Friday, January 01, 2016

I read 27 books this year, and here are my reviews on them.

Friends, I completed 27 books this year (not including the whole Bible).  Twenty-five of which were non-fiction.  It was a rich year.  I grew, I was challenged, I was encouraged, and I was entertained.  So I decided to dedicate this post to review all of these books in hopes that it would lead a few of you to give some of these a try.  Each book is linked to its location on Amazon.

But before I started with the reviews, I thought I would answer a few of the most common questions I get regarding reading -- 

1.  When do you find time to read?  

I read when I can.  In the morning before the kids get up, during nap time, or in the evening after the kids go to bed.  As a habit, I normally have a book or two next to my reclining chair.  Whenever I am sitting there I will pick up my book and read a few pages at a time.  It's amazing how much reading you can get done if you are patient and consistent.  You don't need hours upon hours to do it.  You just need a habit.

I must also clarify that there are a lot of things I choose not to do that open up my time for reading.  I am not in a Bible study, I don't work outside of the home, I watch very little TV, and I have unfollowed many people on Facebook, which makes scrolling down my News Feed less time-consuming.  I also choose to make reading a priority in my life.

2.  How do you choose the books you read?

As a general rule, I try NOT to purchase any books.  Therefore what I mostly end up reading are books that people either lend me or that I get from the library
Sometimes there will be a good deal on a Kindle book and I will buy and download it to my iPad and read it there.  Other times I will sell my used books I don't care for at 2nd and Charles and get credit to then buy new-to-me books there.  But most of the time I either borrow books or get them from the library.

A word about the library -- use it!  You will need to be patient most of the time, but so worth it.  I have an account that I can manage from home through my computer.  Many books you put on hold will take a  a few days or weeks to arrive, but if you have a few on hold at a time, it normally works out alright.

3.  Have you always been a reader?

No.  As a matter of fact, I remember seven years ago this time of year Byron challenging me to read four books throughout the year.  And well, as they say, the rest is history.  
Fact of the matter is that I enjoy reading.  I have met some of my best friends, some of my greatest mentors, some of my greatest heroes, and some of the my greatest counselors within the pages of books.  In the words of C. S. Lewis -- "We read to know we are not alone."

Reading also makes me multidimensional.  It keeps me from just talking about what I know within the context of my life.  It makes me diverse and able to hold a variety of conversations with different kinds of people.  

And reading continues to educate me.  Just because I am no longer in school does not mean I should stop learning.  


And so, without further ado, here are all 27 books I read in 2015 in the order in which they were completed:

 by (various authors)

I saw this one circulating for free early this year, so I thought I'd give it a try.  It was OK.  It's basically a compilation of articles and blog posts written by each of the authors.  Written in response to the "Mommy Wars," which seems to have been fueled by the TIME magazine cover of a young mother nursing her five-ish year old.  The only chapters I remember really liking are the ones written by Rachel Jankovic.  It's a fast and easy read, so give it a try if you're even mildly interested.

by Corrie ten Boom

Absolutely outstanding!  I don't know what else to say other than to encourage you to do yourself a favor and go read it.  NOW!  Yes, stop reading this right now, click on the link above and buy it.  NOW!  You back?  Great!

It is a hard read.  I must confess I suffered severe insomnia while I read it.  I believe the Spirit of God was moving me in incredibly ways during that time.  I walked away a changed person. 

The story of Corrie ten Boom -- a single woman in her 50s, living with her dad and sister.  She expected to spend the rest of her life caring for them, and she was OK with that.  But just when she thought her life had become predictable, WWII happens and with it the ten Booms rise as one of its greatest heroes.

I love Corrie.  I love her words, her heart, her boldness, and her story.

by Shauna Niequist

A fun and easy read.  Not a life-changing book by any means.  A book you can start, put down for a while, then pick up again later.  Short chapters.  She includes a number of her favorite recipes.  Covers topics such as running marathons, miscarriage, infertility, community, sitting around the table with loved ones, being married to someone with celiac disease, etc.

by Anne Ortlund

 I read the book in a day, and gained a lot of insight and wisdom from it.  Anne is bold and unafraid to say things the way she believes they should be, and does this un-apologetically.  She is a godly woman, so everything she says is filtered through that profound love she has for the Lord.

by Jen Wilkin

Great read.  I also read it in a day.  A book that put into words many of the things the Lord had been teaching me recently in response to reading the whole Bible and enjoying his Word.

I quote this book all the time.  My most favorite is --

"The heart cannot love what the mind does not know."

This book taught me a lot about how to study the Bible.  It taught me to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture (instead of always going straight to commentaries).  It taught me how to do inductive Bible study on my own.  It taught me to stay away from certain "fads" that exist within the Christian community regarding Bible study.  All in all, a rich and equipping book.

by Myquillyn Smith

This was probably the book that influenced me the most practically.  I actually believe that it came as an answer to prayer.  We were in the final stages of deciding whether or not we would buy the 3x larger home that we are in now, and I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the size of this house, wondering how I could ever decorate and make this house our home on a limited budget.  And then comes The Nesting Place.  Myquillyn gave me the confidence to just do things around the house... that they don't have to be perfect to be beautiful.  That I may just already have all that I need to decorate my home, and don't need to go out somewhere and spend 5K to make my house beautiful.

She refined my thrift shopping skills, taught me to paint furniture, and to randomly put things together on display around the house, even if "the experts" may not agree with my style.  She gave me the needed spark I lacked to spend time on Pinterest learning tips on how to arrange bookcases, design gallery walls, and paint mason jars as decoration.

The Burden of being Champ:  The Dropout, the Legend, the Pediatrician
by Dr. Jerry Miller, Jr.

This was a sweet book for me to read.  Dr. Miller is a dear friend to the family I married into, and was Byron's pediatrician growing up.  We now have the privilege of calling him our very own family pediatrician, and our children love him dearly.

Through this book, Dr. Miller walks you through his childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, medical school, residency, medical practice, and family life.  What I loved the most of this book was seeing the Lord's faithfulness in his life.  How the Lord took a simple man, with a simple life, and a simple family, and made a Name for Himself through him.  The middle part of the book, where he talks about his medical training and practice, brought tears to my eyes in just about every chapter.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness:  The Path to True Christian Joy
by Tim Keller

This was a short, sweet, and to-the-point book (and super cheap!).  I love how Tim Keller's mind operates, so pretty much anything by him is mind-blowing to me.

If you, like me, are constantly seeking the expansion of your own kingdom instead of the Lord's Kingdom, then this book is for you. 

Radical Purity:  Simple Steps to Protect a Pure Lifestyle
by David Edwards 

This book was awful, and the only reason why I read it completely was because my sister gave it to me (she knows this, so I am not afraid to shout this to the four winds).  It is after reading this book that I realized I would much rather read a secular book, than a religious/"Christian" book I disagree with.

There was nothing grand about this book.  One of those books I feel I could have written myself in middle school.  There were grammatical errors, which drive me nuts!  (I have no perfect grammar myself, never mind that most of my formal education took place in a different country and in a different language, but my humble opinion is that if you are going to go through the trouble of being formally published, then you need to make sure your grammar is correct).

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself
by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

 With Byron as the Mercy Chair and deacon at church, the question of how to best help those in need was often a topic of discussion.  This book came highly recommended, and I believe it gave me a deeper (and newer?) perspective of how best deal this.

One of my favorite chapters in this book was the one on short term missions.  As someone who grew up in an often short-term-mission-trip visited region of the world, I always struggled with the idea of this.  I think that as Americans we need to reevaluate the purpose and ways in which these trips are done, and I believe this book did a good job at addressing this.

War of Words: Getting to the Heart of your Communication Struggles
by Paul Tripp

Byron had for years been encouraging me to read this book, and finally got around to it when a friend just gave it to me.  I enjoyed the book.  It wasn't necessarily and "easy read," but very insightful.

This book taught me about the weight and long-term effect our words can have on other people.  This book not only encouraged me to be wise with the use of them, but it also taught me how to process hurtful words that have been said against me.

The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Wealth and Generosity
by Dave Ramsey

America should be thankful for Dave Ramsey.  He has done a great job educating us on managing well our money.  I love his quote "to live like no one else, so you can later live AND give like no one else."  I love that he is an outspoken Christian, and respected inside and outside of Christian circles.  A man of integrity.

My only pickle with DR is that he goes around claiming that "his way" of handling money is "God's way."  I see no detailed "Baby Steps" anywhere in the Bible, and the fact that he so boldly claims this drives me nuts.  He is also a bit of a jerk.

This book was an easy, quick read.  A few things were over my head, and truth be told, I didn't actually put anything into practice (yet) that this book suggests.  Wills, retirements plans, etc.  It did, however, plant a seed in my mind about thinking far ahead into my future.  Thinking not only about our retirement, but of what kinds of things we need to be doing now in order to help our children graduate from college debt-free, and leave an inheritance to our children's children.

Prayer:  Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
by Tim Keller

This was another one of those life-changing books I read this year.  I love Tim Keller.  I love his mind.  I like to think that if I were a little more educated (and experienced), my mind would work like his.  I find myself reading his books and saying:  "Yes... you read my mind.  I was just unable to put it into words.  Thank you!"

Not all of his books are easy to read, and I would say that this one was one of the "harder" ones.  I took me a little longer than I would have liked it to, but the insight was rich and powerful.  My understanding of prayer was transformed for the best, and my prayer life was enriched because of it.

Sarah's Key
by Tatiana de Rosnay

Meh.  This was only one of two fiction books I read all year, and it was... meh.  Poor writing, bad story line, predictable, terrible character development... you get the point.  But this may just be my own personal and weird opinion, because the Amazon reviews are great, which is why I picked it up.

Why did I even continue reading it?  Because of the historical background in which it took place, which was actually very interesting.  It's about the French police's participation in the Jewish roundup during WWII, better known as the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup.  Sad and terrible event.  What was unique of this roundup compared to other Jewish roundups throughout Europe was that parents and children were separated, which was an even more tragic thing to happen in the midst of such evil.

Messy Spirituality:  God's Annoying Love for Imperfect People
by Mike Yaconelli

I picked this book up because it had been recommended by a pastor I respect.

I didn't like it.  Something about excusing our sinful behavior and lack of Spiritual discipline just rubbed me the wrong way.  Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not claiming here to be a super awesome spiritual person who has it all together... far from it, but I don't go around excusing it by saying:  "well... but I love Jesus, so all is good."

I was actually greatly comforted when The Gospel Coalition came out with an article that addressed and condoned this recent trend, and Messy Spirituality was among the books it brought up as an example of this trend.

To be honest, I believe the author is just misunderstood within his pages.  He died a premature and tragic death, and I like to think that he would have clarified himself in another book had he had the time.  I'm choosing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Evidence Not Seen:  A Woman's Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of WWII
by Darlene Deibler Rose

This was a sweet, sweet book to read, yet hard at the same time.  Anything that brings you in close contact to the cruelty and tragedy of WWII is going to be hard to process.  But somehow, while still tragic, the story of Darlene as a prisoner of war is an encouraging one.

By the end of the book, no doubt is left that the Lord is good.  Good, even after you've lost everything.  To be able to turn to Him who allowed all this ugliness to happen in your life and see how much sweeter he has become because of it (not in spite of it).

Darlene is officially one of my personal heroes.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith
by Rosaria Butterfield

This was a quick, easy, and insightful read.  Rosaria is a not only a former LGBT advocate, but a former active lesbian as well.  Through these pages, Rosaria describes her train-wreck conversion (as she refers to it) into Christ's arms.  It becomes quite evident that when the Lord called her to himself, she had no other place to go buy to him, even if it meant leaving all her dreams and accomplishments behind, never mind the only lifestyle and community she knew of.

But though she is best known for her conversion, what I loved the most in reading her words was her love for people.  She has great insight regarding hospitality, mercy work, church, adoption, foster care, etc.

It was through her words in this book that I came to learn that to leave everything for Christ does not always necessarily mean leaving them physically (like we will often think of missionaries doing).  Through her writing I came to understand that to carry our cross to follow Christ is often much more complex than that -- it means leaving dreams, and hopes, and security of life behind.  And I believe that much freedom comes in that.

Washed and Waiting:  Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
by Wesley Hill

Absolutely excellent book.  Easy to read.  Insightful.  But what I loved the most was that though it's written by a celibate gay Christian, who specifically addresses his personal struggles in choosing to remain celibate, is that his struggles resonated very much with mine.

The besetting sins that I've been given to struggle with are not ones of homosexuality, but before the eyes of God they are just as offensive to him.  So how do I live a faithful life for the Lord in the midst of these sins?  Wesley's struggles in this were of great comfort to me.  It's hard.  And it may even seem unfair at times.  And lonely.  But that still does not mean that we are given permission to act on these besetting sins that don't seem to leave us alone.

Through these pages I learned that just because I have a strong inclination to do something (maybe one I feel I have very little control over), does not mean I am allowed to indulge in it.

When I Lay my Isaac Down:  Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances
by Carol Kent

This was a sweet book to read.  One that I often think back to when "things are not going my way."  Carol beautifully tells the story of her only child committing murder and being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of ever being released.

The question asked is:  What does it mean when God asks you to lay down your hopes and dreams?  What if God does not give you an option in doing so?  What if marriage becomes hard, a husband cheats on you, your child/loved one becomes sick, or dies, or you loose a job, or you suffer a miscarriage, or...?

What if God asks you to lay your Isaac down?

Is he still good?  Can he still be trusted?  Is there hope?

For the Love:  Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards
by Jen Hatmaker

 This was a fun, funny, and easy book to read.  I often found myself laughing out loud while reading it.  And though I often have strong opinions about people getting "all theological" in their writing without having any basis for what they are saying, Jen was able to do this without being too obnoxious.

I thought she made some excellent points related to marriage, child rearing, community, and short term mission trips (have I mentioned how I have a little soap box regarding short term mission trips???).

She is Mine:  A War Orphans' Incredible Journey of Survival
 by Stephanie Fast

Oh me, oh my, oh mo...  Was this ever a hard book to read.  Long story short, it's about a girl abandoned at the age of four.  And when you have a little girl of your own that age, it becomes every bit more painful.  Her story of survival up until the point when she is eventually rescued is hard, but worse of all, as the author often mentions, it is NOT an uncommon story.

Stephanie, through her story, exposes the reader to what almost all street children live through in order to survive.  You cannot read that book and not be changed for the best.

By the grace of God, and against all odds, Stephanie is miraculously rescued and eventually adopted.  She closes her book by saying that she can honestly say that there is nothing in her life that she would have been better off without.

How to Win Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie

Early this Fall I began helping coordinate the ministry of MOPS at our church.  This leadership role had me overseeing about a dozen other leaders "under me," and though I was familiar with the ministry and its purpose, I quickly realized I had very little training (and experience) with leading a team of leaders.  And so I decided that I must begin training myself to do this.

This book was highly recommended to me, and I must say that it was an excellent start to this informal training I was undergoing.  But the book's history speaks for itself -- it was written in the 1930s, and almost a century later it is still in print.

But this book is not only great for people who are in leadership positions, it is also great for anyone who ever deals with people.  I would say it has influenced the way I relate to my husband, family, friends, and even strangers.

Short and easy chapters.  To the point.  Great advice.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

Word-Filled Women's Ministry:  Loving and Serving the Church
by various authors, including Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman

I picked up this book for two reasons:  1.  Because I wanted some guidance and further training in helping lead a women's ministry (see above review ^), and 2.  Because our church was going to have a book discussion on this book and I wanted to have it read by then.

It was good.  Some chapters were harder to read than others.  It covered a lot of terrain.  I enjoyed the chapter on mentorship, and also appreciated the book's emphasis on focusing women's ministry on the Word of God, and then allow all other aspects of this ministry to flow in response to this.

The Pursuit of Holiness
by Jerry Bridges

Excellent book.  Bold, true, and to the point.  Great read for anyone who has ever wondered what the balance between God's doing and our doing is in our pursuit of holiness.

Can I achieve holiness on my own?  Do I need God?  Where does God fit into this?  Is holiness even something I need to be striving for?  Doesn't God just take me in as his own based solely on the blood of Jesus and his death on the cross?

This book will convict you, and Lord willing, you will be different because of it.

Created for Commitment:  The Remarkable Story of the Founder of Bible Study Fellowship
by A. Wetherell Johnson

I loved this book.  It was not a page turner by any means, but I loved Wetherell's story.  I loved watching how the Lord used this simple, single woman, who's heart was submitted to the Lord, to do great things for his Kingdom. 

Her story begins as a little girl, brought up in a strong Christian home.  Becomes an agnostic at some point, then returns to the Lord.  Is a prisoner of war while in China during the WWII for three years.  Has a deep love for the pagans.  Senses her calling to reach out to them.  But the Lord says no to that desire.

This moment in her story reminds me of something the Lord has taught me throughout this year, and that is that just because I desire something good (in the case of Wetherell, to bring the Gospel to the pagans), it does not necessarilly mean that that's what the Lord wants for my life.

Yet... as Wetherell submits to the Lord, he leads her to fund one of the most remarkable Bible Studies of all times.  A Bible Study that has reached the ends of the Earth and has trained and equipped those who now have the chance to reach the pagans throughout the world with the Gospel. 

A Slow and Certain Light:  Thoughts on the Guidance of God
by Elisabeth Elliot

This out-of-print book was recommended to me by a lady at our church.  I read it quickly and enjoyed it.  If you know anything about Elisabeth Elliot, you know that she is that she is a no-nonsense lady, and I appreciate that.

I felt the book had some parts that I either did not understand or were not necessary, but she made some excellent points and suggestions about how to understand God's leading in our lives.  It is in this book where her famous "just do the next thing" quote comes from.  Basically, when in doubt, just do the next thing and the Lord will reveal himself and his will to you.

Harry Potter and the Sorcere's Stone
by J. K. Rowling

After having read 26 books this year, only one of which was fiction, I decided I wanted to do some lighter reading to welcome this new year.  And so I decided I would re-read the Harry Potter series throughout 2016.

I still plan on doing some dense non-fiction reading this coming year, but with a baby around the corner, I wanted something I could easily pick up and put down (and enjoy!) during those long home-bound days that await me.

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