winter reading & a giveaway.

Being on Christmas vacation was a gift to my reader’s heart. I got to read through a stack of books, and it was wonderful. I appreciated including a fair amount of fiction mixed in with the non-fiction.

And then I got sick and read through another stack of books. My heart was happy even if my body was not.

 Here’s what’s been on my shelf the last few weeks.

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The Longing for Home

Why I picked it up:

“Home” was one of the words the Lord gave me last year. In a season where I would lose a physical home and move far away from things I held dear, “home” is something I find myself longing for and working to create with those I love. As my definition is shifting, I wanted to read thoughts on home from a theologian that I’ve had on my reading list for a while now.

Why I liked it:

This wasn’t what I expected. It felt a little random to me at first, filling the pages with some essays on his own remembrances from childhood, some letters to fictional characters of his own imagination, some theological thoughts. But I really loved it. I think I needed a little unconventional writing to help me to pay attention to the truth he was saying. I am finding myself allowing the truth of the Lord as my home sink into my heart more and more as the days go by. I love his words on the home we find in each other because of Jesus.

“We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next. It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human in this world, which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognize it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us. It is part of what the book of Genesis means by saying that we are made in the image of God.” 4.5/5 for me.

Irish Meadows

Why I picked it up:

I wanted to read some stories and I like historical fiction. This is the story of two sisters in the early 1900’s. As immigrants to the United States from Ireland, the past plays a role in the present, as both women feel the pressure of family and cultural expectations.

Why I liked it:

This felt like a period film. Plenty of family drama, love interests, societal games, parties and dances. It was fun to have two different love stories happening simultaneously, even though one felt like it fell a little flat at the end. 3/5 for me.

A Worthy Heart

Why I picked it up:

This is the second in the series, following Irish Meadows. A brother and a sister come from Ireland for a visit to one of the characters from the first book, only to find it harder to leave than they thought it might be. I liked the first book and wanted to see what happened to some of the characters a few years later.

Why I liked it:

One of the main characters was someone who I really disliked from the first book. I was impressed with the author’s ability to redeem so entirely a character who I had not enjoyed from before. I found his flaws and his redemption believable, in addition to him becoming one of my favorite characters. It was an engaging story, again following two different love stories simultaneously. I loved some of the depth the author gave the characters by developing their background and unveiling some of their past. I enjoyed this book better than the first in the series, and think it could stand alone if needed. 3.5/5 for me.

*Bethany House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “A Worthy Heart,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

Thin Ice

Why I picked it up:

My imagination tends to get the best of me when I’m watching a thriller. (As in, it typically gives me nightmares.) But a mystery or thriller in book form tends to be a little more what I can handle. I wanted something suspenseful to read for break and this was it.

Why I liked it:

Oh man. This was a page-turner! The main character loses her parents and then her sister all in a matter of months. As she’s working through her own grief and loss, a letter turns up that makes it seem as though her sister was kidnapped and not actually dead. (All this is in the first chapter, so I’m not giving anything away.) I really liked the characters and the romance in the midst of the mystery felt believable. A few chapters were told from the villain’s perspective, and those were chilling. It truly felt like I had a glimpse into a psychopath’s mind. Terrifying and perfect for this story. This was everything I wanted out of a thriller. Exciting, suspenseful, and characters I was rooting for. And no nightmares. 4/5  for me.

*Revell Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “Thin Ice,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

Like A Flower in Bloom

Why I picked it up:

I’ve enjoyed Siri Mitchell’s books before. I hadn’t read one in a few years and asked my library to buy this book so I could read it. (Yep, this is a real thing you can do! Just one more reason why I LOVE the library.) The blessed librarians bought it and so I got to read it!

Why I liked it:

Botany and introverts aren’t what I typically think of when I imagine the 1800’s. I loved learning about the role plants (and the study of them) played as a subculture in this time. I also loved this fictional take on what it might have been like to be an introvert in a time ruled by social expectations and rules. This book was a fun read, and I laughed a lot. 4/5 for me.

The Sacred Year

Why I picked it up:

I’d had this book recommended to me, and I was intrigued by the idea of learning from apples, caves and dying people. And the library bought this one at my request too. 

Why I liked it:

I really enjoyed Michael Yankoski’s writing. He shared vulnerably about becoming disillusioned with modern American Christianity and the role he was playing in the “show.” He takes time to get away (he literally goes to a monastery for a while) and works to simply and re-examine his life. It wasn’t a how-to book or a call to move to Africa or anything extreme in the way we tend to think. But Michael does write about some extreme ideas. He wrestles with rest, contemplation, justice, community-all buzz words in our culture, and adds the depth of working through the mess of what it means to live out of these. He doesn’t provide easy answers, but I loved his honest story of this year of his life. His writing also encouraged me to start including the Daily Examen as part of my daily journaling/processing. I like what he says about it here:

“The Daily Examen has five basic steps, and I’ve found envisioning these steps as “movements” in a musical piece makes them seem less regimented. You begin with gratitude, then move into a petition to God for clarity, crescendo with a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour review of the day’s events, descend into confession for the wrongs committed, and wrap.”A solid read and call to follow Jesus with how we live. 4.5/5 for me.

 

Me Before You (not pictured, because I had to give it back to the library)

Why I picked it up:

I’d heard it recommended by a number of people. And it’s going to be made into a movie sometime in the near future. I also like stepping outside of books written by Christian authors from time to time. (If you’re wondering, there is a general acceptance of things like living together, sex before marriage in this book. Nothing explicit, but similar to what you might find in a typical romantic comedy film.)

Why I liked it:  

This is a well-told, well-developed story. I appreciated that a fictional story could delve into the mess of what it means to live well and what that looks like in light of a paralyzing accident. This book doesn’t shy away from asking hard questions in the midst of telling a bold and beautiful story. It was funny and vulnerable and sad. I still have mixed feelings about the ending, but I think that it accurately represents how suffering is dealt with apart from Christ. 4.5/5 for me.

The Ship of Brides

Why I picked it up:

I liked Me Before You, and wanted to know if the author had written other gems.

Why I liked it:

I honestly didn’t love this one. It felt pretty devoid of hope, even though it was well told and engaging. I felt a little grimy after reading it. There wasn’t anything too explicit, but there was a fair amount of loose morals and what felt like a lack of redemption for the characters. I finished it because I wanted to know what happened, but felt disappointed in the end. 2/5 for me.  

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Anonymous

Why I picked it up:

One of my dear friends read this book in a dark season and said it changed her life. As she talked about it, I had a feeling that it might be the book I needed to read too.

Why I liked it:

This was the BEST book I read out of all of them. The author writes about Jesus’ hidden years and it is a beautiful, encouraging look at what it looks like to follow the Lord in your own hidden years. It was a GIFT for my heart to see my own hiddenness in this season in a new light. I felt like the Lord whispered to my heart that I am seen and loved by him as I read this book. I loved her words on seeing today as the “main course” instead of the “appetizer.” Hidden, unseen days are not merely what you do as you wait for the “important” work the Lord has for you. Today is the main course! This book gave me a new excitement to be where he has placed me, even if it can feel lonely and unseen. I’m already looking forward to reading it again.

“In seasons of hiddenness our sense of value is disrupted, stripped of what “others” affirmed us to be. In this season God intends to give us an unshakable identity in Him, that no amount of adoration nor rejection can alter.”

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. —Matthew 4:1 The sky ripped open, the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove and rested upon Jesus, God thundered his unfailing love from the heavens, and then he ushered his beloved Son into . . . the desert? What? “I love you, Son. Enjoy . . . the desert”? Generally speaking, this series of events makes us a little uncomfortable. Can following God’s Spirit lead us straight into a desert? Would obedience deposit us in a wasteland? Could God’s loving will direct us to wander about in barren places? Evidently. From Jesus’ example, this appears to be true. We just do not talk about it often. Our earthbound hearts prefer to consider how following God leads us into happiness or health or wealth. “God led me into a desert! (hallelujah)” is just not the stuff T-shirts are made of. Even so, did not Jesus’ three decades of hiddenness already qualify as a desert experience? Yes. But in that desert of anonymity Jesus made peace with God’s timing and concluded that Father God’s companionship in his life was enough. From Jesus’ perspective, his hidden years were good years: neither wasted nor unwanted. Therefore, we find no evidence of resistance when the Holy Spirit directs Jesus into another type of desert. Matthew simply states that Jesus was “led” there.”

5/5 for me. I wanted to run out and buy tons of copies and give them to everyone I love. Highly recommend.

Emissary

Why I picked it up:

I liked to delve into genres occasionally that aren’t as comfortable for me, like fantasy. I have been pleasantly surprised more than once by a good story and truth (like with the Wingfeather Saga and Harry Potter.)

Why I liked it:

The magical world created is impressive. It takes great imagination to paint a believable place in all its complexities, and I felt more than satisfied. I appreciated the attention given to details critical to the story, while other parts were succinct. The story moved along without being confusing. The main character felt a little flat to me, and the romance a tad bit forced and/or unnecessary. The villain wasn’t developed much more than simply being incredibly evil. I really enjoyed several of the secondary characters though. I wanted more development of the main characters. I liked this book, but didn’t love it. I’m willing to admit that perhaps it is just because I’m not a young adult crazy about fantasy fiction. 3/5 for me.

Merchant of Alyss

Why I picked it up:

It was the sequel to Emissary and I wanted to know what happened. (Please note, this book would not work well as a stand-alone work. It is definitely best read after the first book.)

Why I liked it:

I enjoyed this one. I felt like the author built on what he had established in the first book. It held my attention and I appreciated the inner turmoil that came with the loss of magical powers in a world where they are so valuable. There is an interesting tension between several characters, as a single woman expresses interest in becoming the second wife to the main character. Although accepted in this culture, the disequilibrium and tension this brought out helped develop the characters. A deeper, fuller story than the first book. And as a bonus, I couldn’t help but imagine the main character looking much like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings.  3.5/5 for me.

*Revell Publishers have provided me with a complimentary copy of “Merchant of Alyss,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

Growing God’s Church

Why I picked it up:

I see how our culture interacts with Christianity shifting. I know tried methods of evangelism don’t work the way they did in the past. I was interested in what the author had to offer about how people are coming to faith today. I wanted to learn.

Why I liked it:

This book was a convicting read. Talking about evangelism and church feels messy and loaded. The author has conducted his own research on what brings people to faith today. He starts with a theological conversation about evangelism before sharing his research and practical application ideas. I’ve often struggled with how to present the gospel in a way that is genuine, not a memorized script. As someone who has always scored low in evangelism on any spiritual gifts test, this book provided some helpful reminders. The most effective tool is a conversation. Knowing how to tell my own story and how to listen to someone else is better than any technique or script.

“The gospel message requires a verdict. One either rejects Jesus or believes in him; there is no middle ground.”

“Our priority to proclaim the gospel of salvation to all the nation does not mean we should ignore serving our communities or mankind. Service without proclamation and proclamation without service are both futile. It is the gospel preached and lived that impacts humanity and society with power. Both need to be preserved, and the church must practice both. What makes the church unique is not its good deeds but its message of salvation in Jesus Christ.”

“Whatever means we use to proclaim, whether it is presence, proclamation or persuasion, the expectation is that, when we invite people to become Christ’s followers, our hearers must make a decision for or against Christ. We are called to a role of active proclamation of the gospel-a a proclamation with an invitation to accept or reject Jesus Christ. With this understanding, there is no such thing as a silent witness. We must use words. Modeling a good Christian lifestyle is just the foundation. No one ever came to Christ without some sort of proclamation and persuasion.”

I found this book to be a little dry in places, and the intended audience feels directed for those in church leadership, while still accessible for any Christian. But the call to a lifestyle of words and works is a needed one. 3.5/5 for me.

*Baker Books have provided me with a complimentary copy of “Growing God’s Church,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

Where She Belongs

Why I picked it up:

This felt like the book version of a romantic comedy, which is exactly what I wanted for a sick day.

Why I liked it:

On the surface, this looks like a typical story between two people who initially don’t get along, but then fall in love. I loved the depth that was added with the secondary story of the main characters’ grandparents. A family feud casts a shadow on the present day characters, without fully understanding why. I appreciated the truth the story offered of the impact of our actions on others, even several generations down the line. The book had a slow, steady pace to match the unfolding of the romance and the family mystery. It was a great way to relax as I was sick in bed. 3.5/5 for me.

*Revell Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “Where She Belongs,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

Hope Unfolding

Why I picked it up:

I liked Becky Thompson. I stumbled upon her blog, Scissortail Silk a few weeks ago now. She has good things to say to wives and moms. Nothing feels for show. Lots of cheering one another on in this thing we’re all doing. This is her first book, full of grace and truth for moms.

Why I liked it:

I’ll be honest. Things written to moms are sometimes hard for me. I don’t see myself primarily as my mom role, so sometimes it feels challenging to connect with things written to moms. This book had some of that for me. I didn’t resonate with everything she said, especially the bit about having trouble wearing anything other than sweats or maternity shorts. But I didn’t need to. Becky wrote about not being defined by our mess and the struggle to accept grace. And I needed to hear that.

“You are not your mess.”

“Because if we’re all being honest, things are never quite as put together as we want everyone else to believe (ourselves included). And the sooner we decide that that’s okay, the more life we will have to share with those around us.”

“We cannot expect to be good moms in our own strength. But when we allow ourselves to be washed in His simple whispers of grace, when we choose to hear the Lord say, “We can do this together! I’ve got you, and I’ve got them, and I’m going to help you,” that is the moment that we step out of the shadows. That is the moment where we stop feeling overwhelmed and start feeling like overcomers.”

I like Becky and I like her writing. She’s an honest, kind woman who can tell good (often comical) stories. She loves Jesus and isn’t afraid to tell you about the unpolished life she’s living as she follows him. I truly enjoyed her book. 4/5 for me.

*Blogging for Books has provided me with a complimentary copy of “Hope Unfolding,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

 

Friends, thank you for reading. It still blows me away that Jesus has asked me to write for more than just myself! Thanks for reading the words I write and letting me journey with you.

I want to give away a book this month. I think January can be a bit difficult. The magic and excitement of the holidays have passed. The routine and the mundane have returned. Maybe that is welcome. Maybe that is not. Either way, I want to give a book to one of you. I hope it can be a gift to your heart.

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Here’s how the giveaway will work.

The winner* will get to select one book from the following:

To be entered, all you have to do is one of the following. (Doing more than one of the following does not increase your chances of winning. One entry per person.)

  1. Comment on a blog post of mine. It doesn’t have to be this one. But if it is this one, I’d love to hear what is in your reading stack!
  2. Share the blog on Facebook or Instagram. It can be a quote of something I’ve written or or an individual blog post. Your pick. Just tag me in it, so I know to count it as your entry.
  3. Follow my blog.

I’ll pick a winner next Friday, January 29. Thanks for reading, friends.

*Unfortunately, I’ll be limiting the giveaway to the United States. My apologies to my international readers!  It is simply a matter of limited resources on my end. You are so loved and appreciated.

UPDATED 1/29: Sami is our winner for the giveaway! Her name was drawn and I’ll be popping a book in the mail for her soon. Thank you to everyone for participating and for reading. I’m so grateful for you.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Christine says:

    If one of your international readers enters and wins, can he or she have the book sent to another friend in the United States? (Does this comment count as an entry??) 😉

    Like

    1. That seems MORE than reasonable to me. 🙂 I love that idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mama Muse Me says:

    I liked your reviews for The Sacred Year and Me Before You. I want to check those out. Hope Unfolding sounds interesting too.

    Like

    1. Yay! I love recommending books and am excited for you to read them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mommy says:

    This is so good. I love hearing your heart. Any book you like, I like. The blind date one sounds great and Beginnings is very good!!!

    Like

    1. We are book twins. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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