“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”
I, too, am one of those people, the ones who feel better upon seeing a book. This has been true since before I could speak, before I could name the letters on the pages. Books are an adventure, a guide, a chance, a teacher, a friend. They are my constant companion.
On this page, I will post monthly updates about the books I am reading, along with a small review and ideas of to whom I would recommend the book. These opinions, of course, will be entirely mine, entirely subjective, and entirely capable of clashing with yours entirely. But that’s one of the wonderful things about books – they don’t require the affection of the masses. They just require that one reader, that one book club, that one generation – the one who needed that book at just that second and won’t ever be the same because of it. I read inspired by and in pursuit of that moment.
(Click book images for smile.amazon.com links to the books. You can choose your favorite nonprofit to support when you purchase!)
A Fatal Grace
The second in the Chief Instpector Armand Ganache series, this mystery was engaging and kept me interested. I liked the character development as well as the plot and plan to read the next in the series soon.
Challies Challenge Category: Book from a Library
I would recommend this books to: mystery and detective novel lovers, those intrigued by family life oriented dramas.
This one was a thick, heavy read – definitely a seminary textbook :). It’s rich and absolutely beneficial, though! I had to work hard to finish it, and confess that I wouldn’t have read it had it not been assigned, but I want to cultivate my appetite for this level of theological scholarship, and I’m very glad I read this book.
Challies Challenge Category: A book about the Bible
I would recommend this book to: those who want to dig deep theologically and further understand views of the doctrines of Scripture.
Ted & Kristen Kluck
I SO appreciated this book. In case the subtitle is too little for you to see, it reads “freed from the worship of family to delight in the glory of God.” Hello, book that 2016 Conservative Evangelical America (myself included) needs! Ted and Kristin are gracious, self-reflective, and compelling in their call to redirect our worshipping hearts to the only One worthy of our ultimate adoration.
Challies Challenge Category: A book about parenting (though that’s not the only topic at all)
I would recommend this book to: those intrigued by the current culture idols, parents, pastors
This book was so intriguing to me that I wrote a piece about it for Christ and Pop Culture. Not for the squeamish or those who prefer to avoid cursing or heavy adult themes, this is Cline’s debut novel based on the Manson Family and their relationships and crimes. The writing is stunning. The insatiable human desire for belonging is thick throughout this one, and its questions have still stuck with me.
Challies Challenge Category: A book published in 2016
I would recommend this book to: those who love literary fiction, those whose are intrigued by learning about the human experience through fiction.
Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption
D. Jeffrey Bingham & Glenn Kreider
Another seminary textbook ;). Really though, this is an insightful look into the history of the dispensational hermeneutical method. It effectively explains the perspective and is charitable toward other perspectives. There are a host of contributors to this volume, and I appreciated the varying voices.
Challies Challenge Category: Seminary Textbook
I would recommend this book to: Those who want to understand what dispensationalism is or deepen their understanding of it
The Big Short
Thomas E. Reynolds
Jared was out of the country for two weeks of June, so my number of books was a little light this month. Let’s just say July is going to make up for it.
This is the first novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series which I am thoroughly enjoying. This wasn’t my favorite mystery ever, but I was intrigued enough to continue on with the series and I’d venture to guess that Penny gets better and better with each book. This story was a great, suspenseful story without getting too gritty.
Challies Challenge Category: A Mystery or Detective Novel
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who enjoys a good, mostly lighthearted mystery.
Surprised by the Voice of God
I had to read this for a theology class so that I could write a paper critiquing it. Let’s just say that that was in zero ways difficult to do. This book is almost insulting in how frequently it uses anecdotes to support its ambiguous claims. I am still working through my theology of healing and prophecy, so I’m not saying this as a hardcore cessationist, but this book did nothing to convince me that the gifts persist, much less that they should be used in the ways Deere claims.
Challies Challenge Category: Book about Prayer
I would recommend this book to: Those who are seeking to understand various viewpoints on spiritual gifts…but beyond that, those who are interested in observing a mixture of anecdote and loose interpretation of Scripture in order to prove a point. This certainly isn’t the only book where that happens, and it’s probably a good exercise to read one every once in a while.
I read this for Intro to Systematic Theology at Dallas Seminary and found it to be a helpful overview of the history of Christian Theology. Dry in parts, as any history can be, overall it was helpful and established a framework for me as I begin grasping more deeply when certain theological trains of thought emerged, etc.
Challies Challenge Category: Church History
I would recommend this book to: Those who want to have a beginning grasp on the history of Christianity, which issues mattered when and why, etc.
Help by Unbelief
Well, I loved this book so much that I wrote a blog post about it and The Pastor’s Kid, Piper’s other book (reviewed below). I’m a self-identified doubter, full of more questions than I have answers (and I do love a good answer). This book helped me grasp further the fact that to doubt is not to disbelieve, and also called me to remember the Firm Foundation on which I stand.
Challies Challenge Category: Title from a Bible Verse
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who struggles with spiritual doubt, or loves someone who does.
The Pastor’s Kid
I read this book and Help My Unbelief (above) in the same weekend, consuming them whole in less than 36 hours. Like I said before, Piper’s two books led me to write a blog post. In both cases, I felt like the books were reading me. This book is a gracious yet poignant insight into what it’s like to be the child of a pastor, in terms of family relationships, owning one’s faith, and perceptions of God and the church. It was hopeful, encouraging, sympathetic, and motivating.
Challies Challenge Category: By a First Time Author
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who is a pastor’s child, is raising a pastor’s child, or loves a pastor’s child.
Roots & Sky
I could not put down this beautiful, honest memoir. Christie tells the story of her family’s move to Maplehurst, their home in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Christie is poetic yet wildly relatable, speaking to tensions of womanhood, motherhood, homemaking, and faith that were deeply resonant with me. I especially loved the way she intertwined her passion for gardening and how it was good for her, body and soul. That theme was so compelling to me that I went out and bought new plants the day I finished the book (don’t ask me if they’re still alive, k?).
Challies Challenge Category: Great Cover
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who loves thoughtful writing with a hint of longing. Those who have a soft spot for motherhood and homemaking.
This was a fascinating, insightful read into many of the “phenomenons” we see in our culture, that maybe aren’t so phenomenal. Mari Malcolm writes, “Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the “self-made man,” he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don’t arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent…” You’ll have to read more to see how he defends this claim through a myriad of examples!
Challies Challenge Category: A Book You Borrow
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who is intrigued by stories of “success” and the narratives we build around them.
Who Needs Theology?
Stanley Grenz & Roger Olson
I read this book as a part of the Intro to Systematic Theology course I am currently taking toward my Master’s at Dallas Theological Seminary. But! Don’t let that scare you away from it. This book is accessible, arguing at its core that everyone is a theologian, because everyone thinks about God [the word “theology” breaks down simply into “theo” (God) “logos” (word) – words about God]. I was personally edified by several sections of the book, one of which was the authors’ description of (and call to) “constructive theology.” Their emphasis on theology as an active, communal task that requires carefully, skillfully relating Biblical principles to the contemporary culture was especially encouraging to me as a mother of young children and as a writer.
Challies Challenge Category: A Book about Theology
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who wants to think more specifically and constructively about the person of God and the life of the Christian.
Oh y’all, I loved this book. Preston walks through ancient spiritual disciplines and explores them in a way that is accessible to the reader while also calling him or her up into new thoughts and territory. The motif of baking bread creates a poetic yet practical frame for the book, and yes, he actually teaches you how to bake bread as well. I so enjoyed this book that I read it in a weekend, but I intended to go back and read it a week at a time, as the author intended, and learn how to bake bread throughout the re-read.
Challies Challenge Category: Written by an Anglican
I would recommend this book to: Anyone curious about the spiritual disciplines and integrating the daily practices of life with a deeper, more rooted faith.
I picked this book up via my phone’s Overdrive app (through the public library) while sitting in a waiting room. And I proceeded read the entire thing in that waiting room, because it’s very short, and very easy to read. Sacks is pondering his life which he knows will end soon, reflecting on the sweetness and sorrow of the years gone by. I was struck by his commitment to genuine thankfulness.
Challies Challenge Category: One Word Title
I would recommend this book to: Anyone looking for a quick, enlightening read
This is the sequel to Me Before You which I read in January. I listened to this one via audiobook and enjoyed it in that format. This wasn’t a favorite, but the storytelling was sweet and the character development was relatively strong for being lighthearted fiction. If you read and enjoyed Me Before You, or are planning to cram it in before seeing this movie, this one is worth a read if you’re looking for more fiction.
Challies Challenge Category: Book about Relationships
I would recomment this book to: Anyone who enjoys girly fiction, love stories, or Me Before You
Looking for Lovely
Annie F. Downs
Annie is the author of several Christian women’s nonfiction reads (including Let’s All Be Brave). Looking for Lovely is a raw but uplifting treasure of a book, sharing stories of struggles and hope. Annie is honest about her struggles with being a quitter and her desire and commitment to growth. She’s also really funny.
Challies Challenge Category: Author with Initials in Their Name
I would recommend this book to: young Christian women who desire to go about their daily lives in a more heartened, purposeful way
Citizen is a book of poetry primarily about the black experience in America. It’s raw and deep and insightful and penetrating. Claudia covers certain recent events as well as general experiences of minorities. Citizen is uncomfortable in parts, and includes art that may be jarring to some. The grit and storytelling weave together beautifully, and I hope you’ll consider picking this one up.
Challies Challenge Category: A Book of Poetry
I would recommend this book to: anyone who is interested in poetry, or the black experience in America. Anyone who likes the intertwine of visual art and verbal art. Anyone who finds their mind and heart expanded by words crafted well.
A God in Ruins
This brilliant novel is filled with the kinds of quotes that I found myself wanting to stitch on a pillow, in a totally non-cheesy way. Anne Bogel referred to this book as “modern show off-y prose” on her podcast and it did not disappoint. Atkinson plays with time, perspective, voice and language with the best of them. If you’re curious how a novel can take place during multiple decades at once (such as World War II and the 1980s), and lines such as, “the whole edifice of civilization turned out to be constructed from an unstable mix of quicksand and imagination,” make you want to keep reading, then this one is for you. I listened to it via library audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed the listening experience, though I imagine holding it in my hands would have been a treasure all its own.
Challies Challenge Category: more than 400 pages
I would recommend this book to: lovers of literary fiction, those who aren’t afraid of a page commitment (480 pages), anyone who likes to read about family relationships and generational impact.
This short story begins with a young woman who grew up begging on the streets, became a sex worker and is attempting to become a palm reader. Hard as this premise may be to grant, the first several sections of the book were engaging and believable, with heartbreaking insight into the mind and heart of a woman from a hard place. However, this story ended up as a total disappointment to me. The ending was convoluted and unsatisfying, the evolution of the characters quite the same. While I found Flynn’s Gone Girl to be stellar despite its crass moments, and enjoyed her other novels as well, this one did not work for me. I listened to it via library audiobook at double speed, which lessened the disappointment a bit, but it just wasn’t worth my time.
Challies Challenge Category: less than 100 pages
I would recommend this book to: someone who is a Flynn junkie and “needs” to read everything she ever wrote.
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work
Oh my, I loved this short little book. Norris reflects on Benedictine practices and writes on the sacredness of every day life. Her style is gracious, compelling, anecdotal and theological all at once. Norris writes of the power of daily work, the littlest thing like dishes and laundry, in their ability to become daily touchstones of faith. “This is incarnation reality,” she writes, “the sanctity of the every day.” Norris is entirely resistant to the concept of daily work being used as a condescending burden upon women, and reframes it beautifully.
Challies Challenge Category: written from a theological viewpoint I disagree with (Norris is Roman Catholic. There are portions of the book where our differences are evident, but those differences are not the focus of the book, nor without their merits from which we can learn.)
I would recommend this book to: anyone curious about the intertwine of the sacred and the ordinary, those interested in Benedictine practices
Year of Yes
This book, y’all! Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, etc.) realizes that she is afraid of a great deal in her life and determines to say, “yes,” to everything that scares her for the upcoming year. Yes to play with her daughters, yes to her health, yes to going on a talk show even though she would rather stay behind closed doors, furiously penning her next script. Shonda is hilarious, introspective, thoughtful and genuinely challenging. MAMAS! She has a chapter on bowing out of the mommy wars. Need I say more?
Challies Challenge Category: author of a different ethnicity
I would recommend this book to: those who appreciate vulnerable, powerful storytelling, a no holds barred writing style, and may enjoy a little insight into Hollywood life (though this isn’t the focus).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Seeing as this play is written by Shakespeare, I’m not exactly sure what I can do by the way of an endorsement, but whatever it is, I’ll do it. This whimsical play is rich with comedy, magic and word play. Reading Shakespeare is an experience like nothing else. Its as though one can see the way that so much of our language was formed by him while reading the words. If Dream doesn’t sound like your style, try Macbeth or Othello.
Challies Challenge Category: a play by William Shakespeare
I would recommend this book to: lovers of language, theater fans, those who enjoy stories with overtones of mythology, mysticism and magic.
This month, I read a book or two that may not make everyone’s list of “appropriate for recommending.” I blogged about this here. In short: my primary reason for reading (and watching television) is that literature and storytelling have an unparalleled way of fostering my compassion for the brokenness of humanity and helping me gain insight into the human mind and heart. I’ll explore this more in future posts, but wanted to be clear about it here since one of my fiction picks may not be one that would make your list. And you know what? That’s okay.
I inhaled this book. Brown’s scholarly insight combined with personal stories blend together to produce a brilliant, openhearted, applicational treatise on vulnerability and shame. If you’ve ever felt like someone else’s success means there’s not enough room for you, or like embarrassment will be the end of you, or like you just don’t know how to overcome fear of inexplicable things, this book could open some really helpful doors.
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who is interested in how the human mind and heart engage the world, and how we connect with one another.
Challies Challenge Category: self-improvement
Between The World & Me
I listened to this book in one afternoon after borrowing the audio version from the library’s online system. Coates himself reads his own words which he wrote in the form of a letter to his teenage son. This memoir gives keen, heartbreaking insight into the black experience in America. It has been criticized for its hopelessness, but I didn’t experience it that way. I found it to be truthful, open, challenging and calling the reader to create the hope they wish its pages contained.
I would recommend this book to: those who are interested in learning more about racial reconciliation and injustice in America, memoir lovers, anyone who loves an artfully told story.
Challies Challenge Category: memoir
This thick volume (over 600 pages) tells the story of author whose family purchased the Washington Post which she would later run. It details a great deal about her personal life, marriage, family life, the ins and outs of newspapers, and historical events such as the JFK Assassination and Watergate. It is reflective, insightful, story-driven and fascinating.
I would recommend this book to: people who are interested in journalism, those who enjoy biographies, anyone interested in the evolution of gender roles, the family and mental health in America.
Challies Challenge Category: biography
I was prompted to read this novel by Anne Bogel on her What Should I Read Next Podcast. This book tells the story of a hostage situation in South America and is filled with rich relationships, interesting twists and, of all, things, opera. It wasn’t my favorite fiction ever but I enjoyed it enough that I’m sure I’ll try some more Patchett in the future. Definitely makes my list for beach reads or a lazy Saturday afternoon.
I would recommend this to: those who like fiction that is driven both by plot and relationships, anyone who likes “based on a true story” novels.
Challies Challenge Category: based on a true story
Among the 10,000 Things
This was another book discussed on the What Should I Read Next Podcast, and I knew I had to read it when I learned that it was written by a student still in her Master of Fine Arts Program, yet to graduate, who received six figures from a publishing house for the manuscript (that’s almost unheard of). This book comes with a big ole’ disclaimer, y’all. Seth Haines said it on the podcast and I’ll say it here, the first 40 pages are blush worthy. This is the story of an affair and its impact on a family, which is exactly as grisly, earthy and human as you would imagine. If you personally need to avoid sexual language in your reads, just skip this one. That said, I highly recommend this book to those who read stories in order to gain greater insight into the human mind and heart, and to those who find that literature grows their compassion for hurting people.
I would recommend this book to: those who consider “beautifully written” to be the highest praise for fiction, those who learn about minds and hearts through literature, those who want to gain deeper insight into the impact of infidelity and divorce on families and children.
Challies Challenge Category: female author
(First month of the Challies Challenge! I’m aiming for “Committed” – 52 books in 2016.)
Challenging, honest, chock-full of Scripture and friendly in tone, Lauren’s book will make an impression on many. Her fierce love for the things of God, primarily His goodness and His people, is seen on every page. The great treasure of this book is the exegesis and theme of Psalm 107 woven throughout it, and the way that daily life is shown to be integrated with the callings of Scripture as Lauren naturally weaves the two together.
I would recommend this book to: women who want to grow in their understanding of God’s goodness and who will find Lauren’s gentle yet strong tone encouraging in their walk of faith.
Challies Challenge Category: a book with a fruit of the Spirit in the title
Emily writes like she is whispering straight to your soul, like she knows you, like she’s speaking straight to the tender places. Her quiet strength, biblical foundation and practical encouragement spurred me on toward the upside-down ways of Jesus. This book will always hold a special place in my heart as I read it on a Tuesday that didn’t seem simple at all, the Tuesday of Gabriel’s recent surgery. Somehow, Emily’s words helped me keep that day in perspective.
I would recommend this book to: anyone with a hurried heart and a desire to be more sure of God in the smaller moments of life.
Challies Challenge Category: a book on Christian living
After years of investigative journalism which began the day of the Columbine shooting, Dave Cullen offers Columbine, a masterpiece of information gathering and storytelling. Dark yet compassionate, honest yet nuanced, Columbine explores the way the story was told, compares media coverage with what actually happened, and offers profound insight into the tragedy. If you want to hear a bit more about it before reading, Laura Tremaine and Megan Tietz discuss it on this episode of Sorta Awesome. (For obvious reasons, consider your personal sensitivities and boundaries before picking this one up; it is not gratuitous, but it is explicit.)
I would recommend this book to: those who read for insight into the human mind and are interested in the way that media shapes culture understanding of events.
Challies Challenge Category: a book someone tells you “changed their life”
Me before You
Well, as you’ve probably heard, this book is one big cry face emoji in the absolute best (and British!) way. Excellent character development drew my heart in and wrapped me up in a charming, at times devastating, unusual story. The protagonist, Lou, is delightfully ordinary, in all of her commonness, quirkiness and depth, she is the sympathetic heroine we all love to love. If you’re up for an emotional roller coaster and several heart-swelling moments, pick this one up (also Kleenex, and a ticket to see the movie with me).
I would recommend this book to: those who love a romantic novel and have plenty of tissues on hand.
Challies Challenge Category: a book set in a different country
This book seems to be everywhere I turn these days, and I was so excited when a dear friend gave it to me for Christmas. I inhaled this book in less than two days. Gilbert’s call for unleashing creativity, considering the role of fear and getting out there and just MAKING STUFF was right up my alley. I loved her freedom, humor, belief in the essential nature of art and creativity to the human experience, and the genuine care she communicates for those seeking to unlock their creative potential and determine where it fits in already full lives. If I could make a list of required life reading for everyone, this would be on it.
I haven’t ready poetry in quite some time, but it’s something I want to become better versed in, in addition to the fact that I find it so beautiful. These poems wrapped me up in their rhythmic words, in fact, they wrapped little Owen up with me as well as he asked me to read them out loud to him. Berry’s life experiences and depth of understanding of the human experience shine radiantly in these poems. The theme of the home is woven throughout which allows the reader to inform the poems with his or her own feelings about home, what it is, what it isn’t. I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Berry’s work.
This quick, funny, intriguing novel, this was my first exposure to Liane Moriarty. Her name seems to be everywhere these days, so when Modern Mrs. Darcy informed me that this volume was available for Kindle for $1.99, I snagged it. I really enjoyed the character development, humor and hints of mystery in this novel. The end was slightly less satisfying than I hoped for, but I would still give this one a thumbs up for a holiday, vacation, or life is crazy I need a book that’s fun time of life.
The New Jim Crow
Where to even begin with this book? It was profoundly insightful, eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and at times I wanted to stop reading because it’s easier to believe that the world is a beautiful, just place when someone isn’t showing you all the reasons why it isn’t. But I never stopped, because Alexander’s truth-telling, expertise and recounting of history were undeniable, impeccable. This, in my opinion, should be “required life reading” for everyone.
This is one of those books that found me when I needed it. Preston, a mid-twenties Southern Baptist turned Anglican, recounts his college years at Baylor University with all the chaos, tumult and spiritual coming of age those years contain. I resonated deeply with bits of his struggle from my own college years, but even more, from my present questions and journey. Preston writes of the saints and liturgy with beauty, his desire to believe in God despite confusion, despite lack of feeling, so clear and compelling. This book helped me believe that God is in no way reduced by my doubt and wrestling, that He is here, and that there are practices and rhythms of the Christians of old that may guide me in seeing Him more clearly.
(The book images lead to Amazon Smile links. Would you consider selecting “His Grace Foundation” as your charity of choice? This costs you no extra money and supports a non-profit organization serving patients and families on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital. Thank you!)