What I Read: October 2017

I set a new record this month! Unfortunately, it’s a record for the LOWEST number of books I’ve read in a month in the almost three years that I’ve been tracking my reading.  I think there are two primary reasons for this “failure.” First, I have been quite busy and my brain is too tired to read when I get home from work and evening obligations. Second, I feel like I’ve been in a reading slump since mid-September. I haven’t loved the books I’ve picked up lately so I was less eager to keep reading.

So, with that said, here are the four books I read in October.

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – I really wanted to love this. There are some beautiful lines of inspiring writing. But I’ve come to learn that fantasy is just a genre than does not and probably will never resonate with me. Oh well.

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live (Melody Warnick) – I had some apprehension going in to this one because it is set in my beloved Blacksburg. The problem is that the author writes about Blacksburg as the town she didn’t love at all! I actually really enjoyed this one and appreciated the journey Warnick went on to love the place she lives.  It’s fun reading about your hometown since you’re able to picture all the places described in the book.  Also, the last couple chapter made me sob.  I love Blacksburg so much.

The Alice Network (Kate Quinn) – I think this one is being made into a movie and I think it will be a good one.  If you like historical fiction, especially set around the World Wars, you’ll like this book.  Each chapter goes back and forth between two characters and time periods, but it is easy to follow.

If I’m Found (Terri Blackstock) – This is the second book in a Christian suspense trilogy. I read the first about a year ago and really enjoyed it, but I think I’d forgotten too much of the plot of the first book.  I recommend waiting until the third book comes out this spring and reading all three at once.  It’s not award-winning fiction, but it’s a good, fast-paced story that keeps you wanting to know how it ends.

 

And that’s all the books I read last month. I hope November brings me out of this funk. Happy Reading!

Advertisements

What I Read: September 2017

Long story short, I didn’t read a whole lot in September. That’s not true – I read 7 books but never got so engrossed in one that I couldn’t put it down and that is unusual for me. Hopefully I find some winners in October.

Here’s what I read in September.

IMG_1082

The Breakdown (B.A. Paris) – A good suspense novel. A woman thinks she witnesses a murder, then becomes convinced the killer is stalking her. However, the evidence suggests she’s actually losing her mind. What’s going on? I must say I figured out the twist a third of the way into the book but I won’t spoil it here.  Worth your time.

The Pursuit of God (A.W. Tozer) – I can’t tell you how much I’ve been challenged by these short books by great Christian thinkers.  I read this one on kindle and I think it hurt my ability to get as much out of it.  I need to buy a hard copy and read it again.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling) – I just can’t with Harry Potter, you guys.  There is nothing about this series that appeals to me.  I borrowed the entire series from my sister nine months ago and this is only the third….ahhh! My goal is to return them to her (read) at Christmas.  It sounds like torture and I’m sorry.  It’s just not a genre I care about. I don’t even want to watch the movies.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Taylor Jenkins Reid) – I really enjoyed this book. Please don’t take that as an endorsement of every action taken by the title character…but I loved the way it was written and that, while not a mystery or suspense novel, kept the reader wondering until the last page.

You are Free: Be Who You Already Are (Rebekah Lyons) – as far as Christian-themed memoirs go, this one is pretty good.

All the Missing Girls (Megan Miranda) – I don’t think I had the mental energy for this book…or maybe the style wasn’t for me. It’s a murder mystery/suspense novel but the story is told backward, so you start with the last day, and back up to the day the crime was committed. I want to try a different novel by this author before I decide whether it’s her or me. 🙂

Free of Me: Why Life is Better When It’s Not About You (Sharon Hodde Miller) – this is my favorite book of the month.  It actually releases tomorrow (October 3).  Miller uses Scripture and personal experience to challenge us to raise our gaze to experience the freedom of self-forgetfulness.  This is an important book.

So there’s my relatively short list.  I’ve read 93 books so far this year and hope to reach 100 this month. I’ll be back in the beginning of November with another update.

Happy reading!

Church of the Small Things

Does any of this matter?

This is the question that haunts me on the bad days, the days when the mundane and seemingly trivial tasks get on my last nerve.  How many times with I have the same conversations with these overly dramatic 7th graders? Why does the kitchen sink stay so full of dishes when I’m the only person living in my house?!  I thought my life was going to be more than this. And I know it is more than this, but it’s also very much just this.

The answer to the original, of course, is yes, yes it does, and that is why I am so excited for Melanie Shankle’s book, Church of the Small Things.  In this book, Shankle shares the way these small moments can be beautiful and breathtaking in their own way.

faithful

Her stories resonated with me and as I read her words I remembered many similar moments in my own life.  Like just last week when my almost two-year-old niece pulled up a chair next to me while I was watching football and put her hand on my knee.  Just an ordinary beautiful day…

The most powerful memory, however, was that of the church house group my family went to when I was young. We met every Tuesday night at a dear elderly couple’s home.  My dad played the guitar and we sang worship songs together, then the kids went into the basement while the adults did a Bible study (I mean, I guess that’s what they did) and prayed together.  We kids played outside or in the basement until we heard the host call out “Ahoy down in the engine room!” – the signal for us to come running for snack time!

That house group was my family: my honorary grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my older brothers and sisters.

I remember some Tuesdays the adults took longer than others.  As the kids got antsy, one or two of us would sneak upstairs to see what they were doing and maybe get an idea of when they would be done.  Once when it was my turn I peeked into the room and saw a woman in tears, sharing something difficult, while several others held her close and prayed.  In that moment I saw clearly what the church was called to be.

Now, over 20 years later, I am the single 30 something in a multi-generational house group.  I stay upstairs with the grownups while the kids go into the basement.  It’s come full circle for me.  My favorite part of the group, though, is the kids. Because I know full well what a beautiful thing it is they get to see each week, and I hope I am showing them the love I received.

….

All that to say — GET THIS BOOK!  Church of the Small Things doesn’t release until October 3rd, but if you preorder now (on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) you will receive some awesome gifts just for preordering.

Once you’ve ordered, fill out the form here and receive:

  • My Favorite Things ebook by Melanie Shankle
  • Church of the Small Thing Video Study Session 1
  • 4 Downloadable prints from the cover artist
  • A book themed lock screen
  • The first 3 chapters of the book so you can start reading now!
  • Coupon codes for some discounts on Melanie’s favorite things
  • 5 recipes

(And, the book usually arrives on release day when you order it this way, so that’s an added bonus.)

churchsmallthings

What I Read: August 2017

Another month has come and gone! August was jam-packed with back to school activities, but I still managed to read 10 books, although they probably had a lower average page count than other months.

Here’s what I read in August.

IMG_0915

One True Loves – Taylor Jenkins Reid (library; paperback) – This is a sweet story and excellent palate cleanser, summer read, or just something to escape the world with. I give it about 3.75/5 stars. Pages 85-93 are the most beautiful and poignant words I’ve read in a while. The whole story is worth it for that piece.

Lord, Teach Us To Pray – Andrew Murray (kindle) – I read this because my church did a 6 week series on prayer by the same name, and I’d had the book in my queue for a while. Andrew Murray is one of my favorite writers. I think I underlined something on every page.

The Lying Game – Ruth Ware (kindle, from Netgalley) – This is a good suspense novel that keeps you guessing.  I really liked one of Ware’s books, then really disliked another. This one was good for what it is, but a little formulaic, so if you’re only reading 20 books a year, pass on this one.

Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted – Shannan Martin (kindle) – a Christian-themed memoir from a popular blogger who I don’t follow.  It was interesting, but I had trouble drawing any sort of clear applications.

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance – Ben Sasse (library; hardback) – This book is fascinating! I must admit that I skimmed some of it because I lost track of time and it was overdue and I hate library fines.

Behold the Dreamers – Imbulo Mbue (kindle) – I’d been meaning to read this one for a while, but then Oprah picked it for her book club, which meant it took a long time for my hold to come through on Overdrive.  I liked it, but it’s not the best immigrant story I’ve read this year.  Maybe I would have liked it more before all the hype.

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land – Monica Hesse (audiobook) – This is the true story of a Bonnie and Clyde pair of arsonists who set nearly a fire a day over a span of several months in Accomack County, Virginia. Hesse covered the arsons for the Washington Post, and tells the story as if it were happening in real time.  I loved it!

The Stars Are Fire – Anita Schreve (library; hardback) – this book is set in Maine in the 1940s.  A summer drought is made worse by a series of serious wildfires that ran up the Maine coastline and left many small towns in shambles.  This novel follows the plight of one young woman trying to save her young family.  It was an enjoyable and quick read, though I could have done without some of the plot points.

Humility – Andrew Murray (kindle) – I should probably just continually read and re-read this one.

Hush (Eishes Chayil) – Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym for an unnamed writer. The word is Hebrew for “woman of valor”.  Eishes Chayil tells the dark story of rape and incest in her Orthodox Jewish community – a crime even her parents tried to cover up for years.  This was a difficult read for a book sold as YA.  I appreciated the story but my total ignorance about the culture made reading it a laborious task as the customs and vocabulary were completely foreign to me.

I will most likely reach my goal of 100 books sometime in September or October, so I am way ahead of schedule.  My goal for the next two months is to only read books I already own but haven’t read yet.  If a library hold comes in, I will read it, but I will not spend any money on books.

What have you been reading lately?

 

What I Read: July 2017

As I was reflecting on this past month as a reader, I was pleasantly surprised by both the total number of books I completed and the number of books I actually liked.  I read a few toward the end of the month that I really did not enjoy and I feel like I’m in a reading funk.  Fortunately, they really weren’t all bad.  🙂

july reads

Here’s what I read in July:

Where They Found Her (Kimberly McCreight) – a fast-paced suspense novel. It wasn’t my favorite but those who love this genre will enjoy this one.

When We Were Worthy (MaryBeth Whalen) – releases September 12, 2017 – LOVE this book.  Whalen’s writing gets better with each release, and this story arc was quite a departure from her beach romance novels.  This centers around the aftermath of a tragedy in a small town.  So good!

The Sound of Gravel (Ruth Wariner) – this is Wariner’s memoir of growing up in a polygamist community in Mexico, her struggles and eventual escape.  I found it so fascinating – the reader can feel her personal heartbreak and trauma, and, later, her triumph and redemption.

Finding Your Voice: What Every Woman Needs to Live her God-given Passions Out Loud (Natalie Grant) – I love Natalie Grant as a singer, but this book was disappointing.  The message was great, but the writing was weak and redundant.

The Dry (Jane Harper) – This is the first in what will be a series about a detective named Aaron Falk.  I enjoyed it, but it isn’t the must-read novel of the month.

When Dimple Met Rishi (Sandhya Menon) – This one came highly recommended.  It’s a YA novel about two children of immigrants from India who discover their parents have essentially already arranged their marriage.  It had many endearing qualities, but I didn’t love it.  It seemed a bit too cheesy and unrealistic.

Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham) – This is another YA pick and I was so impressed. The story is set in Tulsa, OK, and flips back and forth between the race riots in 1921 and the present day.  Latham shows the ways race relations in Tulsa have and haven’t changed and breathes new life into an often overlooked event in history.

The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas) – My third YA of the month, although the language and events in this book make me a little wary of calling it that.  It seems very “adult” to me, but maybe I was overly sheltered in my younger teen years.  The title comes from Tupac’s explanation of the term T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E – “the hate u give little infants f***s everyone”.  Starr Carter is our narrator in this story, and through her eyes we watch a young black man be killed by a police officer, and then witness the response of the black community in the months that follow.  Intense. Painful. Powerful.

Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living (Shauna Niequist) – I wanted to like this book. I really did.  Some of the essays resonated with me, but for the most part, I was SO BORED.  Sorry, fans of Shauna!

Girl in Snow (Danya Kukafka) – released August 1 – The publisher sent me this to read and review so I did but it was AWFUL.  Terrible. Don’t read it. I don’t even want to tell you about it.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (Fredrik Backman) – Two of Backman’s books are on my all time favorites list (A Man Called Ove and Beartown), but this one never hooked me the way his others did.  I’m sure there are many who would enjoy it, but it wasn’t for me.

We  Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) – This was really more of a short story/essay based on a TEDtalk by the author.  Drawing from her experiences as a child in Africa, data, and simple logic, Adichie shows us that feminism is good for everyone.  Success doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.  What’s good for women is good for humanity.  I liked it.

I’ve now read 76 (!!!) books this year.  At this rate, I will hit 100 in mid September, far ahead of the last couple years.  My goal for the year was 100, so I’m excited to see where I end up.

As always, I’d love your recommendations, if you have them. 🙂

What I Read: June 2017

Apparently I read for all kinds of reasons, and one of them is to avoid doing things I don’t want to do…like finish typing my school administration internship log so I can finish my program.  It’s due at the end of July and is tedious work (that’s what happens when you don’t write the “reflection” piece as you go…WHY!). Of course part of the reason it’s taking so long is that I chose to read 15 books this month and little else.

What this means is July may not have a high reading total.  I’ve grounded myself from reading until I submit this document.  It could get ugly around here.  I’m also heading to the beach for a week mid-month, so I hope to finish before then.  If I don’t, well, this may be the last What I Read post for a long time.

Here’s what I read in June.

June Reads.jpg

Before I give you my thoughts, I thought I’d add a little bit to my monthly summaries.  Some have asked how I find/get these books and in what format I read them.  From now on I will be adding this information. I’m also going to write another post sometime soon (probably while avoiding my internship journal) about how I decide what to read, how I track my reading, etc.

Alright, here we go.

  • Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson (kindle book, borrowed from Overdrive) – I’ve never read a Dee Henderson book I haven’t liked.  Just good suspense and always ends with hope.  This one and Threads of Suspicion are the first two in a cold case series.  I enjoyed them both.
  • Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson (library book) – see above.
  • Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon (library book) – this is a historical fiction novel that takes place aboard the Hindenburg during its ill-fated last flight.  It moved a little too slowly for me, but I did appreciate the author’s imagination.
  • And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman (kindle book, borrowed from Overdrive) – it’s only about 95 pages but you’ll need to keep your tissues close.  The story of an old man and his grandson as they navigate his progressing dementia.
  • She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You by Chrystal Evans Hurst (kindle ARC from NetGalley – releases August 8th) – I am so glad I was able to read this book and will definitely buy a paper copy in August. Chrystal is able to navigate a difficult subject and balance the tension between knowing yourself and finding your identity in Christ. I must admit was I concerned because sometimes the Evans family get a little too close to the prosperity gospel train, but I didn’t get that from this book.
  • The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen (library book) – a great beach read – the air of mystery and a healthy dose of romance.  It also helps that it takes place at the beach!
  • Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife by Ruth A. Tucker (kindle from NetGalley) – drawing from personal experience and her interpretation of theology, Tucker addresses what she sees as a serious problem in the church.  I agreed with most, but definitely not all, that she had to say.  I think her personal experiences (understandably) influence her interpretation of Scripture and she ascribes malice to some church leaders where I don’t think it’s appropriate.
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys (kindle, I bought it) – This is another YA historical fiction novel that highlights a little-known event in history.  This is inspired by the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, which apparently was the single greatest tragedy in maritime history and I never heard of it.  Why?
  • Unseen: the Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed by Sara Hagerty (kindle ARC from NetGalley – releases August 29th) – I love Sara Hagerty’s writing and couldn’t wait to read this book. It did not disappoint. Sara points out the beauty and significance of every day life. In Colossians, Paul writes “For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” While many of us struggle with being unseen, through these pages we learn that hidden with Christ is a precious space. I smiled, I wept, and my heart was filled with joy. There is healing in these words.  It is definitely a contender for best book of the year for me. I will be buying this one.
  • The Good Widow by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (kindle ARC from NetGalley – released June 1st) – The perfect summer thriller!  I could not put this book down!! In the days since Gone Girl, the thriller/suspense genre has gotten a bit overloaded and I’ve been underwhelmed by many of them. This one, however, did not disappoint. Fast-paced and character driven – the best of both worlds.
  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman (library book) – someone described this book as Missoula meets You Will Know Me and after reading both, I get what they mean.  However, I mostly just see this as a fictionalized account of Missoula.  It was a hard read with some major trigger warnings but it is worth it for the ending.  I sobbed when it was over (not because of the ending necessarily, but out of exhaustion from the whole emotional journey).
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny (kindle ARC from NetGalley – releases August 29th) – this is the latest release in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.  I’ve read of few of them in the last couple years but they haven’t resonated with me.  That being said, when I was offered the ARC I decided to try one more time.  And this series is just not for me.  It’s a good story, well told and beautifully written, but I want my mysteries to be told at a faster clip.  This was too poetic for my taste.
  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (library book) – another suspense story – this one in the world of competitive gymnastics.  Nothing is as it seems…
  • A Theology of Biblical Counseling by Heath Lambert (kindle from NetGalley) – apparently there is a difference between Biblical counseling and Christian counseling.  I did not know this until I read this book.  This gave me some ideas to consider.
  • Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight out of this Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker (kindle ARC from NetGalley – releases August 8th) – I was anxious to read this book just because of all the controversy Hatmaker’s found herself in recently.  Honestly, I think this book will be highly praised and successful in the monetary sense, but I found it unremarkable.  Hatmaker is a good storyteller.  She’s funny.  But I didn’t see any real depth here (sorry!) and I don’t really understand the point of the book.  I think I would like being her friend but if I’m going to have to choose a spiritual mentor, I’d certainly go with Jen Wilkin, Gloria Furman, or Sara Hagerty.

What I Read: May 2017

I can’t believe it’s already June! The year is flying by.  May was a busy month for me with state testing/the end of the school year and homework for my classes.  I also moved 6 days ago! Despite the stress of it all and a serious case of decision fatigue, everything went well and I’ve enjoyed my first week of summer.   I get to pick the days I work in the summer so I only worked two days this week.  In all honesty, I probably should have taken the whole week off.  The move has been very stressful for my dog and I think I was away from him a little too long.  For that reason I am staying in this weekend and hoping he gets more comfortable with the new routine.

Once again my 30 minutes a day rule really served me well and I exceeded my book goal for the month.  I only failed to read two of the days!

may books

Everything, Everything (Nicola Yoon) – I Loved this book! This is a YA novel (and the movie just released a couple weeks ago).  This would be perfect to take with you to the beach, the pool, or anywhere you know you’ll be mildly distracted. I read it in a day. My rating: 5 stars!

7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness (Eric Metaxas) – It me longer than it should have for me to read this book.  It is rather dry from a storytelling perspective but it is well-researched and informative.  Metaxas shares a brief faith biography of seven women and I appreciated learning about their important accomplishments. I’d never heard of some of them and discovered how little I actually knew about the others.  My rating: 3.5 stars.

Water into Wine: Hope for the Miraculous in the Struggle of the Mundane (Kelly Minter) – this was Kelly Minter’s first book, but the last of hers that I read.  Having read her other works, I could see that this is not her best, but it does have great insights about Jesus’s first miracle.  If you were going to pick just one of her books, though, I’d skip this one (not because it’s bad but because the others are so much better). My rating: 3 stars.

Church of the Small Things: the Million Little Pieces that make up a Life (Melanie Shankle) – this book actually releases in October, but I received an advance copy from netgalley.com in exchange for my feedback.  I love Shankle’s voice and way of spinning a tale.  This was an enjoyable read, but not my favorite of her books.  I knew it would be difficult to follow Nobody’s Cuter Than You. My rating: 3.5 stars.

Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World (Tsh Oxenreider) – If you love Tsh’s blog and podcast I’m sure you’ll love her books.  I was not familiar with her stuff and bought this because it was a Kindle deal of the day.  I don’t want to criticize her writing or ideas – this just wasn’t at all for me. My rating: 2 stars.

The Sacrament of Happy: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World (Lisa Harper) – I was so excited to be chosen to be on the launch team for this book, which released YESTERDAY.  Lisa addresses a rather difficult topic with humor and depth and draws attention to a side of the Father that can be difficult to understand.  She borrows many of her ideas from Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness, so I’ve added that to my TBR list.  My rating: 4 stars.

The Book of Unknown Americans (Christina Henriquez) – I picked this one up because of my goal to read one #diversevoices book every month.  This novel is set in Delaware and shares the experiences of several Latin American immigrant families.  It was moving and challenging.  My rating: 4 stars.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Timothy Keller) – I will never be qualified to critique Tim Keller’s work so I won’t even put a rating on this one.  Comforting and convicting, I will be keeping this one close and reading it again.

Dark Matter (Blake Crouch) – I don’t normally read sci-fi….in fact, I think I’ve maybe read 4 total since I started tracking my reads 300ish books ago.  This one held my attention and I felt like I was reading a movie, but the premise (of parallel universes) is one that doesn’t usually pique my imagination.  That being said, if you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably love this.  My rating: 3 stars (but a 5 could be justified).

Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng) – this book was on my TBR list for a long time. I was hooked from the first line – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”  This is a powerful story of a Chinese-American family in the 1970s, a moving portrait of families in general.  I loved this book.  My rating: 5 stars.

Love Story (Karen Kingsbury) – This is another netgalley.com find and the book will release next week.  The more I read the less I like Kingsbury’s books because I think she (or her publisher) far prefer getting out new books quickly at the expense of quality writing.   Her stories are beginning to feel like Christian melodrama and I find it disappointing.  That being said, this is another in the Baxter family series and I do love those characters so I will always read these books.  If you’ve read and enjoyed others in the series, you will enjoy this one as well.

The Girl You Left Behind (JoJo Moyes) – I’m a Moyes fan, but this one started out slow for me.  I almost abandoned it, but I am glad I persisted.  The story did not take the path I expected, and I appreciated the twists. I wouldn’t call it suspense, but there is an air of mystery.  My rating: 3 stars.

 

Total Books Read in 2017: 50.

What have you been reading lately?