Winter Reading Roundup

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In case it's not abundantly clear around here, I read a lot of books. I have an entire Instagram account dedicated to the things I'm reading and to finding new book recommendations to fill up my bookshelves, more reasons to buy more bookshelves.

But while I've been making lots of time to read, I haven't been as consistent in making time to sit down and write. I need to change that. It's a work in progress.

That said, I have read some phenomenal books in the last couple of months, and have had the opportunity to receive some review copies from publishers and authors and I need to share those thoughts with you. I'm not going to share my reviews of all of them, all at once, because nobody wants to sit down and read thirty book reviews in one post. Not even me. But here are a few of the reading highlights of the last three months: 

I'd Rather be Reading by Anne Bogel (5/5 stars)

I read this book one day on my lunch break, and I'm fairly certain I just grinned like an idiot the whole time because it was so relatable. As a lifelong reader, this was the "you're not the only one" we all want to hear. If you are a person who enjoys reading, you'll enjoy this book. It's a quick and delightful book to make you laugh warmly at this literary life.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (5/5 stars)

I adored this entire story. It was brilliantly narrated by the personification of Music, following the life of a talented artist and weaving in real-life musicians and events. This book got me feeling all the feelings as a reader and as a musician. From the line about all of us being musical because God gave us beating hearts, I was hooked. Read this book. Just do it. It's beautiful.

God Over Good by Luke Norsworthy (5/5 stars)
Can I give a book more than five stars? I got this one from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, but knew nothing about it beforehand. It's not often that I hit the end of a book and immediately want to start at the beginning again, but I did with this one. If you need some solid reminders of who God is and is not, this is your book. If you are struggling with seeing God in the everyday (and even if you're not, honestly), you'll enjoy this one. I was hooked from the moment that Luke Norsworthy started talking about how our theology tends to be autobiographical, and couldn't put it down. Norsworthy is real and raw in his discussion, and the book is all the better for it. It's a good theology read for people who don't like to read heavy theology, and deserves far more hype than it has.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (5/5 stars)

This book has so many layers of storytelling about family, the news media and judicial system, and the hard choices people have to make. I'm glad that the hold I put on this one finally came in so I could read it, even many months after becoming popular. This story has great pacing, great characters with depth and flaws, and leaves the reader with lots to think about. If you like fiction and are looking for a high quality read, try this one, with a literal fire to represent the figurative burning up of innocence and facades.

The Vines We Planted by Joanell Serra (3/5 stars)

The author reached out to me and was generous enough to offer me a free copy of the audiobook in exchange for an honest review. I liked the story alright, but there were so many characters to try and keep straight that it was a little confusing in places, and I didn't care too much about some of the more prominent storylines (and thought some of the subplots were actually better). The narrator sounded a bit like Siri, and that threw me off at times, but I listened to the book at 1.4x speed and that helped a bit. Fair warning though, there are a few *awkward* moments when listening to this one. Overall, liked it but didn't love it.

Grace for the Valley by Heath Adamson (3.5/5 stars)

This one came to me from Baker Books in exchange for a review, and I started reading it before the move though I just finished it recently. It was a great book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's struggling to see God in the midst of hard things. It was not the most relevant read for this season of life for me, which is probably why I didn't connect as well with some parts of it. But objectively, it was full of good reminders that God is present no matter what we're going through, and that our perspective on God changes our experience of the 'valley of the shadow of death.' Definitely worth a read!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (5/5 stars)

This book was another one with a ton of hype, and I completely understand why. It's a serious stark look at life in a concentration camp, as based on the experiences of the real Lale. Obviously, this is not a light read. But I really enjoyed if and would highly recommend it if you are interested in World War Two literature. Just make sure you go in with your eyes open and a box of kleenex handy.

Faith for this Moment by Rick McKinley (4/5 stars)

I also received this one from Baker Books for review. I really enjoyed McKinley's analysis of the concept of exile, and what it means to live as, essentially, exiles in a secular world. He navigates the 'in the world but not of it' Christian trope well and without becoming overly cliché in his discussion of it. It was a quick read, but one that challenges the reader to reconsider ideas like the sabbath that are often overlooked in our twenty-first century context. Books like this can be so important when we realize that government-issued Christianity is neither advisable or realistic, and that the North American church has to find ways to navigate the present and future challenges that arise when we follow Jesus. I'd recommend picking this one up!

 

So there you have it – some of the best books I've read lately. And that officially catches me up on reviews so that (hopefully) no publishers cut me out of their review programs. (I promise I do love receiving review copies of books!) Moving at the end of December seriously messed up my schedule. I've read a lot more than I've posted here, and if you're interested in finding the rest of my regular reading thoughts, you can see them over on Instagram @literary.af.

I'm not making any grand proclamations about how much I'll be posting again from now on since that almost never happens, but I will be doing my level best to clear out my drafts folder that has accumulated a whole bunch of half-written posts in the near future.

For now, happy Saturday and happy reading!

 

Joyfully,

Alice

2018: A Year in Review

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We’ve come to the season where everyone tends to stop for a moment before jumping into a new year full of resolutions and plans. It’s one of my favorite parts of December. Maybe it’s just that I’m an introspective thinker by nature, but I think there is something wonderfully bittersweet about recognizing the transition between seasons.

The beautiful thing about taking an account of the past year is that it lets you reflect on the ways that life has changed and grown you, the little places that God was working, the forgotten prayers that were answered after all. I believe firmly in the power of setting goals and intentions, but I find that we so often get discouraged when we do not stop to consider how far we have come. It’s why I am so much more of a Year in Review person than a New Year’s Resolution one.

As I look back over this year, I am struck by how much has changed. I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was on January 1st. I am stronger, bolder, more hopeful than I ever could have imagined. In 2018, I decided I was going to take an active role in my life. I decided that I was going to show up for it, that I was going to set lofty goals and chase after them fully. This year, I consciously chose to step out in faith. And oh boy, were there ever opportunities to step out in faith.

I quit a full-time job without having a different job to step into. It was one of the biggest, scariest, and somehow, easiest decisions I've ever made. I took the summer off to write, rest, and process through the things that were going on in my brain, and I was able to be available for my people more than I would ever have been able to otherwise. Someone asked me recently if I regretted leaving that job, or wished I had done things differently, and I was able to honestly say that I had no regrets about the situation. Did it stretch me to be unemployed for several months? Yes. But I wouldn't change any part of it. In the end, I found a new job with a consistent full-time Monday to Friday schedule, coworkers I really like, and I'm so incredibly thankful.

I went on dates. I put myself out there, and went on some really good ones and some that were… well, um, not so good. I learned what I will and will not tolerate, how to stand up for myself, how to let go.

I wrote a seven-day devotional on joy which I am incredibly proud of. I also launched the Real Talk Tuesday newsletter and have not missed a week in the last six months. It’s become such an important part of my weekly routine that I don’t want to stop, even if it means throwing it together at 11:30pm on Monday night.

I moved twice. This isn’t something I would recommend if you can avoid it, but again after the fact I have no regrets about the decision to move either time. Packing up your life into boxes is a huge amount of tedious work, but there’s something about it that always makes me feel grateful for the people and possessions I have been blessed with. And for any of my friends concerned about the possibility of being conscripted into helping me move my furniture once again, I’ve got a lease that’s going to keep me in one place for a while.

Friendships that have long been part of my life became stronger, more beautiful. I am so grateful for the people who show up in the hard times, who send me little notes in the mail, who leave meals on my doorstep when they know I’ve had a stressful week, who remind me again and again that I am loved. More than ever, I know who my 3am phone call friends are.

I was given the word "depth" for 2018. I say it was given to me because I'd spent years finding the entire concept of a Word of the Year cheesy and ridiculous. But clear as day at the beginning of January, God planted that word in my heart in that funny way he does, and I couldn't shake it off. As it turns out, it was setting the tone for a year of God's bizarre sense of humor catching me off-guard. But depth has defined my year in so many ways, challenged me to grow in community relationships, to ask big questions about my faith and my understanding of the world, to dig deep and do the hard work.

In 2018, I laid it all on the table, held nothing back. I’m so proud of this last year and the ways that I stood up and declared that I would not let life pass me by. Virtually everything about my life looks different than it did this time last year.

In 2018, I laid it all on the table, left nothing behind. I am incredibly proud of this last year and the ways that I stood up and declared that I would not let life pass me by.

Because 2018 was such an interesting year for me, and because Spotify informed me that I listened for over 18,000 minutes this year, I decided also to make a year in review playlist, with one song for each month. Each month's song was one of the most played for that particular month. This playlist is a testament to the fact that I love sad songs at the best of times (though some of the feels were REAL this year). If you want to know what the inside of my brain sounded like this year, click here to listen to the playlist.

 

12 Songs for 2018: A Year in Review Playlist

January – 3 Rounds and a Sound by Blind Pilot

February – Land of the Living by Roo Panes

March – New Wine by Hillsong

April – Wild World by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

May – Always Where I Need to Be by The Kooks

June – I Need Never Get Old by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

July – Iffy by Caamp

August – If I Let Go by Titus Haug

September – Atlas: Four by Sleeping at Last

October – Everywhere I Go by Sleeping at Last

November – Shrike by Hozier

December – Places We Won't Walk by Bruno Major

 

Honorable Mention: Fever to the Form by Nick Mulvey (because I've listened to this song almost every day for the last two years and I'm still not tired of it. It's just that good.)

Changes by Langhorne Slim (because holy moly, this sums up my life too well right now...)

 

So cheers to the end of one year, to the start of another. May the final hours of 2018 and the first ones of 2019 be sweet and full of celebration. May you find joy in the little things, know that you are loved.

 

Joyfully,

Alice

I Live and Die For You: A Christmas Reflection

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I haven't had much in the way of words to share lately, as evidenced by the radio silence around here, and I've got several half-written posts sitting in my drafts folder waiting to be finished. But I needed to share something short today; I couldn't not.

I'm a poet at heart, and flowery words pour out of me at the best of times. But every year on December 21st, I feel especially poetic. There's something about the shortest day of the year that strikes me as beautiful and melancholy and hopeful as Christmas approaches.

I'm feeling it even more than usual this year, though, with a whole host of changes to my life this month. Life has been busy and surprising and beautiful, and I'm incredibly tired. But my heart is full and I am so excited for these coming days and weeks to unfold.

There's something powerful about the very tangible fact that the darkness does not get to claim any more ground than this. It stops here. Starting tomorrow, we will reclaim fragments of daylight, collecting sunshine piece by piece, clawing back at the night sky that so envelops December. This is as dark as it's going to get.

There's something powerful about the fact that after 400 years of silence, a child was born into a weary world that felt like God had forgotten them. His presence blasted through the darkness, that good news of great joy which is for all people ringing through the hills. His presence declared that the darkness stops here.

This child who was born to be the fulfillment of all things, the long expected one that inspired these words:

'the people dwelling in darkness

Have seen a great light,

And for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

On them a light has dawned.' (Matthew 11:16, quoting Isaiah)

If there's anything I've learned this year, it's that God is never not calling out to us, that he reaches down to us through his son, his voice constantly whispering -

I'm not out of reach;

I've never been out of reach.

Despite it all, I see you.

You haven't been forgotten

my beautiful, beloved child:

I live and die for you.

When the days feel shadowy and alone, remember that the darkness does not win; in Jesus' name, Good has the victory and there is so much hope in the days ahead. Light has dawned, and his name is Jesus. He lives and dies for you.

Rest in that truth, friends. Let it seep into your bones and bring peace to your soul this Christmas season. Know that you are not alone, that there is One whose heart is always for you, no matter whether you are surrounded by loved ones or spending the holiday far away from your people.

It only gets brighter from here. Wishing you the merriest of Christmases.


Joyfully,

Alice