what I’ve been reading. November 2018

One of my friends recently owned up to not being much of a reader, and naming what works for her. For her, it is memoirs and audiobooks. That’s what works, and after naming it, she’s been reading much more.

It was so encouraging to hear that, and I’m naming for myself that although I’m such a reader, fiction almost always feeds me more life than something non-fiction. Stories are my heart’s language, and I’m invited more of them in and trying to be selective about the non-fiction I’m giving time to. So far, I have no complaints.

Sea Witch

This lovely book was about Ursula’s origin story. (Although her name isn’t actually Ursula in this one.) I love fairy tales reimagined and this one was a delight, even if it doesn’t have the happy ending. I loved rooting for this girl we only know as a villain later on.
I love this reminder of perspective. Depending on who is telling the story or what information they have can inform who the villain is. This was an imaginative, magical story of friendship, betrayal, and romance, telling what happened before the little mermaid showed up. A- for me.


I didn’t know if I would like this story that had a ghost element to it. But this was truly a lovely read. This novel goes back and forth between the seven year war and modern times, unveiling a romance in each time period. I loved the depth of feeling as the relationships developed without the distraction of sexual content. I loved seeing the characters learn and grow themselves. This felt like the perfect fall read. This was my first book by Susanna Kearlsey, but it won’t be my last. A- for me.

Magnolia Table

This book was simply LOVELY to look at. I shouldn’t be surprised by that. Appearance and beauty are some of what Joanna Gaines is so good at. This book was more evidence of that. The photos were just beautiful.
But on the recipe side, I was disappointed by how much packaged food was involved. And I am never expecting a book like this to be totally gluten-free friendly, this one felt especially difficult for those with allergies. I absolutely loved thumbing through its pages but it wasn’t one I would practically cook from. B- for me.

Dear Mr. Knightley

This one was a truly enjoyable read. For fans of Jane Austen, there are so many references to her works as the main character has spend many years surviving by vicariously living through classic novels. And I can think of so many ways this wouldn’t work, but here, all the Austen references truly worked. I loved the letter format of this book, and the growth toward vulnerability, courage and working through trauma. I guessed who the mysterious Mr. Knightley was, but it was still so satisfying. The ending felt a little off for me, as it was the only part that was told in third person, but otherwise, I really enjoyed this one. A- for me.

The Seven Deadly Friendships

Adult friendships can be so difficult, and this timely book offers tools to discern why that might be. I love Mary’s humble heart that not only identifies the extremes of each “deadly” friendship she addresses, but the subtle ways dysfunction and sin can creep into our own hearts. Her honesty and vulnerability makes this a tender book, pointing back to Jesus and the hope he offers us for healing from friendship wounds, and forgiveness for the wounds we inflict to our friends.

Mary is a prayerful, gentle teacher, and this book is a powerful one. I was convicted and encouraged as I read. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone in relationship with other people. A for me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own. 

Won’t you be my neighbor?

This movie was so lovely. I’m convinced we need to hear the stories of good, faithful, normal people. Fred Rogers was one of those people. I was struck by his humility, his conviction and his courage that marked every season of his adult life.
As I watched, I kept thinking, “this is how Jesus loves people!” Mr. Rogers didn’t have to preach a sermon when he lived one out. His Christian faith was not censored out of the film, but depicted as a beautiful integration of his whole life. This movie was the perfect one to watch with friends, as we sipped tea & wiped away a few tears. I’m so grateful for the faithfulness of this man and for getting to see more of his story. Highly, highly recommend.


Mariana felt like the perfect thing to read on such a cozy fall day. This book assumes a belief in reincarnation as a way to explain the time travel-esqe element. As someone who doesn’t believe in reincarnation, I had to come to a place of agree-to-disagree in order to appreciate the story. It was truly a lovely one, jumping between two times and two love stories. I’m glad I pushed through, but I know the reincarnation element might be too much for some.
B+ for me.

Love Does for Kids

My husband and I read “Love Does” aloud to each other while I was pregnant with our daughter, so it feels especially sweet to share the children’s edition of this book with her now. The illustrations are so lovely and only enhance Bob’s whimsical storytelling. I love the shorter chapters, as they feel just long enough with a child leaning in close. We all need these messages of who Jesus is and what Love looks like. I’m so grateful for a way to share it so easily with my children.
A for me.

PS. If you want to see a glimpse inside the pages, check out my original post here.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own. 

To all the boys I’ve loved before

What a fun weekend read this was. I had already seen the Netflix adaptation, and enjoyed this more in-depth version. For those of you who are new to the story, Lara Jean has private letters she’s written to her crushes throughout the years actually get mailed to them, without her knowledge! She exchanges her quiet, unassuming role in her high school for a much more noticed one, as she deals with the aftermath of the letters being read.
Lara Jean is relatable, quirky and so endearing. I was surprised how much more she engages with Josh than in the movie. Peter felt slightly more flawed than his movie version, but I still liked him. I liked what this story says about the risk of relationships, and what it means to let ourselves be present to what we want.
This story may be flawed but I found it to be endearing in both book & movie form. I’m ready to read the next installment in the series! A- for me.

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Just Mercy

I couldn’t put down this book. Bryan Stevenson tells story after story of his own experience as a lawyer, defending those who have been incarcerated. My heart broke to see the realities of our prison system, and what we call justice. I cried as I read this pages, ashamed at my ignorance for how those who are weaker are treated. I was horrified how much of these stories have taken place in my lifetime, or that continue today. This book didn’t speak the name of Jesus very much, but the truth of the gospel was lived out in each story of redemption and second chance given. I want everyone who claims to love Jesus to read this book. If we are serious about doing what Jesus asked of us, in loving those who are poor and in prison and in need, we have to know what is happening to them.
When I finished the book, I told my daughter I’d just read a book that was so sad. It was sad because it told about bad things being done to people who were locked up. It wasn’t fair and I didn’t know what to do. She smiled at me and told me that she knew what to do. We would help them. Her answer might have been simple, but it was still the truth. We will help.
I continue to pray that Jesus would help me know what might part in bringing his justice and mercy is. I’m so grateful for this heartbreaking, beautiful book. A for me.

Muse of Nightmares

I picked up “Muse of Nightmares” but quickly saw it was a sequel. So I found “Strange the Dreamer” and found myself drawn into this story.
I finished each book in a day. The first book took its time introducing this fantasy world & it’s characters, but I was hooked. I loved what these books said about hate and the people we turn into our enemies. Some of them have done unspeakable evil, but it was beautiful to see the redemption that was linked to everyone’s salvation as this story unveiled. Healing comes from connection and forgiveness.
There were flaws to be sure and some sexual content, but it was handled more tastefully than some. A- for me.

Dear Mrs. Bird

I heard this one was for fans of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I always fear the expectations that come with hearing that it is like such a beloved book. Just know that it more like a cousin to Guernsey than a sister. It takes place in WWII and involves letters and a lovely heroine but the comparison probably ends there. That being said…
I loved this book. This debut novel is based on the author’s discovery of an advice column in a women’s magazine from 1939. This is the story of Emmy, a would-be journalist who takes the job as a typist to a cranky old woman who answers the advice column at a women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird wants nothing to do with any Unpleasantness. But Emmy feels for these women in hard places who write in. So she starts writing them back.
The premise was endearing. I loved the friendship between Emmy and her dear pal, Bunty. I loved the courage of these normal people in horrendous circumstances. Some parts were predictable but I didn’t mind. This was a lovely read, with a good blend of humor and seriousness. A- for me.

The Passion of Mary-Margaret

This is one of my favorite books. I try to listen to nudges (that I assume are the Holy Spirit) when it is time to ignore my library stack and pile to be read, and open up familiar pages. Yesterday I got one of those nudges and was so happy to find myself back with Mary-Margaret’s story.
This story makes me love Jesus more. And for a character to talk to Jesus and it not feel stiff or cliche, but to reflect that REAL Jesus that I experience and love, is truly rare. I cried, telling my husband about one of my favorite parts, and he had to clarify that this is fiction. It is, but it also isn’t, because it reflects the reality of redemption and the depth of love that is ours in Jesus. That is the most real kind of story there is.
When I think about the book I want to write, it is this kind of book. A story that tells the truth of who Jesus is and makes the people who read it fall in love with him too. A+ for me.

PS. At the time of posting there, you can get an used copy on Amazon for less than $5, which includes shipping costs!

“Failure is a gift. When we are forced to drink the dust of our idols, we can begin to turn our sights toward home. It is a gift when we run into the places where they cease to satisfy. We fight with our spouses. Our children don’t perform. Our job hijacks our time and fails ro capture our affections. We suffer from depression, anxiety, and trying to wrestle a family schedule, all the while wondering what we do so much driving for. Success, esteem, good work to do, sharing food with others on your granitue countertops, all point to the weight of glory that mere objects cannot hold. And when the objects break, when you lose your job, when your wife gets ill, when relationships are rocky, it all crumbles like the dust it is.” (29)

Finding Holy in the Suburbs

This book was one I lingered with. Ashley Hales named, practically on every page, the discomfort and disequilibrium I experience as a middle class American. How do I live a faithful life for the Lord when consumerism surrounds me and influences me? This book was tremendously convicting AND hopeful. These pages spoke to the brokenness that suburban life holds, but also beyond that to the God-given desire for home that we all have. I loved the invitation to repentance, shalom, generosity and vulnerability that is found here. I’m still thinking and praying through the truth I found here. Ashley is an honest, much-needed voice to our American Christian culture. I’m so grateful for her book. A for me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own. 

What a joy it was to start using these lovely journals. I find such joy in doodling and coloring in the margins of my journal and these seemed to just invite creativity into my journaling time.

Illuminate Your Story takes the idea of illuminated letters from manuscripts in the Middle Ages. Scattered throughout more typical lined pages for journaling are short tutorials for embellishing entires with detailed designs and letters. I loved the opportunity to practice in the midst of my actual journalling. I also love the elastic band holding the journal shut & the pen holder.

The Illustrated Word is a more typical journal with its lined pages, but it also contains forty illustrations taken from the archives of the Museum of the Bible to color in. This feels like such a meaningful way to engage with Scripture, as one not only colors the illustrations but is reminded of one’s place within the history of Christianity. One of my favorite pages is taken from a 12th century text in what is now modern day Turkey.

The Faith and Lettering Journal is probably my favorite of the three. I love different kinds of pages to journal: tiny dotted graph paper, lined pages with big margins, plus tips on how to practice your own lettering tastefully sprinkled on the sides of a few pages. I also loved the pen holder on this one, as I am always hunting for a pen when it is time to journal. I loved how beautiful this journal was on its own, and the space to make add to its beauty.

You can see a few glimpses inside the pages of each one hereI received a copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own. 

I’ll be your blue sky

I loved this story. I thought it tastefully tackled some difficult topics like physical and emotional abuse. I loved how it showed how easily someone might be entangled with someone who is manipulative or emotionally abusive. I appreciated the way it showed consequences for sex outside of marriage. This book made my heart ache for those who experience abuse within their marriage. Most books that touch on this topic are too much for my sensitive heart, but this one seemed to communicate the weight of abuse while still protecting the reader. And I just loved the two heroines. This might be my favorite of Marisa De Los Santos so far. A for me.


What have you been reading, friends?

PS. If you want to read my book reviews in real time, come follow along on Instagram.

Affiliate links included in this post. 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. TJ says:

    I loved Dear Mr. Knightly. It was probably my favorite of the Reay books I have read. Just Mercy is also good in a different way. You had a great list of books. I put a few on my to-read list. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Linda Stoll says:

    Wow, Alison, you are some prolific reader and your reviews are so in depth. And the picture right at the top with its bright pop of color was exactly what I needed on this wintry morn’.

    So good to connect with you over our mutual love for books …


  3. Heidi Hillman says:

    I just added several of these recommendations to my library queue. Thank you! Just Mercy sounds incredible! I can’t wait to read it.


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