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

September 2018 Reads

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I can't believe it's already the middle of October. This year has gone by impossibly fast, and I'm not sure where all the time has gone. But it's been a wild ride of a season, and I'm definitely ready to find some new rhythms and routines. I start a new job this week and am going to a conference with some lovely friends, which is a perfect way to kick off something new.

All that to say, I haven't written much for the blog in a couple of weeks, and haven't even got around to finishing my September Reads reviews until now. But that's okay. I'm giving myself some grace as I transition into new things.

September was a month full of good books, with several five-star reads and several that weren't far behind. I only gave up on one book: Ok, Mr Field - a little library book I grabbed on my way out because it was short and sounded interesting. I should have known it wasn’t for me from the moment I saw that it didn't use any quotation marks to note conversation. It's one of those little things that drives me crazy… I didn't make it through Alias Grace for the same reason.

I also started a Bookstagram account in September, and have been having all kinds of fun posting about my bookish adventures over at @literary.af. If you're around in the Insta-world, feel free to give me a follow!

But without further ado, here are my thoughts on the things I read in September:

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (4/5)

I've had this one sitting on my shelf for a while, and I'm glad I finally got around to finishing it. It didn't ask too much of me as the reader, so I was able to get through it without too much effort. I read most of the book in one evening, thanks to some cancelled plans that meant I had a few uninterrupted hours. It was also a good one to shift back into reading novels after spending an entire month exclusively reading nonfiction. The characters were lovely, and it was definitely the book I needed mid-month.

 

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Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (5/5)

Somehow I managed to be first on the list for my library's holds on this book, and I am so glad. It's the sequel to Beartown, which I read in July, and it lives up to the hype. I grew up in a small town where the hockey rink was the centre of so many winter weekends and I loved the way Backman uses this setting so effectively. But the characters in this story are truly what make the book, and I laughed and cried several times each over the stories their lives tell in this one. Backman is an incredible storyteller, with a translator that should win all the awards. Seriously. Book translators are the unsung heroes of the literary world.

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (5/5)

I've seen this book everywhere for the last several months, and I just managed to get my hands on a copy a few weeks ago. This book was fantastic. It's a surprising, wonderful mix of funny (I had to set the book down at one point because I was laughing so hard) and deep melancholy with characters that keep you guessing right to the end. By the middle of the book, I thought I had figured it all out, but I was happily proved wrong. This is the kind of fiction that makes me keep reading fiction.

 

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen (5/5)

This was my first Nouwen, and I absolutely loved it. It's a short book put together by some of his students after he died, but it packs a punch. Nouwen's writing is poetic and profound in the way that it talks about contemplative theology and spiritual life, but it is still very readable - which is often a criticism I have of other writers in this field. I'll definitely be looking for more Nouwen in the future.

 

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (3/5)

This book was alright. I finished it and didn't hate it, but it didn't resonate particularly deeply with me. I'm never quite sure how I feel about Anne Lamott's writing. I like it for its raw honesty, but sometimes the text wanders so far that it seems to lack direction. Maybe I'm just not the right person for this book, and that's okay.

 

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (3.5/5)

I got the audiobook version of this one at a library book sale a few months ago, and have been listening to it in my car. I enjoyed her reflections on the concept of biblical womanhood, and laughed out loud several times at her descriptions of trying to teach herself to cook. My biggest complaint was that it shifted between scripture, journal excerpts, and the main text quite frequently, which didn't always flow smoothly - though I think most of that was the fact that I was listening to it rather than reading a paper copy. It's not my favorite RHE book, but I'm definitely glad I read (listened to?) it.

What did you read in September? Any thoughts on these books, or other reading recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below.

Joyfully,
Alice

August 2018 Reads

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I intended to have this post up last week, but obviously that didn't happen. I'm still working on building routine, still working on having grace for myself when things don't go according to plan. But here we are, better late than never.

I read a lot of books in August, more than I have in one month for a very long time. The library just kept sending me emails informing me that the books I'd placed on hold had arrived and were ready for pickup, so I just kept reading. I had at least a dozen library books at home at any given point last month. And then there was the time that I read three entire books in a twenty-four hour span. There are several that are still sitting on my shelf with a bookmark midway through that I need to sit down and finish.

As I stacked these books up to take a picture of them together, I realized that everything I read in August was nonfiction, and largely faith-based. Who would have thought that my diehard fiction-loving self would shift that drastically? But it was a month of some really good, challenging reads. Some were better than others, but overall the quality of these books was great.

So here are my August 2018 reads, with some thoughts in review attached:

 

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile (5/5)

I'm definitely late to the enneagram game, but better late than never, I guess? After being fascinated by other personality tests like the Myers-Briggs system, I suppose it was only a matter of time. This book has been around for a couple of years, and breaks down each of the nine enneagram types and discusses their tendencies for better or worse. And then I got to the section on my type (which is 4w3, by the way), and felt extremely seen and extremely called out. It was good. This is one of those books that helped me understand a little of where other people are coming from, and was just a really interesting read overall.

More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger (2/5)

When I picked up this book, I was quite looking forward to it. But for being a book about radical generosity that was supposed to be from a Christian perspective, there was surprisingly little Jesus in it. There were lots of practical ideas for living a lifestyle of generosity, but most of them were focused on how they made the individual *feel,* and on giving out of that which doesn’t actually change our hearts or our lives, which made me a little uncomfortable at times. Virtually unexplored was any conversation about how Christ's love compels us to give and serve others, about the ways in which radical generosity - giving though it costs us - is a characteristic of the kingdom of God. I finished the book, but it felt bland and left me quite dissatisfied with the experience.

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Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey (4/5)

I always appreciate Sarah Bessey's words, and this was no exception. Her books keep showing up in my life at just the right moments, reminding me that other people wrestle with the same questions, concerns, and hopes. Every time she brings up the Bullfrogs and Butterflies album that was so instrumental in bringing her and her family to faith, I get a huge wave of nostalgia because I had the same album and listened to it endlessly when I was a kid. It's not an analytical theology textbook, but a reminder that it's okay if things feel messy and that sometimes all we can do is wade right through it knowing that Jesus meets us along the way and at the other side.

 

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott (3/5)

Anne Lamott is one of those authors whose work I see in different places, but have never really read much of her work. This book was a quick read (it took me just over an hour one evening), but a good one, though the chapter 'Help' is the best part by far. It's an interesting conversation about the ways we speak to God, and though it's certainly not a book for everyone, I enjoyed her poetic exploration of the topic. Here's a favorite quote from the book: "Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up."

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (5/5)

I've been looking forward to reading this one for several months now, and it did not disappoint. Austin Channing Brown's memoir is moving and challenging and powerful. She speaks honestly about her experiences as a black woman with a 'man's' name living in America, and the everyday realities of racism that she and so many others encounter. It's not meant to be a comfortable read, but I think it's a truly important one. This one should be on your reading list no matter who you are. It's that good.

Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I've Loved) by Kate Bowler (4/5)

If you've ever experienced, illness, grief, or loss, you'll find something to appreciate in this book. Kate Bowler writes a raw memoir of living with a terminal cancer diagnosis and all the unfortunate things people say because they don't know what else to do. It's got lots of wisdom about living in the present moment and loving the ones you're with, and she includes a very helpful index of things never to say to someone who's facing terminal illness or dealing with any other kind of grief, then contrasts it with some much better alternatives. Overall, a good, if wrenching read.

Silent Compassion by Richard Rohr (3/5)

I'd heard good things about Richard Rohr's writing, and decided to pick up this book first because it was short. Little did I know, it was also densely packed with wisdom and reflection, so it was not nearly as quick a read as I had anticipated. There was lot that was good inside it, but his writing style is not one that allows you to skim at all. I sometimes found his words to be a little too flowery, but overall still enjoyed it and would happily pick up another piece of his work in the future.

Everybody Always by Bob Goff (?/5)

Full disclosure: I haven't actually finished this one yet because someone else had a hold on it at the library so I wasn't able to renew it and finish it before returning it. I'm hoping to either borrow a copy from someone or to grab it from the library when it's available again and finish it properly. But I liked what I read so far. Bob Goff writes as a light-hearted storyteller and weaves in all kinds of truth along the way. If you liked Love Does, you'll probably like this one too.

 

So there they are, my thoughts on the things I read in August. At this point, I'm ahead of schedule on my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge, and have another big stack of books to read before September is finished. I'm also considering starting an Instagram account dedicated to the things I read, so that I can share more regularly what I'm reading without completely annoying all the people who follow my main account.

Did you read anything great this summer? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Wishing you the happiest of Thursdays.

 

Joyfully,
Alice