Monday, December 4, 2017

Best Christian Non-Fiction of 2017

Yes, it's been quite a while, but I can't let the year end without doing at least a few best of posts.  Only a couple this year, because it has been a really slow reading and blogging year for me, but I do have some books I want to share.  Today I'm sharing the Best Christian Non-Fiction I read this year.  I read a lot of really great Christian authors this year in various attempts to deal with my divorce and hold on to something a little bit bigger than myself.  I found a lot of really great books about dealing with pain and loss and finding comfort when you need it.  Hopefully some of these will speak to you as well.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

I read this one while I cried on my mom's couch after a particularly devastating weekend in the spring.  It was a perfect-book-at-the-perfect-time moment, when I needed mercy for myself and for others.  And, as always, Anne Lamott has something to say for everyone and pretty much every situation in life.  Read my review here.

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life

This is one my mom and I read together and discussed.  Like Anne Lamott, Voskamp has a beautiful way with words and writes about loss and death and brokenness and new life beautifully in this book.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Another I read with my mom (you can see a theme emerging here) and another by Voskamp, this one on gratitude.  It has the same beautiful words and style as her second book and examines gratitude in ways I had never considered before.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

I loved this one so much I read it twice in one year, once during Lent and once over the summer with my church mission community.  Warren links everyday practices with each step of the liturgy we practice in church on Sunday and it is a gorgeous meditation on allowing God into the everyday moments of our lives.  Probably my favorite of the year.

When God Doesn't Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted to Learn, Truths You Can't Live Without

I read this one at the beginning of the year when my divorce was still fresh and it helped me tremendously.  Laura Story tells her own story of how her husband was impacted by a traumatic brain tumor and how, even after his surgery and recovery, his injuries have left him a changed man.  She delves into the hard places of how to keep going when God doesn't give you the fix you were looking for and doesn't heal things in the way you imagined he would.  A very good read for trying times.

The Anglican Way: A Guidebook

I finally dug into this one in an effort to learn more about the history and theology of the church I attend and what it really means to be Anglican and wound up so impressed that I chose to become a confirmed Anglican at the next opportunity in my area.  This book is really well written and provides great information for anyone seeking more information on Anglicanism and what the church believes.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Bolz-Weber is an author I enjoy reading and I have had this book on my shelf for ages and finally dove into it in the last few weeks.  I'm glad I did because she tells a great story of redemption and faith and doubt and ongoing struggle with what it means to follow Christ in the midst of difficulty.

Did you read any great Christian non-fiction this year?  Care to share in the comments?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

How to Find Love in a Bookshop
Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers--a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father's death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia's loyal customers have become like family, and she can't imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There's Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there's a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage--she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future--and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

In spite of the chick lit cover (which, to be honest, I kind of love), this one keeps up just fine with works that received a more literary slant, like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  I loved the cast of characters Henry creates and the way she brings them to life on the page.  She has quite a bit going on here, but she manages to keep it all running smoothly and integrates each part into the whole in a clever way.  

Entertainment Value
I loved, loved, loved reading this one.  It's got everything I could ask for - a little bit of romance, the charm of an English village, cozy autumn nights, and loads of books and book references.  Add in the food and music descriptions and the whole thing is just perfection.  It's perfect for book lovers of all sorts.  

I highly recommend this, particularly to those who loved A.J. Fikry, but also to anyone who loves happy endings and cozy nights by the fire.  This is an absolutely perfect fall read and it's got all sorts of warm fuzzies to boot.  Read it wrapped up in a snuggly blanket and fall in love with the whole village of Peasebrook.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What I Read in August

August was another fast and busy month, but filled with lots of good times with family and friends.  I was finally able to meet the newest Clark, my brother David's little son Wesley.  He's as precious as I knew he would be.  We spent a weekend at a cabin in Virginia, hiking and movie watching and just relaxing with family.  Of course I also had various book club adventures, and got to do some fun things with church friends. It wound up being my best reading month of the year so far as well. 
Here's what I read:

My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood
Comics for a Strange World by Reza Farazmand
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
Ink in Water by Lacy J. Davis
Introvert Doodles by Maureen Marzi Williams
A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen
The Memory Book by Lara Avery
The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror by Becky Siegel Spratford
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
It's Messy by Amanda de Cadenet
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
Pandora's Lab by Paul A. Offit
Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown
Spinning by Tillie Walden
Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
The Moth Presents: All These Wonders edited by Catherine Burns
Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung

What did you read in August?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book Review: It's Messy by Amanda de Cadenet

It's Messy
In this deeply personal collection of essays, creator of the The Conversation Amanda de Cadenet shares the hard-won advice and practical insights she’s gained through her experiences as businesswoman, friend, wife, and mother.

Amanda is on a mission to facilitate conversations that allow all women to be seen, heard, and understood. Through her multimedia platform The Conversation, she interviews some of today’s most bad ass women—from Hillary Clinton to Lady Gaga—in no-holds-barred conversations that get to the heart of what means to be female. Now, in It’s Messy, Amanda offers readers an extension of that conversation, inviting them into her life and sharing her own story.

From childhood fame to a high-profile marriage (and divorce) to teen motherhood to the sexism that threatened to end her career before it started, Amanda shares the good, the bad, and the messy of her life, synthesizing lessons she’s learned along the way. Through it all, she offers an original perspective as a feminist on the front lines of celebrity culture. Edgy, irreverent, poignant and provocative, It’s Messy addresses the issues, concerns, and experiences relevant to women today.

As a fan of essays, and feminist essays in particular, I was excited to get a chance to review this collection for a TLC tour.  I wasn't familiar with the author and her past when I started the book, but I appreciated how candid she was about her history and how it impacts her as an author and interviewer now.  I wasn't overwhelmed with the quality of the writing here, but it was solid.  It felt like reading celebrity essays, more than reading author essays, and that's what we were getting.  No complaints, but no raves on quality of writing.

Entertainment Value
Thoroughly enjoyable.  These are all easy to read and the book itself is short.  It can be read in one sitting if you give yourself an hour or two or you can dip in and out as you want.  They don't need to be read in any particular order, so it's also possible to skip around to the topics that interest you the most.  I found them to be quite entertaining and the book as a whole to be a fun read. 

I recommend it to those who, like me, enjoy essays about feminism or to those who enjoy celebrity memoir.  Of course, those who are familiar with the author will also want to check it out.

Thanks to TLC and to the publisher, Harper Collins, for having me on the tour.  Click here to see the other stops.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Book Review: There Is No Good Card for This by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell

There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love

From Goodreads:

The creator of the viral hit "Empathy Cards" teams up with a compassion expert to produce a visually stunning and groundbreaking illustrated guide to help you increase your emotional intelligence and learn how to offer comfort and support when someone you know is in pain.
I loved the combination of illustration and writing in this one.  They blend perfectly to create a manual for empathy that is easy to read and digest.  I learned so much about empathy from the very simple presentation and the conversational tone presented here.  The most important thing I learned was the importance of saying something, not just disappearing from fear of saying the wrong thing.  Thankfully, Crowe and McDowell present the reader with many great options for things to say to those who are suffering.

Entertainment Value
Of course it's a difficult subject to read about, the suffering of people we love, but the topic is handled so compassionately and with humor and heart that it is easy to read.  I thoroughly enjoyed my read of this, and, with some friends going through some particularly difficult moments in their lives, I may make it a point to reread it again sooner rather than later.

I can't recommend this one enough.  If you've ever struggled with what to say with a friend or loved one who is suffering, this is a must read.  The authors give specific and detailed help on words of empathy and how to treat loved ones who are struggling with scary, life-changing moments in a way that is easy to read and understand.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood

My Sister's Bones
Kate has spent fifteen years bringing global injustice home: as a decorated war reporter, she’s always in a place of conflict, writing about ordinary people in unimaginable situations. When her mother dies, Kate returns home from Syria for the funeral. But an incident with a young Syrian boy haunts her dreams, and when Kate sees a boy in the garden of the house next door—a house inhabited by an Iraqi refugee who claims her husband is away and she has no children—Kate becomes convinced that something is very wrong.

As she struggles to separate her memories of Syria from the quiet town in which she grew up—and also to reconcile her memories of a traumatic childhood with her sister’s insistence that all was not as Kate remembers—she begins to wonder what is actually true…and what is just in her mind.
Ellwood is a debut novelist, but you wouldn't know it from the quality of writing found here.  I was really impressed with how well she drew me into Kate's story and how well written her characters are.  I was pulled into the story from the very beginning and, while the characters aren't necessarily likable, I wanted to know their outcomes.  In a book like this, I think you can say that the author achieved her purposes.

Entertainment Value
Again, I was captured from the beginning and found it an easy book to breeze through in just a day or two.  The plot is detailed, but straightforward and easy to follow and the the pacing is perfect for carrying the suspense.  I wouldn't consider this a thriller in the traditional sense, but it is certainly one that will keep you guessing about the outcome.

It's a good addition to the collection of psychological/domestic suspense books that are popular at the moment, and is particularly admirable as a debut novel.  It avoids many of the pitfalls of other books in the genre and kept my interest throughout without revealing any surprises too early.  I'd recommend it for fans of the genre.

Thanks to Harper Collins and to TLC for having me on the tour for this one.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What I Read in July

This summer is flying by and can we all just take a moment to be thrilled by that?  I know I'm pretty much alone in this, but summer is my least favorite.  I hate the heat, especially here in Georgia.  It makes being outside just miserable at all times except in the early mornings and late in the evening and, let's face it, those are prime times for being in bed.  I have found some very cool (pun intended) spots in my area by the creek where I can stand the heat for an hour or two and enjoy a book with my feet in the water and some shade.  I've done a trip to the Hiawassee to float with some friends and hope to do at least one more before the summer ends.  And I've got some pool plans in my near future.  

Thankfully, to beat the heat, I've been spending lots of time with books.  I'm finally getting back into my reading groove after almost a year long slump.  I'm finding great solace in books again, both in terms of escape and in terms of healing.  My mother and I have bonded over some very good Christian non-fiction and I'm currently wading through the beauty that is the words of Brene Brown.  All of it is wonderful, and I'm pleased to report July as my best reading month in over a year.  Here's what I read.

The Secret Lives of Men and Women
The Secret Art of Being a Grownup
The Breakdown
The Spill Zone
If I Was Your Girl
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History
PostSecret: Confessions of Life, Death, and God
A Beautiful, Terrible Thing
The Realist
When God Doesn't Fix It
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
The Anglican Way
Information Now
Rabbit Cake
The Little Book of Life Hacks
Random Illustrated Facts
Two Gentlemen of Verona

What did you read in July?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal
What do you do when you discover that the person you've built your life around never existed? When "it could never happen to me" does happen to you? 

These are the questions facing Jen Waite when she begins to realize that her loving husband--the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life--fits the textbook definition of psychopath. In a raw, first-person account, Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happens once the dust finally settles on her demolished marriage.

After a disturbing email sparks Waite's suspicion that her husband is having an affair, she tries to uncover the truth and rebuild trust in her marriage. Instead, she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have imagined. Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment from the last five years that isn't part of the long-con of lies and manipulation. With a dual-timeline narrative structure, we see Waite's romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting.
Just beautifully done.  It helps that I identified so much with the subject matter of the book.  Not that I was married to a psychopath, but I was in a marriage to a person who had a life I didn't know anything about.  I could greatly identify with a lot of what Waite goes through in the book and having recently been through my own difficult divorce made it a very emotional read for me.  In terms of the writing, I do wish that rather than flipping back and forth between before and after Waite learns of her husband's affair, the book had been divided into two distinct sections.  I found the constant switching between timelines to be a bit of a distraction.  Other than that, I had absolutely nothing but raves for the quality of the author's writing.

Entertainment Value
Again, identifying with so much of what the author was going through really made this book a winner for me.  I devoured it over the course of a weekend and just couldn't make myself put it down.  Waite's story is both heart-wrenching and hopeful, which is exactly what I was looking for and really spoke to me and my own situation.  I think I would have enjoyed it even had I not identified so closely with the author, but having recent commonalities with her made the book even more real for me.

I highly recommend reading this one.  It's beautifully done, but you'll want to read it with a box of tissues handy.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, July 10, 2017

My Summer Reading Syllabus

I've always been obsessed with summer reading and the idea of having a checklist of books to read in the summer while school was out.  I loved having assigned reading, but I also wasn't afraid to give myself assignments if I didn't feel like we were being given sufficient reading material to last us the summer.  I recently found this self-created summer reading list from my high school days, complete with commentary from my friends, who thought I was nuts for making my own checklist.

Things haven't changed much since high school.  One of the things I miss the most about high school and college is having a list of things to read in the summer.  I first tried out the idea of creating my own summer syllabus last year, but the implosion of my marriage meant that things went off track pretty quickly.  So this year I'm trying again, this time with the help of my bullet journal, which I've recently become obsessed with.  Here's what I've got:

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  What would you put on your summer syllabus?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

The Breakdown

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?
Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped. 
But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby. 
The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt. 
Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…
Wow.  Um, this was bad.  Really bad.  I hate to just say it that way, but there's no other way to put it.  I knew immediately what was going on and who was responsible.  I hoped for the entire book that it was a red herring, but it wasn't.  It was exactly what I thought it was from the very first page.  I was so disappointed.  In addition to being absolutely, straightforwardly predictable, the details of the book just don't make sense.  It ventures into spoiler territory to say more, but suffice it to say that Paris's characters are dumb as rocks.

Entertainment Value
Knowing the whodunnit from the first page kind of ruined the suspense, but even if there was a question of who was behind the threat, the threat itself was so mild that there was no real sense of suspense or terror through most of the book.  Cass's fear largely revolves around silent phone calls.  We don't get a good explanation for why she doesn't stop answering the phone, call the police to have the calls traced, or just unplug the phone.  But when the most threatening thing happening is answering the phone to silence, it's hard to feel like anyone is in any real danger.  I was expecting a lot more tension than I ever got.  A lot of the book consists of Cass crying and falling to pieces over and over and over.  

I absolutely don't recommend it.  I appreciate NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with review copies, but I was really let down by the reading experience and glad that it at least read quickly and didn't take up a large amount of time.  If it hadn't been a fast read, it would have been a DNF.   

Monday, July 3, 2017

What I Read in June

June was such a beautiful month for my family.  My youngest brother, the baby of the family, married his college sweetheart in a beautiful ceremony in east Tennessee.  We got to see all of our extended family and some Arkansas friends that we haven't seen in years.  It such a special trip and such a blessing to add another sister to our family.  A lot of people asked me if, given my recent divorce, it was hard on me, but the truth is that Andrew is kind of my pet sibling and I was so happy to see him happy that it wasn't difficult at all.  My older brother and his wife and children came and it is always a treat to see them.

June was also a very good month for me in terms of reading.  I got a lot accomplished and I'm feeling like I'm finally getting my feet back under me when it comes to reading and enjoying books.  Here's what I read:

Clean My Space by Melissa Maker
The Fireman by Joe Hill
Brave New Girl: How to Be Fearless by Lou Hamilton
Snow Blind by Ollie Masters
Best Enemies by Jane Heller
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Hello Tokyo by Ebony Bizys
The Blessing of Humility by Jeff Bridges
The Only Child by Andrew Pyper
Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren (for the second time this year)
Drawing Calm by Susan Evenson
My Secret by Frank Warren
A Lifetime of Secrets by Frank Warren
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Penance by Kanae Minato
The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett
Sex Object by Jessica Valente
Relish by Lucy Knisley

What did you read in June?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Review: Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kre

Strange Contagion: Inside the Surprising Science of Infectious Behaviors and Viral Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves

Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a "strange contagion:" a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition. 
Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.  
I love nonfiction that reads like fiction, and this title certainly falls into that category.  You can tell that Kravetz is a journalist at heart because he reports events in such a gripping and straightforward manner that is both easy to read and interesting.  It avoids the danger territories of dry and overly academic and sticks with being what I would consider popular social science - strongly researched but very readable for the common reader.

Entertainment Value
Again, the research here is strong and well cited, which is always a plus for me.  It's also an interesting topic that the author reports like a story, rather than a textbook, which keeps the reader moving from chapter to chapter without being dull or dry.

If you enjoy a good pop social science along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell, this is one you'll want to pick up.  Kravetz has great insight into the social phenomenon of contagious ideas and how they spread and what it means for people.  I appreciate that he looks at how it can be used positively as well as the negative consequences.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour and providing me with a copy to review.  Click here to see a list of all the stops on the tour and click here to see the publisher's page for the book.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mid-Year Book Survey, Just for Fun!

June marks the halfway point of the year, and I thought it would be fun to do a little mini-survey about what I've read so far and how the year is going in terms of reading and books and literary loves and disappointments.  I found this via Shout at Me, a book tuber I particularly enjoy.

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2017
    Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren - I actually read this one twice in 2017 alone, so yeah,     it's earned it's spot as my favorite of the year.

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2017.
    March, Book Three

3. New release you haven't read yet, but want to.
    Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez - I actually have this one sitting on my desk waiting         for me to pick it up, I just have to make myself do it.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year.
    A Beautiful Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite - seems like it's going to         be both a difficult book to read and also one that could be healing and meaningful to my own life.

5. Biggest disappointment.
    Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - I was very excited to read this one, and it just didn't live up to the           rave reviews I'd heard it receive.

6. Biggest surprise.
    My Lady Jane - I didn't expect this to be my kind of book at all, but I listened to it on audio for book         club and was delighted by how funny and charming it was.

7. Favorite new author. (Debut or new to you)
    Marilynn Robinson - I can't wait to dive into the Gilead Trilogy after finishing Housekeeping last week

8. Newest fictional crush. 
    I always hate this question because it's one that I just don't seem to connect with.  I can't think of a           fictional crush.  They're all...fictional and I am just a boring pragmatist.

9. Newest favorite character. 
    I feel like this is cheating, but without having read much fiction this year I'm going to have to choose a     real person.  Congressman John Lewis from the March series.  What an inspiration.

10. Book that made you cry.
    I've had several of those this year, but the first to come to mind is The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp.

11. Book that made you happy.
     Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this year. 
     Haven't seen one yet, but I do want to see My Cousin Rachel

13. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year (or received)
     I just received a copy of The Essex Serpent in the mail and it is absolutely gorgeous in hardback.  I          can't rave enough about how beautiful it is and how much fun it is to touch.  I haven't read it yet, but        man is it nice to have on the shelf.

I'd love to know all about your reading years and how they're going.  Feel free to copy and paste this in the comments or leave a link to your own blog or youtube or instagram or wherever you post about books!  I'd love to see other readers tell what they've been up to this year!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Audiobook Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman

The fireman is coming. Stay cool.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
This is my first book by Joe Hill and I'm quite pleased with the quality of his writing here.  I have a few quibbles, but overall I found the book to be well done.  I loved the characters, particularly Harper, who has a Mary Poppins obsession.  I also thought the world building was very well done.  The worldwide reaction to the pandemic is believable and fascinating and everything I wanted it to be.  My biggest problem with the writing is that I felt like the story built to something major and then ended quickly without quite living up to the level of tension created in the rest of the book.

Entertainment Value
I couldn't get enough of this one.  It was another car trip audiobook and kept me fully entertained while driving.  It's quite long, so listeners should be prepared for a bit of a commitment but know that the story won't let you down.  Again, the ending had me a bit disappointed, but not enough that I regretted any part of the experience.

I thought this part was just ok.  It wasn't my favorite narrator and I definitely didn't love the accents she used.  It could have been worse, but I've heard better.

The book itself is a must read for fans of dystopias or pandemic novels, although I think whether your read it in print or listen is just a matter of preference.  The narration isn't great enough to make it specifically preferable on audio.

I listened to this one via Hoopla, provided by my local public library!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review: The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges

The Blessing of Humility
We all admire humility when we see it. But how do we practice it? How does humility--the foundational virtue of the normal Christian life--become a normal part of our everyday lives?

Jerry Bridges sees in the Beatitudes a series of blessings from Jesus, a pattern for humility in action. Starting with poverty in spirit--an acknowledgment that in and of ourselves we are incapable of living holy lives pleasing to God--and proceeding through our mourning over personal sin, our hunger and thirst for righteousness, our experience of persecutions large and small, and more, we discover that humility is itself a blessing: At every turn, God is present to us, giving grace to the humble and lifting us up to blessing.
There's a reason Bridges is a bestselling Christian author.  His writing is easy to understand and he presents difficult concepts clearly and concisely for a general audience.  That said, there is a simplicity to his writing that can also feel a bit shallow at times.  This book on the beatitudes for example, is more of a brief meditation than an in depth look.  At just 106 pages, you aren't going to go too deeply into any concept and still manage to cover each of the beatitudes.  That doesn't mean that there was nothing to learn, just that it was limited in scope and depth.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, this is quite easy to read.  Being a shorter book, it moves along quickly and makes for a great devotional book, with short chapters and discussion or meditation questions at the end of the book for further reflection on each chapter.  I read a chapter each night and found that to be a good way to move through the book, although it certainly would have been fine to read in one sitting as well.

I enjoyed the read, although I did wish for more depth.  I was pleased to learn new things about the beatitudes that I hadn't known before.  One of my favorite new pieces of information was that "blessed are those who mourn" refers not to those who mourn in terms of sadness or grief for something sad that has happened to them but those who are grieved by their own sin.  I love finding new things to consider in Scripture and was pleased to find an entire chapter devoted to this in the book.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me with a copy to review!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir
A heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, memoir of a young marriage that is redefined by mental illness and affirms the power of love.

Mark and Giulia’s life together began as a storybook romance. They fell in love at eighteen, married at twenty-four, and were living their dream life in San Francisco. When Giulia was twenty-seven, she suffered a terrifying and unexpected psychotic break that landed her in the psych ward for nearly a month. One day she was vibrant and well-adjusted; the next she was delusional and suicidal, convinced that her loved ones were not safe.

Eventually, Giulia fully recovered, and the couple had a son. But, soon after Jonas was born, Giulia had another breakdown, and then a third a few years after that. Pushed to the edge of the abyss, everything the couple had once taken for granted was upended.

A story of the fragility of the mind, and the tenacity of the human spirit, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward is, above all, a love story that raises profound questions: How do we care for the people we love? What and who do we live for? Breathtaking in its candor, radiant with compassion, and written with dazzling lyricism, Lukach’s is an intensely personal odyssey through the harrowing years of his wife’s mental illness, anchored by an abiding devotion to family that will affirm readers’ faith in the power of love.
It's a heartbreaking story, and I think Lukach does a great job of capturing the vast range of emotions he experiences as he and his wife spend years going through the roller coaster of mental illness.  I felt like he really went deep with his emotions and didn't keep much back from the reader - he was raw and honest, even when his emotions were hard to understand or explain.  He does a wonderful job of putting the reader in his position.

Entertainment Value
While it's hard to say you're entertained by such a raw view of another person's distress and suffering, this book is engrossing and does keep the reader involved in the story from the first page.  You want to see Guilia recover and reunite with her family as a mentally whole person.  The reader is firmly invested in the outcome, which means that the book is certainly gripping.

This is definitely a must-read for fans of mental illness memoirs, which sounds like a crazy genre unless you're a fan of the genre, in which case you know it is its own entire genre.  It's also a great read for anyway who has an interest in enduring love stories and memoirs about overcoming insurmountable obstacles as a couple.

Thanks to TLC for providing me with a copy to review!  You can click here to see the other stops on the tour!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Graphic Novel/Comic Book Minis

I've got a bunch of these to cover, as they've made up a lot of my reading in the past few months, so I'm going to do several mini reviews over the coming months as I try to catch up on reviews and keep you posted on what I've loved and what I haven't enjoyed as much.  I'll just jump right in with the first batch:
Snow Blind

This one is about a teenage boy who has a distant relationship with his parents that becomes even more strained when he learns that they aren't who he has grown up believing them to be.  The artwork here is beautiful.  I love watercolors and I love the muted palette and style used here.  The story wasn't as gripping as I had hoped it would be and I didn't care all that much about the characters or for the writing, but it was amazing to look at.

Brave New Girl: How to Be Fearless

This is probably better characterized as a gift book or inspirational book than a comic book or graphic novel.  It's a series of drawings featuring Brave New Girl, a character who inspires us to be powerful, fearless, and to overcome every obstacle.  It's cute and was fun to flip through and would make a good graduation gift to someone who enjoys this kind of book.  It's not something I would probably purchase for myself, but I enjoyed looking through it.

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

I've read M.T. Anderson's novels before and knew I'd want to try out his first graphic novel, especially when I saw some of the gorgeous artwork.  This is his take on the tale of Sir Yvain, one of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table and his adventures.  I loved that the style of the artwork reflected the Middle Ages and I loved the story itself and the research the author had obviously put into his story, while still making it his own.  I have lots of raves for this one and few quibbles.  If you're a fan of the Arthur stories, if you're a fan of graphic novels or this style of art, or if you're a fan of the authors, this is a solid choice.

The Creeps

This is the second book of cartoons published by Krause and it follows the same simple premise as the first - Krause takes people's odd and unusual, but entertaining, fears and illustrates them.  That's it.  It's delightful to read and the best part is not seeing the strange fears of strangers (although that is definitely fun) but stumbling across something you are secretly and oddly afraid of as well.  I highly recommend this one.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with digital copies of each of these for review!

Monday, June 5, 2017

What I Read in May

May has been all about learning new things for things me - making new discoveries about myself and what I'm capable of, where I can go and what I can do.  I spent a lot of time with my parents this month, which was lovely, and a lot of time with friends.  My church family has blessed me in ways I can't begin to describe.  They've truly been Jesus to me in difficult times and I got to spent lots of time with them in the past few weeks, which is always a joy.  I also made a trip to Ohio with my best friends, Jacki and Jennie, for the Nowhere Else Festival, where we heard some amazing folk music and, most importantly, had quality BFF time.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, closeup and outdoor

I'm also slowly and steadily starting to read again after a terrible year of almost no reading (for me at least) last year.  I'm turning to books more and more as I feel more and more like my old self and as I'm relearning who I am on my own.  Books are so much a part of me and I feel like they are my old friends, gradually coming back into my life.  Lots of people and things that I had abandoned are returning and becoming part of my life again, and it's a change I'm thrilled to see happening.  

Here's what I read in the month of May:

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott
milk and honey by Rupi Kaur
Celebrate Everything! by Darcy Miller
Real Sex by Lauren Winner
The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
The Big Book of Tiny Art by the Walter Foster Creative Team
Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson
The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris
One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

It's a long list, but a lot of these are graphic novels or essay collections, even art books.  I'm not pushing myself into anything I'm not in the mood for at the moment.  I've signed up for a few TLC tours this summer and that's all as far as committing to a book goes.  I'm letting myself read as I feel led and enjoy everything I pick up, bringing back the friends that feel right and passing up the ones that I think need more time.  

What did you read in May?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin

Hey Harry, Hey Matilda

Hey Harry, Hey Matilda is the story--told entirely in hilarious emails--of fraternal twins Harry and Matilda Goodman as they fumble into adulthood, telling lies and keeping secrets, and finally confronting their complicated twinship. 
Matilda Goodman is an underemployed wedding photographer grappling with her failure to live as an artist and the very bad lie she has told her boyfriend (that she has a dead twin). Harry, her (totally alive) brother, is an untenured professor of literature, anxiously contemplating his publishing status (unpublished) and sleeping with a student. When Matilda invites her boyfriend home for Thanksgiving to meet the family, and when Harry makes a desperate--and unethical--move to save his career, they set off an avalanche of shame, scandal, and drunken hot tub revelations that force them to examine the truth about who they really are. A wonderfully subversive, sensitive novel of romantic entanglement and misguided ambition, Hey Harry, Hey Matilda is a joyful look at love and family in all its forms.
I'm going to skip the two part review on this one because I didn't love the book and the reason why pretty much covers both the writing and the entertainment value.  I honestly just never found a reason for this book to exist.  It isn't particularly well-written and the plot isn't much of anything.  Harry and Matilda are twins who sent each other improbably witty emails about their messy lives, but they never really amount to much of anything in the way of a plot or a point.  I ended the book wondering why I read it.  Why did the author choose these snippets of life to show us?  I have no idea.  

I didn't love either character, and didn't feel like they were well-developed enough to stand on their own as just a book about interesting people.  The story itself never seemed to go anywhere, so it certainly wasn't plot-driven.  I just don't understand why it was written or published and I was kind of mad that I spent the time on it.  The best I have to say is that it's short and reads quickly, so it wasn't a huge amount of time wasted.  

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club: Reader's Choice

Now that I'm back on the blog, I'm happy to be bringing back my posts about who read what each month for the Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club.  As a refresher, since it's been a very long while, CYOA reads by theme rather than by book.  We came up with a list of themes, tossed them in a Tardis cookie jar, and each month we draw out a new theme.  Everyone chooses any book they want to read based as loosely as they want around that theme and then we get together and discuss what we chose and if we liked it the next month.  It means that there's no pressure to read a specific book that you may or may not be in the mood for.  It never feels like homework and we always come away with a full TBR after hearing what everyone else chose for the theme.

This month we had a new member join - our friend Ann, who we met through our Forever Young Adult book club branch, where we discuss assigned young adult titles.  We also let this month be considered a Reader's Choice month.  I got busy and forgot to draw a theme for us, and didn't realize it until it was too late for anyone to have time to choose based on a theme.  We decided just to discuss whatever we had recently read and loved.  Here's what we talked about:

  • Stephanie read A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas and she can't stop talking about it. It's a definite rave from her and others in the group have also been enjoying the series.  It's one I hear about all over the place, but I'm waiting because of my "series has to be finished rule".
  • Rachel read Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (squeee!).  We've both been waiting for this one for ages.  The group is divided on the series - some of us love it and others don't. Rachel and I are firmly in the "devoted to Eugenides" camp and she highly recommends Turner's latest addition to the series.  I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!
  • Courtney is in the midst of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Her raves about it have led me to bump it up my TBR list.  I'm reaching back for my creativity, which was misplaced somewhere in the last year or two, and now that I'm starting to find it again, I think this book could be a great jumpstart.  Courtney definitely agrees.
  • Ann read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood in anticipation of the upcoming adaptation on Hulu.  Her mention of it immediately made me realize that I have no idea which shelf my copy is on and also that I need to read it immediately.  A search is underway.  She loved it and said, like I've heard from many other sources, that it's timely and beautiful, and worth reading. As soon as I find my copy I'll be reading it as well.
  • As for me, I'm currently listening to The Fireman by Joe Hill on audio and loving it.  The narrator is excellent. I've got a road trip planned for this weekend and hope to knock out a significant portion of it because it is quite a long one, but once you start it's hard to turn it off.
The last new adjustment to CYOA is that we decided to start trying on a food theme each month.  This month we did ice cream sundaes.  I had the ice cream and everyone else brought toppings.  We wrote down a whole list of other ideas and we're going to try making it a food and book club since we had so much fun with the sundaes!  

How about you, Reader Friends?  Are you currently reading anything spectacular?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

The Mother of All Questions
In this follow-up to Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit offers commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more.
Solnit is quickly becoming one of my favorite feminist essayists between this collection and Men Explain Things to Me.  I appreciate that she doesn't take a purely scholarly approach, but she also doesn't use as much humor as others use, which gives her voice a seriousness that is sometimes lacking in popular feminist writing.  She's funny at moments, but she's also completely serious about the difficult issues women and minorities are facing, and she's not using jokes to soften the intensity of her feelings.  She's obviously a talented writer and these essays show her skill with words and rhetoric well.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, Solnit writes for a popular audience, but she doesn't do so with as much levity as other popular feminist authors, which I appreciated.  She does, however, use some humor, and her essays are easy to read and understand, regardless of how familiar you are with feminist theory.  I loved the range of topics she covered, from intersectionality to literature to film and I particularly enjoyed the essays covering rape culture.

If you read and enjoyed Men Explain Things to Me or if you are a fan of popular feminist writing, it's a must-read.  I think it will also appeal to those who enjoy reading feminist websites like Jezebel and Bustle and to those who have a left-leaning or feminist mindset and are interested in current events.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Yoga Book Reviews: Yoga Bodies by Lauren Lipton and Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley

Yoga Bodies: Real People, Real Stories, and the Power of Transformation
Artfully capturing yoga's vibrant spirit, Yoga Bodies presents full-color yoga-pose portraits of more than 80 practitioners of all ages, shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and skill levels--real people with real stories to share about how yoga has changed their lives for the better. Some humorous, some heartfelt, others profound, the stories entertain as they enlighten, while the portraits--which joyously challenge the "yoga body" stereotype--celebrate the glorious diversity of the human form. Handsomely jacketed and richly visual inside and out, Yoga Bodies is a coffee table-worthy contemplation, a meaningful gift, and a source of endless inspiration for anyone seeking fresh perspectives on how to live well.
Less instruction and more inspiration, this is a coffee table-type book full of pictures of people of all shapes, races, sizes, and ages in poses of varying degrees of difficulty and ease, accompanied with their own words about why they practice yoga or what their practice means to them.  I spent several days flipping through and looking at the images and reading the stories, but it could also be used as inspiration for your own practice.  No instruction is included, and the book is intended for those with a basic knowledge of yoga, although an extensive knowledge certainly isn't required.  I loved seeing how yoga means different things to different people and hearing the reasons various people practice - from the ultra spiritual to the very practical.

 Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear. Get On the Mat. Love Your Body.
It’s a book of inspiration for beginners of all shapes and sizes: If Jessamyn could transcend these emotional and physical barriers, so can we.

It’s a book for readers already doing yoga, looking to refresh their practice or find new ways to stay motivated.

It’s a how-to book: Here are easy-to-follow directions to 50 basic yoga poses and 10 sequences to practice at home, all photographed in full color.

It’s a book that challenges the larger issues of body acceptance and the meaning of beauty.

Most of all, it’s a book that changes the paradigm, showing us that yoga isn’t about how one looks, but how one feels, with yoga sequences like “I Want to Energize My Spirit,” “I Need to Release Fear,” “I Want to Love Myself.”
When I first started practicing yoga and discovered the world of yoga on instagram, Jessamyn was one of the first yogis I followed (you can follow her by clicking here).  I fell in love with her energy and body positivity, and she's still one of the most inspiring yogis I follow.  I love her strength and her pride in how amazing her body is, and it's great to see what the poses look like when they're done by a person with a body that looks more like mine than like the "traditional" yoga body.

This book is full of gorgeous color pictures and contains Jessamyn's person story and thoughts on yoga as a spiritual and physical practice, but the main draw for me was the instruction.  Jessamyn provides visual and written instruction for the basic poses and an entire section of sequences focusing on different parts of the body and attitudes to embrace.  Her practices are thoughtful and easy to understand and I found her explanations helpful.

These are both great choices for anyone seeking inspiration and guidance in beginning or continuing a yoga practice.  I found a lot to love here from both books, both visually and in terms of learning more about the practice of yoga and asana techniques.

I read Yoga Bodies through my local public library and Every Body Yoga courtesy of NetGalley.