking in here reminds me that I really need to get back to reading just the books I own, so I'm going to try!



Without further ado, here's what I've read so far in 2019.  You can click the links to read more thorough reviews on Goodreads.





Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Calahan - I am glad I read it, because it is interesting to know more about C.S. Lewis and his wife, but it didn't exactly endear Joy Davidman to my heart.  Also, too much quivering for my taste.





Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson - Enjoyed the book recommendations in this book, and decided I will not read another book by Sarah Clarkson if I can help it.  I just don't want to know what I'll do if I read about how she studied at Oxford one more time.





The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery - This book really can't be described by any word better than "delightful".  I loved it.  It was outlandish, it made me laugh, it made me love Montgomery more.  If you like broody classics, this is not one.





Three Wishes by Lianne Moriarty - Moriarty's books are like really fattening candy - not good for you, a little embarrassing, but great as an occasional mindless stress-reliever.  That's about how I felt about this one.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I needed something light.





Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown - I liked the hero, I'm glad I read it, I'm a little embarrassed to have enjoyed it so much, and I wouldn't really recommend it.  How's that for an opinion? It was just very violent and crude.  Very.






A Man Called One by Fredrik Backman - I wouldn't necessarily say I think it deserved the level of hype it received, but it was alright.  I typically like grump-character-finds-true-friendship stories, so I enjoyed it.





Micro by Michael Crighton - If it weren't for some briefly described and unnecessary nudity toward the end, I'd give this an unreserved thumbs up.  It's like a fusion of Jurassic Park and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and read exactly like an action movie would if it were really a book.





Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos - Not a huge fan.  I did enjoy the quirky humor, but I wanted more from this book.  I think some opportunities to touch on some really meaningful themes were missed.  Also, way too much ridiculous political opining for a kids book.






The Giver by Louis Lowry - Badly miscategorized as a middle-grade novel, in my opinion.  But I thought it was great, reading as an adult.  I don't think kids, even teenagers, would get nearly as much out of this as an adult would.






Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt - I loved it so much, go read it right now!  I'm a huge Schmidt fan.  If you need an entry point to good middle grade books, you should read something by Schmidt (except not Orbiting Jupiter, because I think that one is pretty sad - start with his more quirky, fun books first).






Voyage With The Vikings (Imagination Station #1) - I read this to the kids for fun, and it is the first read-aloud we've read so far where my oldest was actually begging me to read another chapter.  Wyatt has read the next book in the series now, all by himself, so if you need something that will get your kid into chapter books, this may be a place to start.  Wyatt is such a science kid, it was fun to see him getting excited about history-related topics for once!






The Radium Girls by Kate Moore - Derek and I read half of this together on vacation last year, and then he tapped out, so I finally got around to finishing it by myself.  If you don't like medical dramas, you might not like this one, but I am all about medical and courtroom stories, so this was right up my ally.  The history and personal stories of these girls were so tragic and fascinating.






The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair - I picked this up for inspiration on reining in my social media habits - it worked.  But I only really liked this first half of the book.  The second half would be helpful to naive parents of teenagers, but was just disturbing to me as someone who is neither a parent of teenagers nor naive.






America's First Daughter by Stephenie Dray - This was my book club's recent pick, and it was quite good overall.  It made an amazing audiobook on 1.5x speed.  I HATED the main character's casual thought of using abortifacient herbs though, and wonder if the author was making this up (about a historical figure, no less) to make a modern pro-abortion point.  Which if she was, that actually makes me angry.

My goals for the next three months:

Read more books on my unread shelf!

Read more books that will make it in my "Top Books Of 2019" list.  I want a nice long list of strong books to recommend to you at the end of the year - the only ones from this quarter that I see making the cut would be The Blue Castle, Radium Girls, and Pay Attention, Carter Jones.

What are your favorite books from the year so far?

Book Girl - Review



I'm going with 3 stars for this one.

I received Book Girl for review a few months ago, and to be honest, I wanted to give up on it after the first few chapters. I was a little worried when I requested this book from the publisher because of my previous experience with Sarah Clarkson's writing in my attempt at The Life-Giving Home. Her writing has come off stilted and pretentious to me in the past. I had hopes that this book (about books! one of my favorite subjects) would be one I would enjoy, but I was almost immediately bogged down in that same pretentious tone. I liked a lot of what she had to say, but her writing style is just not for me.

I snagged the audiobook because I was not getting anywhere in print, and her writing came across much more relatable and friendly with the narrator's voice. Overall, while listening, I enjoyed it. Most of the book was composed of recommended booklists, with thoughts on reading and personal stories in between. I liked hearing her book recommendations, as well as her thoughts on the reading life and the benefits that can come from reading good books. 

However, I won't be adding all of these books to my to-read list (even if I did have time to read them all). I could tell from her interjections and the actual book recommendations that we are not on the same pages theologically. I wouldn't trust all her non-fiction recommendations, but I am interested to check out a few of the fiction books she referenced.

The book also lost half a star for the constant references to Oxford. I'm sure studying at Oxford was a cool experience and formative for Clarkson (if something can be "formative" at 30 years old), but it was starting to feel awkward, like name-dropping (except with a place instead of a person). The "place-dropping" just added to my problems with the writing style.

Overall, would I say this book is worth reading? Sure, go for it if you want. Not everyone will mind her style, and she did have some good recommendations (but take some of what she recommends regarding Christianity with discernment). I'll keep this one on my shelf as a reference for when I want to add a meaningful fiction book to my reading list. However, I think I can pretty confidently say this is the last book I'll be reading by Sarah Clarkson. I've read enough of her writing at this point to be able to say it's not my cup of tea.

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

Becoming Mrs. Lewis Review



2.5/5 stars.

First let me just say that I requested this book to review on a whim several months ago, and then as soon as it arrived I completely lost motivation to read it. Maybe it started in the first few chapters when I realized that this story starts out with Joy Davidman (the future Mrs. Lewis) married to another man. I didn't know that much about how Davidman's and Lewis's love story played out before going into this book, but I tend to generally dislike love stories that start with one person married to someone and ending up with someone else. I can't criticize the author or the book for this, it was how it happened in real life. I just didn't realize it going in.

I received a print copy of this book, and read several chapters in print, and then finished it on audio. Overall this book was written like a memoir, even though it is fiction. It's written in the first person, and covers many years of Joy's and Lewis's relationship, so some of the sections really read like narrative non-fiction as historical/logistical details were put in place. Overall I think the writing of this story was well-done, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped, for several reasons.

First, I feel funny saying this since the book is based on a real person, but I either wasn't a huge fan of Joy Davidman, or wasn't a fan of how she was portrayed in this book, or maybe a little of both. It's hard to sort out what parts of the dialogue were quotes or true to real life, and where the author used her imagination. But overall, the result was me feeling slightly annoyed with the character of Joy, I think mainly because I couldn't relate to her. 

Some of this couldn't be helped, because the author was only trying to portray the facts of Davidman's life. Joy starts falling in love with Lewis before she decides to divorce her husband, while at the same time paying lip service to being "committed to her marriage" - but can that be true when she is entertaining an emotional affair with another man? After her divorce she also ends up sleeping around before she and Jack finally get together - once again, probably based in the reality of Davidman's life, but disappointing nonetheless. I find it ironic that she struggled so much with the decision to divorce her cheating husband, which IS allowed in Scripture, but brushed off her extramarital relationships as something she just had to try to do better at.

There are some parts in the beginning of the book where Joy expresses almost a disdain for the ministry of the home, wishing she could spend more time writing instead. I can't necessarily be upset about this struggle to value the ministry God gives us as wives and mothers in our homes, I get it, but while the struggle was slightly resolved by the end of the book, overall I didn't find the message here very uplifting on this front. Once again, there is no one to blame for this, it's just an example of why it is probably harder to write fiction when you are trying to be true to the facts of someone's life (I personally like my fiction tidy, so this might be the last fiction-based-on-biography book I read for a while). I also found it sad that there is so much made about how much Joy misses her boys while she spends several months writing and recovering form health issues in England, but then as soon as she gets them back and divorces her husband, she moves to England and ends up putting the boys in boarding school. I imagine it may have been the best decision she felt she could make as a single mother in England at the time, but I felt bad for the characters of her little boys in this story.

While there is nothing that could be done about those facts of Joy's life if the author was to be faithful to the Davidman's life story, I didn't like how some of Joy's internal monologues were presented. I don't know how much of this the author was basing on written evidence, and how much was the author's imagination, but Joy's character engages in mild cussing (h-word, d-word) and using the Lord's name in vain. There is a part where Joy's parents come to visit her in England, and she thinks of her father as a "prig" and refers to his "idiocy". The disrespect for her parents was cringe-worthy to me. How much of it was based in the truth of her attitude toward her parents, I don't know, but it was a shame.

Even more cringe-worthy though were the repeated phrases referencing "quivering", "trembling", "shaking", "desire", and references to how it felt when "bodies came together" in sexual relationships. I just couldn't. I do blame the author for that, and did not enjoy those passages in the book at all. It's not the style of romance book that I like. I cringed a lot. This one point cost this book a couple stars for me.

Overall, I thought this book was just okay. I did learn a lot about Lewis and Davidman that I did not know. But did I enjoy it? Not that much. It's not one I'll go around recommending. 

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

My Favorite 20 Books From 2018



Last year was a good reading year for me - I not only got pretty close to my goal of 75 books (73!), but a lot of them were really good.

I tried to narrow it down to some stand-outs to share with you all.  I picked my top five non-fiction books, and top five fiction books, and listed other honorable mentions below.

Disclaimer: I'm linking each book to my corresponding review on Goodreads - before you pick one of these up, please read my full reviews!  Not every book on this list gets a stellar cleanliness rating, but I break all that down in the reviews so you can decide if it's for you.  Nevertheless, I picked each of these books because some part of it resonated with me and made me feel that it is worth reading.

Non-Fiction




1.  When People Are Big And God Is Small by Edward T. Welch

If you are a believer and pick one book to read on this list, pick this one.  I read this book at just the right time in my life, and was so convicted about the various ways that the fear of man can usurp a proper fear of God - and how I'd fallen into that myself.  This is one of those perspective-shifting books for me that I know I'll think about my whole life.  Highly recommend.




2.  The Reformation: How A Monk And A Mallet Changed The World by Stephen J. Nichols

I was trying to read more about church history this year, and I picked up this short little book - but wow, it packs a punch!  I learned so much about the Reformation and the Reformers, things I've heard referenced and didn't know anything about.  If you consider yourself a Protestant Christian, pick this one up to learn your heritage!  Good stuff.




3. The Discipline Of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies

I want to buy a copy of this book and go through it again.  This is a really thoughtful exploration of discernment, and how to do it right and avoid doing it wrong.  Discernment is something every Christian should be practicing and seeking to grow in, and this book is a great place to start!




4. How To Be A Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee 

This book is a satirical look at modern Christianity in America, and it was hilarious.  I was also highly impressed at how the authors still worked in the gospel in the end while staying true to the satirical tone!  Don't read this unless you've been a believer for a while (you won't get the jokes, and I wouldn't want a new believer to be discouraged since this book is pointing out some problems in Christian culture - get rooted in the Bible first).  Also don't read this unless you are okay with some "ouch" moments.  No one is exempt in this book, but all the points made were good.




5. The Most Dangerous Animal Of All by Gary L. Stewart

This is the oddball on this list, but it was too interesting not to share!  An adopted man makes the case for why he thinks his biological dad was the Zodiac Killer.  He has me completely convinced.  Also, you would think this book would be dark and disturbing, and it is a little bit, but the way the author tells his story showcases his gratitude that he was adopted to a Christian family and how God placed him right where he needed to be.  The story about his biological dad is sad, but the author's story is hopeful, and it struck a nice balance.

Other Books I'd Recommend:

When Is It Right To Die? by Joni Eareckson Tada - So good, from a voice I really trust on this subject!
Better Together: Strengthen Your Family, Simplify Your Homeschool, And Savor The Subjects That Matter Most by Pam Barnhill - Great ideas for morning time (a homeschooling staple).
936 Pennies: Discovering The Joy Of Intentional Parenting by Eryn Lynum - I don't read many parenting books, but this one was different!  Made me appreciate the every day.
Weapons Of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto - If you've never heard of Gatto, google him, and then read this book.  Really interesting.
Educated by Tara Westover - Fascinating story.
Voracious: A Hungry Read Cooks Her Way Through Good Books by Cara Nicoletti - Just pure fun!





Fiction



1. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

This is the second Kate Morton book that I read, and I loved it just as much as the first.  This one strikes a more sad note than The Secret Keeper, so I'm not sure I'd recommend this as a first Morton book, but the fairytale atmosphere in this one was delightful.  I'm not even a big fan of fairytales, and I enjoyed it.




2. Castle Of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

I was so impressed with this book.  Two people survive a plane crash and are stranded on a desert island.  They go from hating each other to...well, I won't completely ruin it, but it was sweet.  I have a couple content issues with this one, so please read my Goodreads review for those details.  But the overall story was so well done, with beautiful writing and a great story that kept me turning the pages.  Be prepared to cry a little (and if you've lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth, be aware that part of the story deals with that).  But it was so good.




3. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

I've probably talked more about this book than any other this year!  Philips cousin Ambrose, who raised him and whose estate he will inherit, travels over the winter, and communicates with him through letters.  We learn that Ambrose marries a distant cousin, Rachel.  but soon Ambrose is dead, and Rachel shows up on Philip's doorstep.  And from there it gets even more twisty.  You will spend weeks trying to unravel this story, but it is the best book for discussion that I've ever read!  My advice - read it with a friend.




4. Crooked House by Agatha Christie

Anything by Agatha Christie is going to be good in my book, but this one was interesting.  I thought her insight into human nature was really on display in this mystery - she knows that humans are not basically good, and this book reflects that.  It's one of her darker books, but worth reading I think.




5. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn By Betty Smith

I read this modern classic for the first time this year, and while it's far from my favorite classic, it makes it on this list because I loved how the characters in this book were far from perfect, but you couldn't help but like them anyway.  I especially loved the relationship between Francie and her father - it was a study in how powerful the father/daughter relationship can be, even when the dad has a lot of problems.  I think I only gave this one three stars, but I still think about it.  Something about it resonated with me.


Other Books I'd Recommend:

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn - One of the most impressive books I've ever read, and fun to read!
The Choir Immortal by Katie Schuermann - I like this series by Schuermann - she captures small town life/church life so well.
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns - Excellent on audio, the characters won me over!
Eleanor Elephant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - Some content issues in this one (lots of language), but I loved the quirky and heartbreaking character of Eleanor.

Have you read any of these?  What was your favorite book you read in 2018?




Honeysuckle Dreams Review



Sometimes you just need a book that doesn't make you think too hard, to read purely for fun, and Denise Hunter's books are usually that for me. I don't know why, but I always get sucked into her stories.

In this book, Brady's estranged wife has just died, and he learns that his baby son may not actually be his. The baby's grandparents are suing for custody, and Brady is desperate to keep his son. After a misunderstanding with an engagement ring, his friend, Hope, is mistaken for his fiancé - and then they start to think that maybe an arranged marriage may not be a bad idea, for a chance at keeping the baby, and for Brady and Hope themselves.

My usual complaint about Hunter's books is that the relationship between her characters is sometimes too focused on the physical, but I thought she did a better job in this book of making the characters appreciate each other's character and personality. There was still some of the descriptions of their "chemistry", and references to their sexual relationship after they are married, but I thought the overall focus of the story was on other things.

One thing I didn't love was how the characters sometimes bordered on dishonesty. After the initial confusion with the engagement ring, Brady doesn't tell the truth right away. His wording in one of the courtroom scenes is questionable. Since it's a Christian fiction book, I just wished that there were some repercussions or lessons to be learned related to the dishonesty, but that was missing. 

Overall I really liked these characters, and the way their story played out. The baby was also really adorable. I do wish the story had ended better - instead of tying them together as a family, I felt like the ending was too focused on Hope's career. She got married because she wanted a husband and to start a family, and then her triumphant moment at the end is to go back to school for her doctorate. This decision at the end just didn't seem to fit the goals of her character throughout the rest of the book, in my opinion. Nothing necessarily wrong with getting her doctorate, but it felt like a discordant note.

It was the light read I was looking for though, and if you need a palette-cleanser book, I'd be curious to see what you think.

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

One Thing That's In Our Morning Basket



This week we started school!  You know those yearly surveys that parents give their kids at the beginning of school years or on birthdays?  I've never been organized enough to do one of those, and to be honest, I'm kind of regretting that now.  I think those surveys are not only an opportunity for watching how your kids grow over the years, but also seeing who they are in the right now.  With a big family and the busyness of life, it takes more planning to sit down and ask my kids questions that matter, to intentionally learn more about their personalities, preferences, worries and joys.

I have been asked a few times to share my curriculum choices for this school year, and that post is coming as soon as I have a minute to sit down and write it!  But I wanted to share a quick post about a resource that I'm hoping to add to our morning basket routine, just for fun, but also to take that time to intentionally learn more about the inner workings of my sweet kids.




I had the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for this book, and I jumped on it, because this book is the type of thing I've been looking for to help me slow down and take time to ask my kids about what makes them tick.  I obviously haven't read the whole book since there are 365 entries, but there are some fun questions, and some more serious questions.  There is space enough to write one child's answer for three years.  I plan on using it more as a book of prompts and recording my kids' answers elsewhere, or splitting the questions up between kids and doing two a day.  It's meant to be used with just one child, but I think it can be easily adapted for multiple kids, and I am excited to try it out!

Stay tuned next week for more on my curriculum choices for the year, and what else is in our Morning Time basket!

Note: I am on the launch team for this book and received a free copy from the publisher.  This is my honest opinion.


You Can Stay Home With Your Kids Review



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

This year I have been working on getting my monthly budget ironed out, so I've been looking for more books on how to save money.  I had read halfway through Odom's other book on finances, and then I saw You Can Stay Home With Your Kids for review and snagged it!  

This book is just how it sounds, 100 tips for saving and earning money for the purpose of helping moms stay home with their kids.  If you do everything in this book, will you absolutely be able to stay home with your kids?  I don't know.  But there is a ton of good advice here.

Personally, I especially appreciated Odom's tips on saving money on groceries.  I struggle with our grocery shopping, and this book had a lot of good tips for how to make my grocery money stretch.

I thought some of the suggestions on creating an income stream on the side were a little overly-optimistic.  While lots of moms do quite well with side businesses, suggestions like "create a blog" or "join a direct sales company" don't reflect that it is much more difficult to establish these as money-making businesses than it sounds, and the people who are successful at it often put in a full-time job effort to make them profitable.  Just because she made her blog profitable doesn't mean it would be easy for you to do it.

I also didn't necessarily agree with her assessment of whether to buy or rent a home.  Maybe if you are trying to save money for a season to stay home with your kids, renting could be a good suggestion, but in the end you still have nothing to show for all those payments (unlike when you buy a house).  Odom suggests that maybe the classic view of a house as an investment isn't always a great idea.  She is drawing from her own experience of having an underwater mortgage after the crash in 2008, so I can understand why she would be a little gun-shy after that.  However, I'm not sure her advice to rent is necessarily up-to-date with the current economy, or applicable to every area of the country. But I do agree that it's smart to save up a good-size down payment, and rent until then.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and got some good ideas from it, so I think it's definitely worth the time if you are trying to find more wiggle room in your budget!

Daring To Hope Review: Mixed Feelings



If you haven't heard of Katie Davis Majors, she is a young missionary who went to Uganda when she was 18, ended up staying and starting a ministry, and adopted 13 girls.  I remember reading her first book way back when I was first married.  I don't remember that much about it, but I remember flying through it and being inspired by Katie's devotion to serving the Lord.  So I obviously wanted to pick up her second book that came out this year.

I had mixed feelings about this one.  There were things I liked, and things I didn't.

Things I Liked

First, let me just say, it took me forever to finish this book because for the first half, nearly every chapter left me in a puddle of tears.  Katie picks up the book by telling of her life in a house with her 13 adopted daughters, and how they came to open up their home to people who were injured, dying, or just trying to get on their feet.  The rest of the book is her story of her own struggle to trust in God's goodness while living and personally witnessing so much suffering under her own roof.  It took a lot of vulnerability for her to discuss her doubts in a book like this, and she always comes back to the right conclusions - that God is sovereign, He is good, and even when people are not healed and there are no happy endings, He is working all of it out for the good of those who love Him, and for His own glory.  I think this book could certainly be encouraging to anyone who is struggling with similar suffering or doubts.  It was inspiring to read Katie's thoughts on this subject.

What I Didn't Love

Throughout this book Katie not only shares stories from her life, but she delves into different Bible accounts and relates them back to her own life, and she almost seems to allegorize the biblical accounts in the process.  I'm just not sure I like that - sometimes it worked, and sometimes it sat wrong.  She takes certain biblical passages that were meant for a certain people group at a certain time, and applies them to herself, so the hermeneutics here are questionable.  It also bothered me that her writing in this book is similar to Voskamp's (who also wrote the foreword) in that it sometimes sacrifices clarity for poetry.

Another thing she does frequently is speak about Jesus as if He were standing next to her, whispering in her ear, and she uses phrases like "I heard God say..." followed by a quote.  I don't like it when Christian authors do this.  1) Even if you are intending to use this in a non-literal sense, when you say you heard God speak...well, it sounds like you are saying you heard Him audibly speak those exact words to you.  I assumed Katie was speaking metaphorically, but I think it's a serious thing to claim to be speaking for God (which is what you are doing when you "quote" Him extra biblically), and I think Christians in general should take this a little more seriously.  2) The thing is, God HAS spoken to us, through Scripture, which should be sufficient for us.  I don't like to see authors putting words in God's mouth.

Finally, there were a few cringe-y moments for me when Katie said things like "In the darkest night, I was having a love affair with Jesus" (pg. 121), "I had all but given up on any notion of romantic love in my life outside of my relationship with Jesus" (pg. 164).  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Jesus is God, the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the Universe - JESUS IS NOT YOUR BOYFRIEND.  Yes, we are the COLLECTIVE, figurative bride of Christ, but to reduce His love for us individually to romantic terms is to diminish the greatness of the fact that God Himself chose to love us and die for us.  His love is so much bigger and grander than the "Jesus is my boyfriend" love that Christian women authors often portray.  It's just weird, and I wish Christian women would stop doing it.

There were a couple other little things, but I'll just stop there.

Conclusion

Overall, I liked reading a little more of Katie's story, but her story was definitely buried beneath her own analyzing of biblical accounts and musings on her struggles.  I think reading about her struggles and conclusions could be encouraging for a lot of Christians, so there is value in that.  However, I'd just say to read with your discernment antenna up. This book is mostly grounded in her personal experiences, which like anyone's experiences, are fallible.

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

On Decorating With Photos


(This new metal print is so cool!  Thanks to Artsy Couture for sending me a metal photo print to review.)

Do you ever wonder if it's narcissistic that we decorate our houses with pictures of ourselves?

A few years ago I heard someone mention how it could be narcissistic to decorate with photos of yourself, and for a long time I wondered if maybe that was true.  I can certainly see how decorating with photos could become narcissistic, like those movie characters who live alone and have a huge canvas of themselves adorning the wall above the couch.  But still, I don't buy that decorating with photos has to be a narcissistic thing.

I've put more thought into it, and even read about it in recent years, and I personally think there are a few good reasons to decorate with photos of your own family.  This is what I think:

1.  Decorating with photos adds to a feeling of solidarity between family members.

I think about decorating with photos differently now that I have kids of my own.  I think that for kids, seeing pictures of themselves with their family on the wall reminds them that they aren't alone - they are part of a bigger unit, a family, and that means something.  They play an integral role in a family, they are woven through the collective family memories that photos represent.  They can look at the walls and visually see their place in the family. In my opinion, that can't help but add some security, knowing your place in the world by being able to see it on the walls.

2.  Photos are memories.

I went to my parents house for the 4th of July, and my sister and I stood looking at an old vacation photo from when we went river rafting.  I mentioned something specific that I remembered about that day, and she mentioned something she remembered, and there we were bonding over a shared memory because of a photo on my parents' wall. I'm the type of person who doesn't really remember things until I see a photo - and then a whole cascade of memories floods in.  Not everyone is like this, certain personality types are much better at remembering and honoring the past in their hearts without any external reminders, but personally, I need the photos around me to remind me.

3. Photos can be modern "remembrance stones".

Remember how the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, and God told them to stack twelve stones from the river bed?  When their children asked about the stones, they could tell them of the Lord's faithfulness to Israel.  Well, to me, photos on my walls are something like a modern equivalent to that.  I want to work on this more in my home, by putting photos on the wall that are not only the perfect family photos, but photos that I can point to and say "Remember when God did that?"  He has been faithful to our family in many ways, and I want the photos on my wall to not just serve as an anchor for bonding and memories in my family, but also a way to point back to God's faithfulness.

Now, on to some practical things...

What is your favorite way to decorate with photos in your house?

Personally, I am constantly changing it up.

-I have small, square prints on a bulletin board above Derek's desk.  
-We have a wall collage of canvas prints.  Two of the pictures are of Derek and me from our 5th anniversary (they probably need updating since we just hit our 10th!), and there are smaller canvas prints of each of the kids' newborn pictures.
-I had pictures hanging along our stairwell, but I recently took those down because I want to re-do that wall.  I'll update when I figure it out.
-A metal print on my piano-top (which is basically my version of a mantel display, since I don't have a mantel).

The metal print is the newest addition to my photo decor - Artsy Couture recently asked if I'd like to check out one of their products and sent me this gorgeous metal print!  In case you haven't heard of metal prints, the photo is actually printed on a thin sheet of aluminum.  The colors are supposed to be brighter and sharper in printing with this method.



I ended up picking a beach photo from our vacation that I knew was not perfectly focused, but I was so impressed when the print came at how crisp it was anyway!  The colors really are gorgeous and vibrant, and it kind of has a certain glow about it that I am assuming is an effect of printing on aluminum.  I love the way it turned out, and it looks just as good as I thought it would on my piano-mantel.






Bonuses to printing on aluminum: it doesn't get retain dirt like textured canvas might, and there is no glass to break if it falls!

I poked around on the Artsy Couture website and they have a ton of options - not just for metal prints, but canvases, wood prints, traditional prints, cards, photo books, etc.  They also happen to be having a sale on large prints that ends tomorrow, so if you are interested, hop on over there and check it out!

What do you think?  Do you decorate with photos or not?  What are your reasons, if you have any?

936 Pennies Review - Recommended!



I somehow found Erin Lynum on Twitter a few years ago, and I specifically remember clicking through to her blog and reading her post about receiving a jar of 936 pennies as she dedicated her baby at her church.  The 936 pennies represented the weeks she would have with her baby from birth until their 18th birthday.  In that post she challenged moms to make sure they were spending their 936 pennies well.  That idea stuck with me, so when I saw this book, I knew exactly who had written it and I snagged it!

I would classify 936 Pennies: Discovering The Joy Of Intentional Parenting as memoir/encouragement for moms.  Erin shares a lot of her own mothering journey and ways she has learned to "spend her pennies well" over the years.  She doesn't get preachy or tell you what you "should" do, but instead presents her personal experiences as an encouragement and challenge to parent intentionally, with the passing of time in the forefront of our minds.  Her kids are about the same age or perhaps slightly younger than mine, so while there were certain sections that I no longer struggle with as much, I could deeply relate to 95% of the book.

There were a couple little quibbles I had here and there with how she worded certain things, but I can definitely say this book is solid doctrinally and is thoroughly grounded by biblical truth and the gospel.  She doesn't just focus on superficial suggestions to make our days smoother or more fun, but she digs down deep into what it means to parent our children with not just 936 pennies but eternity in mind.  I especially enjoyed the chapters toward the end about memory-making and keeping (something I spent some time writing about last fall), and about how we can gain some time back by using technology well.

I highly, highly recommend this book!  I found myself so encouraged to invest in my kids and put some of my own strategies in place to use my time with them in a way that will matter for eternity.  I also think this would make an excellent baby shower or first birthday party gift, along with a jar of 936 pennies, of course.  If you are a mom, check this one out!

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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