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

Post-Apocalyptic Books To Read During A Pandemic





What should one read in the middle of a pandemic? That is the question.

I won't tell you all what to read, but I will say that over the last week, with hysteria over the coronavirus and social distancing protocols in place, I have really been enjoying books with a post-apocalyptic vibe.  That might seem a little morbid, but it's not really.  At a time when so many people are scared, it's comforting in a weird way to think of how much worse things could be.

You could be on an outer space mission and come back to an earth that has no people left on it.  You could be in a traveling orchestra that is being chased by vigilantes after 90% of the people on the planet have been wiped out.  All the electricity in the world could suddenly fail.  You could find yourself unable to provide for your family while a dust cloud fills your lungs and covers your car (that one actually happened).

There, now don't you feel a little better about this whole coronovirus thing?  No?  I'm the only weirdo here?



All joking aside, a little escapist reading never hurt anyone, and people need a break from coronavirus news.  Turn off the TV and try one of these! (My post-apocalyptic reading is limited, so I welcome your suggestions in the comments!  I'll also add to this post as I read more.)


Books I've Read




Last Light by Terri Blackstock

It's been...possibly a decade since I read this book, but I do remember being pretty into the story.  An electromagnetic catastrophe knocks out the world's electrical systems, cars, etc, basically plunging everyone back into the 1800's when it comes to technology.  This book is a murder mystery/thriller type book that takes place with that backdrop.  I remember enjoying it, and maybe it's time to pick up the rest of the series.

Content Notes:  This is Christian fiction, it was clean!






Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Probably alot of you have already read this, but this book follows a traveling orchestra after a virus wipes out...somewhere in the ball park of 90% of the population (worst estimates for the coronavirus are around 3%, so keep that in mind lest you get anxious!).  It's less about the apocalyptic event, and more about how people might keep art and music alive after something like that happens.  I really was taken by the characters in this book and enjoyed it alot.

Content Notes: Definitely some cussing and some crude/inappropriate sexual references, but not too densely if I remember right.






Good Morning Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

I just read this one, and it ended so sadly.  I still have a book hangover from it.  This book is about a man who is stranded in the arctic, and a crew who is stranded in space, when the radio waves of the world suddenly go silent.  No one knows why.  This is very much a character-driven book, and the characters aren't necessarily likable, but I thought it was an interesting portrayal of loneliness and finding the things that really matter.

Content Notes: Some cussing and crude/inapropriate sexual references, not too dense, the characters are atheistic and that comes through.






The Age Of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I read this one a few years back, and it really resonated with me for some reason.  The earth is slowing it's rotation, just as the protagonist is coming of age.  I'm kind of a sucker for coming of age novels, so I liked it, but I also remember it ending rather sadly.  But the scientific speculation of what would happen if the earth slowed it's rotation was also fascinating.

Content Notes: Some language and sexual references.






The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Note: Free to read if you have Amazon Prime!

I mentioned this book in my post yesterday, and I'm still reading it now.  This is the only non-fiction book on this list, about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and what it was like to live through that. People can't afford to feed their families, farmers can't sell their crops, and enormous dust clouds sweep across millions of acres, destroying homes and whatever livelihoods were left.  I'm finding it really compelling, and interesting on a personal level since I had some relatives not too far from the Dust Bowl around this time in history.  I am finding this book particularly encouraging in times of uncertainty.  Those people went through so much, way more hardship than you and I will probably ever face.  There is a reason these people gave rise to and/or are called the Greatest Generation.

Content Notes: Some cussing and references related to prostitutes.

Other Suggestions Via My Online Buddies

I put the word out about this post on social media, and a couple of my Instagram buddies offered some additional suggestions!  I haven't read these, but they sound interesting.






Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

A middle grade historical fiction that follows a girl through the yellow fever that hit Philadelphia in the 1700's.  This one sounds really interesting to me, and I love middle grade!  Thanks to Brittney for this suggestion.






Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

The world has mostly been destroyed through nuclear disaster, and survivors in a small town in Florida band together to survive.  Also sounds interesting! This on is $3 on Kindle.  Also suggested by Brittney, thanks friend!






The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I haven't read this one in years, but it would be very appropriate with the way we're all stuck at home right now!  Might try this one with the kids.  Only $1 on Kindle right now!  Thanks to Anna for reminding me of this one!



Also on my reading list?  The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (didn't like his last book, so we'll see what I think of this one), and Unbroken by Laura Hilderbrand (catastrophe on an individual scale, but I expect to be inspired).


Keep In Mind

None of these novels end particularly happily (with the exception of the Dust Bowl book - haven't finished it yet, but humanity obviously survives).  Most are bittersweet.  Keep that in mind if you don't like that kind of book, or can't handle anything but a happy ending right now.

Also keep in mind that as believers in Jesus, we know the world isn't going to end any of these ways!  Someday Christ will return and put everything to right.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4).  Maybe that's why I don't mind post-apocalyptic stories.  I can appreciate the imagination of them without fear, because I already know the end of the story for those of us who have put our trust in Christ to save us - and it's a good one.  I hope all my sisters in Christ who are reading this will remember that too in these uncertain days, and not let news stories or silly books bring any anxiety.  No matter what, we are safely in His hands.


Ways To Read When The Libraries Are Closed

I highly encourage you to see if your library participates in any digital services, because you can get ebooks and audiobooks that way!  My favorite library apps in the past have been Overdrive, Axis 360, and Hoopla.  Download the apps and check to see if your library is listed!  You can also apply for library card numbers for libraries in surrounding counties and check to see if any of those libraries participate in these app services.

If you are a Prime member, you should be aware that you can read some books for free on Kindle through Prime Reading!  The Worst Hard Time is available that way, if that one sounded good to you.



What post-apocalyptic-y books would you add to the list?

My Favorite Books From Last Year



Is it too late to write a post about my favorite books in 2019?

I have been slacking quite a bit on recording the books that I'm reading, ever since...well, our vacation, which was in August.  I met my goal of 52 books for 2019, but I didn't record many of them on Goodreads.  But I wanted to at least share a few of the books that stood out to me on here!



Non Fiction

I read a lot of non-fiction books that I really liked, so it was hard to leave some of them out.  These were the ones that stood out - I especially read some great Christian non-fiction, so if you are looking for some Christian encouragement-type books, read on!

Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham

I bought this book when Voddie Baucham visited our local homeschool conference a few years ago, and I finally finished it.  Wow, if you want to be challenged in your parenting and in training your kids up to know the Lord, this is one you should pick up!  I was convicted to re-think a lot about my parenting and refocus on what is really important because of this book.  In fact, it's probably time I read it again.

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

This book is about the smaller sins that aren't mentioned much in Christian circles - we brush over these sins in ourselves and others, we tolerate them.  Bridges challenges us in this book to root those sins out of our lives.  This book is soundly rooted in the Gospel, and I found it not just convicting but very uplifting as well.  I highly recommend it!

None Like Him by Jen Wilkins

I feel like I've mentioned this book a million times between my blog and Instagram, but it was really good.  Wilkins looks at ten attributes of God, but these are not attributes that we can reflect (such as love, grace, etc), but attributes that belong to Him alone.  I found this book insightful and inspiring, and it was biblically sound and very readable.  It's a great book to start with if you are just beginning to dip your toes into theology.  Even though I was somewhat familiar with alot of the attributes she discusses, there were terms I learned and specific points that made me think more deeply about the ways that God is set apart from us.

Devoted: Great Men And Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies

If you've ever wondered if the little things you do for your kids are making a difference, pick up this book!  It's short and sweet, and would be perfect for Mother's Day.  I found it both convicting as I read about different godly moms through history and how they impacted their sons, and encouraging because of the little things they did that made such a big difference.  Highly recommend.

What Wondrous Love Is This by Joni Eareckson Tada

This is a book about hymns, and I used it as an addition to my morning Bible time.  Each chapter covers a different hymn, it's history, the theological breakdown, and it's personal impact on the authors.  I didn't even know half of the hymns in this book, but I would read a chapter and then look up the hymn on Spotify, and it was such an uplifting addition to my morning routine.  I'd recommend it if you also love hymns and are up for learning some new ones!

You Who? Why You Matter And How To Deal With It by Rachel Jankovic

I liked Jankovic's Loving The Little Years, which I read years ago, and finally remembered her as an author this year when I saw this book.  She discusses the "self help" culture, and why it is not the way we should approach life as Christians.  I think I need to read this book again, because I flew through it so fast the first time.  I read it during a discouraging period, and it was exactly what I needed to break me out of my doldrums, but I can't remember everything about it.  I inhaled it the first time, and I'd like to read it more thoughtfully a second time.  But anyway, it was good.

Them: Why We Hate Each Other And How To Heal by Ben Sasse

This book was timely for the current political climate, and the epidemic of loneliness in our culture.  We are more connected than ever, via the internet, but less rooted and less likely to actually know the names of our neighbors.  Sasse discusses why this is, what's really dividing us as Americans, and little ways that we can start to fix it.  I thought his view of why our culture is changing in our level of connection to one another was interesting, and in the end I was so encouraged by this book.  Though Sasse is a Republican senator, the information in this book and the points he makes are bipartisan, so I'd recommend it no matter your political leanings.

Chasing New Horizons by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon

I started several space books last year after our visit to NASA, and I'm still working through most of my space books, but I shot through this book on audio!  It gives the history of Pluto, and how we finally sent a spacecraft to that distant planet.  What I found really interesting about this book was how involved it is to fund and plan an unmanned space mission, and all the logistics of sending a spacecraft to such a distant planet (even going as fast as 52,000 mph at times, and traveling almost a million miles per day, it still took 9.5 years for it to arrive at Pluto!).  I listened to it on audio, and I'd recommend reading it that way, I think it could be a little dry if read in print.  But it was a fascinating book to me.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

This book was so timely, since I read it after I decided to go on a Facebook break in December.  It challenged me to think more carefully about social media and how I wanted to be using it.  Highly recommend this book if you struggle, like I do, to put down your phone!



Fiction

As I was looking over my list, I did not have as good of luck with fiction books last year.  I'm going to list the books I really liked first, and then do some "honorable mentions".

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have to be honest, I didn't think I was going to enjoy this book.  I have seen the movie before and the characters weren't exactly likable, and there was alot of debauchery, cheating, etc.  But what made this book worthwhile for me was reading while also listening to the Close Reads discussion of The Great Gatsby.  Because of reading the book while listening to that podcast, I noticed so many things that I wouldn't have otherwise, and I realized the message of the book is completely different than what I originally thought it was.  I ended up really liking it!  You can bet that if I ever have my kids read this for school, it will be assigned WITH the podcast.  Here are the links to the episodes if you're interested:

Chapters 1-3
Chapters 4-5
Chapters 6-7
Last Chapters


1984 by George Orwell

Does anyone really like 1984?  I'm not sure that's quite the right word, but I did get alot out of this book.  Some of it was creepily similar to aspects of our political environment today.  It's not like any book I would normally enjoy (more sexual aspects of the plot than I expected, and the ending was NOT uplifting), but I have to include it here because I think every adult should read it.  Very interesting.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

The first book I've read by Montgomery that wasn't an Anne book, and I loved every second of it.  It was completely delightful.  I especially liked the nature writing and the ending.  This book didn't feel anything like Anne Of Green Gables to me, but the writing was the same ol' Montgomery-style that I loved from the Anne series.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

I love every Schmidt book I've read, and this is no exception.  A boy opens the door one day, and finds out his family has "inherited" a butler from his grandfather.  The butler starts putting the family in order and teaching Carter about cricket.  Really fun and delightful while also wrestling with some deeper subjects.  If you haven't read Gary D. Schmidt, you just should.  I usually recommend The Wednesday Wars first, but I loved this book because it had the same feel.



Honorable Mentions

A couple more books I read and enjoyed alot...

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

All the "book celebrities" (ie. Anne Bogel and booktubers) mention this book all the time, and I finally read it.  It didn't completely blow me away, but I did thoroughly enjoy it.  It's a post-apocalyptic book, but it imagines how art might survive in a post-apocalyptic world through following a traveling orchestra.  I think I enjoyed it even more because I've never quite read another book like this, so it was something new.

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

I listened to this book, and I'd recommend it in that format, because I think it would get slow in print (and also, the narrator was very good).  Whoever recommended this book to me said I should go into it without reading the synopsis, and I'm glad I did.  But let's just say if you are into time travel plots, you might like this one.  It's more character-driven than plot-driven.  Even though it's a slower-paced book, I still really enjoyed it.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Horror books aren't really my speed, but this one is a classic, and I'm glad I read it.  I understand vampire references in pop culture so much better now.  That Gilligan's Island episode where Gilligan is bitten by a bat?  Makes so much more sense.



There we go, my favorite books from 2019!

What did you all read last year?  Any stand-outs?






Long Before Luther - A Review


Affiliate link below.

This book, Long Before Luther: Tracing The Heart Of The Gospel From Christ To The Reformation by Nathan Busenitz, caught my eye late last year.  I had recently heard someone claiming that the Reformers basically "made up" a new doctrine when they formally established the doctrines of "by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone" as the means by which we are saved.  The claim was that no one before in church history had viewed salvation the way the Reformers did - that Luther, Calvin, and others were unsupported by previous church history and theologians.  I didn't believe that, but I am not completely familiar with church history either, so I wasn't sure what to think about that claim.  When I saw this book, I snagged it.

This book is pretty scholarly, but it has to be to address some of the specific charges of Reformation theology being unsupported previously.  The author does a great job of breaking down Reformation theology into three specific points - the forensics nature of justification, a distinction between justification and sanctification, and the imputed righteousness of Christ.  Each area is explained in a clear and accessible way, and then the author goes about showing that there are evidences of theologians before Luther who held views in line with these doctrines.

I really loved that the author starts with showing where Scripture itself is in support of each of these doctrines.  The Bible is our ultimate authority, and I love that the author clearly laid out how Scripture presents these issues of justification, sanctification, and salvation.  After firmly grounding us in Scripture, the author then presented his evidence from pre-Luther history, showing how many theologians held similar views to the Reformers in each of these areas.

I thought the author's presentation was thorough and convincing, while also being honest and fair in explaining the ways some of these theologians differed from the Reformers.  But my favorite section of the book was the Appendix, where the author includes 100 quotes from pre-Reformation theologians and church fathers that support the idea of being saved by grace, through faith in Christ, apart from any works.  The book itself thoroughly explains how these theologians viewed each of the specific Reformation doctrines the author was investigating, but the Appendix compiles all the evidence in one place, and it's really compelling.

After reading this book, I feel confident that the next time I hear someone claim that the Reformers were making up new doctrines, I will know there are specific church fathers and theologians that we can look at to prove otherwise.  Excellent book if you have ever wondered where the true Gospel was before Luther.

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

Homeschool Bravely | A Book Review



I picked up this book in May, right before we finished school for the summer.  It has taken me this long to finish it because I basically took a break from even thinking about school as soon as I could.  But with starting up homeschooling again in the fall, it was time to finish this book.

What I Liked

Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson is a book to encourage Christian homeschool moms who are doubting their homeschool choice or worried they aren't doing a good enough job.  I thought it completely lived up to that purpose.  Erickson has so much hard-won, practical encouragement for homeschool moms, and she tells it all from her own experience.

This book is solidly a Christian homeschool book.  Erickson weaves her faith through every aspect of homeschooling that she addresses, and I love that - it's as it should be!  Her encouragement is definitely geared toward Christian homeschoolers, and I appreciated alot of what she has to say, especially her encouragements to trust God for our homeschools, not on ourselves or crossing things off our to-do lists.  She encourages Christian moms to keep their eyes on the big picture of why we are homeschooling in the first place, and that is always valuable to me.

What I Didn't Love

My only complaints with this book have to do with some muddied Christian messages in it.  Though Erickson refers to the gospel, and based on different things she says she seems to understand that we are saved by faith in Christ alone and His atoning sacrifice for our sins, it's not really clearly explained.  If a book is going to focus on Christian encouragement and teaching, and refer to the "gospel" so much, I really appreciate when the gospel is clearly spelled out.  Not everyone who picks up a book like this may have a clear understanding of how to be saved.  This book didn't reach that bar for me of clearly explaining the salvation message.

The other thing I didn't love was the way Erickson took different Bible stories or isolated verses and applied them to a homeschooling point she was trying to make.  Sometimes I felt like she seemed to reduce everything Jesus did on earth as merely for our example.  He is our example, but that is not the primary reason He came.  Her use of Scripture felt forced sometimes, and also led to some theological interpretations I would question.

The best example of this is on page 141.  Erickson writes:

"God constrained Himself when He took on human flesh.  He gave Himself physical limitations.  If God recognized the need to do less for a time, then why shouldn't you?  Why shouldn't I?"

I think it's a big jump to use the fact that God became flesh in Jesus Christ to then state that God recognized a "need to do less".  I just cringe even typing that. I may be misunderstanding her, but I still need to point out that God is not like us, He has no need to rest or "do less".  He wasn't doing any less when He became flesh in order to live a sinless life and take the punishment for our sin upon Himself!  Sure, in His humanness, Christ rested in His physical body.  But as He was also fully God, He was also doing everything God normally does, upholding all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3), even while He had become fully man in order to become the sacrifice for our sins.  He certainly wasn't doing any less.

---

Anyway, aside from all that, I did appreciate how Erickson wove the Christian faith into her encouragement for homeschool moms.  Alot of her homeschool advice was right on the money, and I appreciated reading it.  I'd recommend this book to Christian homeschool moms, while encouraging them to still read with discernment since I thought some of her use of Scripture and theological statements were questionable.  But there is certainly alot of encouragement to be had here.

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

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?




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