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

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.

A Book On Prayer You Should Read

(Affiliate link below.)


Prayer is not something that comes naturally to me. I constantly struggle to fit in dedicated time for prayer, and then once I have it, I struggle to make my prayer time really meaningful. Any time I have a chance to read a book on prayer that I think will be actually helpful, I snag it.

The Prayer That Turns The World Upside Down by R. Albert Mohler Jr. is a book that focuses on the Lord's prayer, and specifically why this prayer was so radical in Jesus's time (and now as well!). Mohler takes each line of Jesus's prayer in Matthew, and explains it in detail, including the theological truths that Jesus was communicating through each line.   I honestly never thought about the actual theology communicated through the Lord's prayer, even though I've had it memorized since I was a child. 

I found this book not only fascinating, but also very practical when it comes to figuring out WHAT to pray. So often I get stuck in praying about things that feel trivial, and then not really knowing what else to say. The Lord's prayer is a wonderful basis for directing us to the things we truly should be praying for, and this book really inspires you to actually spend time praying about the things that Jesus told the disciples to pray.  After each chapter I found myself closing my eyes and taking a minute to apply what I was learning. 

This is a book that I'll refer back to again and again - I already have so many passages highlighted that I want to go back to now that I've read the whole thing! Highly, highly recommend if you find yourself stagnating in your prayer life.  I think it will inspire you to focus your prayers on things that will last, obeying Jesus's example and honoring God in the process.

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


What I Read In March | 2018



Now that we're halfway through April - let's talk about what I read in March!  If you follow me on Goodreads, you have probably already seen a bunch of these.  Prepare yourself for one very unpopular opinion.






Books I Mentioned:

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle
Chronicles Of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
When Is It Right To Die? by Joni Eareckson Tada
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
What Came From The Stars by Gary D. Schmidt
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman
Answers For Homeschooling by Israel Wayne
The Reformation by Stephen J. Nichols
Anne Of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Emily Of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What are you reading these days?


When Is It Right To Die Review - Highly Recommend



(Affiliate link below.)

I live in a state with legalized assisted suicide, so when I saw When Is It Right To Die? by Joni Eareckson Tada up for review I thought it would be a really helpful read. I knew Joni Eareckson Tada is a voice on these subjects that I would truly respect, and I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say.


If you are interested in thinking on the subject of assisted suicide and other end-of-life decisions from a Christian perspective, I HIGHLY recommend this book. This book addresses not only those who might be considering assisted suicide, but those, like me, who are wanting to look at this subject in a God-honoring way.

Joni not only doesn’t preach in this book, but she presents a truly compassionate look at these subjects while remaining uncompromising. She addresses those who may be facing suffering or death with compassion and a challenge to use every day to God’s glory, and she addresses those around these people to consider the situation with compassion and biblical truth. She speaks from personal experience on both sides of these circumstances, and I don’t think you will find a more well-balanced Christian approach to end-of-life decisions than in this book.

As someone who is strongly against assisted suicide, I especially appreciated this book because it made me look at the whole subject with more compassion. Joni challenges you to think about the real people who are facing suffering and death, to put yourself in their shoes, to imagine yourself as their friend, and to consider how you would handle these things in a Christ-honoring way.

I also personally found some of her distinctions in the last section interesting as she addressed end-of-life decisions, and she made me realize I really should sit down and write an Advance Health Care Directive. Even though I’m healthy and don’t expect to die soon, you just never know. People get in care accidents every day, and it’s important to think about the potential healthcare decisions that could be made and how to approach these things in a way that glorifies God, should a difficult ending be part of my story.

I highly recommend this book for every Christian to read. It’s not a happy subject, it’s not one that’s “fun" to read about, but I think it’s important to think about these things from a biblical perspective - both for the sake of those who may be facing these kind of issues, and for ourselves should we, God forbid, face them ourselves on day.

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

What I've Been Reading! January And February Books



Last year I had full intentions of doing a recap of the books I've been reading each month.  I had the same intentions this year.  You know what they say about good intentions...

But nevertheless, I decided to just squeeze in book updates where I can this year, and I wanted to try something a little different by doing a vlog instead!  Here is the first installment:



Books I mentioned in this video:

(affiliate links below) 

Why I Didn't Rebel by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach Hello Mornings by Kat Lee Love And First Sight by Josh Sundquist Murder On The Links by Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen I See You by Clare Mackintosh Castle Of Water by Dane Hucklebridge The Discipline Of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies
The Lost Art Of Reading Nature's Signs by Tristan Gooley
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Bear Sees Colors by Karma Wilson
I mentioned getting a book recommendation from a blog friend, and that would be Rachel at A Country Vicar's Wife. Hop over to her blog and say hi!

Also, you can follow me on Goodreads here if you want to be in the know before I put these videos together.

What have you all read so far this year? Have you read any of these?


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?



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