2014 reading (so far).
Monday, September 22, 2014
At the start of 2014, I had a lofty reading goal in mind: 24 books. I haven't reached it and probably won't because life happens. But I wanted to chronicle and celebrate the books I have been able to read so far this year, because each one has somehow offered something valuable to my mind and my heart. I've written about some of these at other times on the blog, but have shared a snippet of those reviews here to keep them all in one place. I've also given each one a starred review to keep track of my favorites. Maybe it's a good list to save for Christmas this year? Click on the book titles to take you to Amazon where you can purchase them, if you're interested.
1. Chasing God by Angie Smith ★★★☆☆
If you're looking for casual, sit-over-a-latte-and-chat style writing that deals with theological topics, you may really love this. There were moments I laughed out loud and others that caused deep conviction. However, the abundance of jokes peppered throughout and blog-style writing wasn't really my cup of tea.
2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett ★★★★★
Perhaps you've seen the movie, so the book moved off your radar. I was completely enthralled by this book, and it feels like an instant classic to me. It's a bit of a commitment (450 pages), but reads quickly. When I read the final pages through tears at 1am, I didn't want it to end. What Kathryn Stockett attempted in this book was gutsy: writing in the voices of one white woman and two black women. As one who lived with "colored help" and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi where the story is set, she handles the subject with honesty and grace. This was her first novel, and it was a masterpiece.
3. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd ★★★★☆
Kidd's writing is as delicious as the sweet honey she describes. The story is complex, her characters well-developed, and I'd read it again and again. I felt like I was there, sitting under the sweltering South Carolina sun, watching August and Lily check on the beehives and wrestle with big life questions. The undertow of "female power" feels preachy at times, which is the only reason I don't give it five stars.
4. Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton ★★☆☆☆
I read this in 3 days, which is testament to her beautiful writing, but her murky theology made me sure to not read it again. She claims Christianity, but it feels much more like some thoughts of Jesus mixed with Oprah-like, self-help, zen religion that is very far from what I believe Christianity to be. I read it because of an abundance of other bloggers who loved it, but I wouldn't recommend it.
5. Love Story by Nichole Nordeman ★★★★☆
Considering Nichole Nordeman's music was basically the soundtrack to my middle school years, I had a feeling I'd love this. I did. Nichole's writing is witty, poignant, honest, and bold... many qualities I hope my own writing possesses. She had an incredibly daunting task before her: writing each chapter about a familiar Biblical character (Mary, Paul, Daniel, David) that is fresh and somehow relates that person to our modern lives. She handled her task beautifully. Any book that refreshes my take on Scripture is a worthy read, in my opinion. I didn't love the song lyrics posted after each chapter - they felt a little like filler - but that's a small complaint.
6. Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick ★★★★★
This is a thirty day study that celebrates how the cross changes our lives. It affected me deeply. Elyse's books are excellently written and theologically profound, yet personal enough that the words move from your head to your heart. I plan to read this one every year.
7. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls ★★★★★
I gobbled this one up. It's a phenomenal true story that had me spellbound from the first chapter. If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of a girl who grew up "with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation" (Amazon review). She grew up as a nomad in her family of 6, then settled in a poor mining town in West Virginia, where she and her brother and sisters basically raised themselves. To see where they are today and how they persevered is inspiring. I recommend it to anyone. It's hard to read in parts, acknowledging the truth of what they endured, but it's also incredibly redeeming.
8. Wonder by R. J. Palacio ★★★★★
This book captured me from page 1. It's children's lit, recommended for elementary age kids, but I've read it twice now and can't wait to read it with Liam someday. It's impossible not to fall in love with Augy, the main character who was born with a disfigured face and a vulnerable heart. It speaks a much needed message about kindness that I'll read again and again.
9. A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman ★★★☆☆
I wanted to love this book, but to be gut-level, I just didn't. It felt fluffy to me, and I slogged through it. Perhaps "uncovering the art I was made to live" isn't really my struggle right now. Making a living with my art? Finding time for it? Those might be more pertinent. I think Emily is a wonderful writer and reminded me of Ann Voskamp in ways, but it was difficult for me to finish.
10. A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller ★★★★★
This book revolutionized my prayer life. Prayer has never come naturally to me - does it to anyone? - and, honestly, an entire book on prayer isn't the first thing I'd choose off the shelf. Spending time alone in prayer often feels forced, plastic, or like I'm just talking to myself. Instead of feeling my true need for fresh, daily communion with God, it feels more like a dry task on my to-do list. Maybe this speaks to you, too. Maybe this book would be as soul-refreshing for you as it has been for me. Yes, it's a book devoted to prayer. But because prayer is simply our communication with God, it's truly about the heart of God toward his children. And there's nothing more encouraging than to grasp how much he loves us.
11. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert ★★★★☆
I read this one alongside our Sunday school class and loved it. The tagline is "How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself" and the chapter on short-term missions was especially challenging. I definitely recommend it if you're wrestling with issues on how the Bible says we should truly help our neighbors (as individuals and as church bodies) in sustainable ways.
12. When Others Shuddered by Jamie Janosz ★★★☆☆
This is written by a professor from the Bible college I graduated from, and I love the thought behind it: snapshots of eight women who lived around the turn of the century who "refused to give up" and shaped the evangelical landscape of their time. While I did enjoy reading it, the historical fiction-style writing wasn't my favorite. I did appreciate learning about brave, believing women I had mostly never heard of.
13. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes ★★★☆☆
You've heard of this one, right? I feel like it's all I've been hearing about from friends who read popular fiction. No one spoiled anything for me, so I won't spoil anything for you, but this book brought out just about every emotion I have. Joy, anger, deep sadness. When I discovered what the controversial topic was a few chapters in, I didn't know if I could finish it. I ended up finishing it - and I'm glad I did - but can't say I'd recommend it.
14. Eight Twenty Eight by Ian & Larissa Murphy ★★★★☆
I read this one in about 3 days. I couldn't put it down. Out of all the books I've read so far this year, it's near the top as far as challenging me in my faith and relationships. (If you haven't heard their story, watch the video found here.) The naysayers to their relationship run rampant online and they're easy to find. But two of the many things I think they're missing (that could be easily seen if they read the book) is that a) she wasn't guilted into marrying him, and b) this life - this unmistakably difficult life she has chosen by marrying Ian - is a calling from God and can only be endured with God. Her love for Ian points to Christ's love for us, and also really challenged me to love my own husband sacrificially.
15. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken ★★★★★
This book holds its place as one of my top 5 favorite books. It's a true story of a couple who meets C.S. Lewis at Oxford and develops a friendship with him. The book contains a series of letters between the author and C.S. Lewis that ultimately lead the author and his wife to faith in Christ. It is an exquisitely written, tragic story that will undoubtedly bring you to tears, but will also encourage your faith. I can't recommend it enough.