Catching Up – Reading Challenge Mini Reviews, Part II

As you can see from my last entry, I am using my offline reading journal to catch up on some of what I’ve been reading in 2016. This time around, I’m closing out the year with mini reviews of all the other Challies Reading Challenge books I read.  And the 2017 Challies Challenge?  Why yes, I am definitely participating – but more on that next year. 😉

scared Book InformationScared: A Novel on the Edge of the World

Author – Tom Davis

Publication Information – David C. Cook (2010, $9.99 digital, $14.99 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book about a current issue.

I realize that the “book about a current issue” prompt was probably meant to steer readers to a nonfiction book. However, two things led me to this novel instead. First of all, while reading my way through this challenge, I was trying to stick to books that I already had in my library since I have quite a backlog of books I need to read. And the second reason? Well, I had just finished reading and thinking my way through a work of theology and I really wanted to read a novel.

And what a novel it was. I have said in the past that I think there are ideas which can be brought home more vividly through fiction rather than nonfiction. That is exactly the case with Scared. This novel, which deals primarily with the AIDS crisis in Africa, not only teaches readers a lot about the issue at hand but also makes readers feel what this crisis does to our brothers and sisters overseas who must live with it.  Before reading this book, I knew factually that AIDS has ravaged – and continues to destroy – large chunks of the African continent. However, in this book, I found myself forced to face the specifics of this plague more closely and in such a way that one simply cannot comfortably ignore it or isolate oneself from it. Continue reading

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Catching Up – Some Reading Challenge Mini-Reviews

evangelism Book InformationEvangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Author – J. I. Packer

Publication Information – InterVarsity Press (2012 edition of 1961 original; $9.99 digital, $16.00 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book recommended by my pastor.

One of the pastors at the church where I grew up makes no secret of his love for this book as well as for J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Even though I’ve read Knowing God several times over and really found it life-changing, somehow I’d missed this book.

One of the attacks often leveled at reformed theology is that we must not believe in evangelism since God has chosen His elect. In this short book, Packer very powerfully makes the case that God’s absolute sovereignty is what should drive our passion to evangelize. This book contains one of the best discussions of the reasons for evangelism that I have ever read and it is deservedly a classic. I intend to read it again so that I can think about it more deeply and it’s one of those books that I think belongs in any library. Rating: 5 stars

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benfranklinBook InformationBenjamin Franklin: An American Life

Author – Walter Isaacson

Publication Information – Simon & Schuster (2004, $12.13 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a biography.

Clocking in at nearly 600 pages, this is an impressive doorstopper of a book. Fortunately, it’s also fascinating reading so it didn’t feel terribly long at all.

Most relatively well-educated people will have at least a vague sense of Benjamin Franklin and his importance in American history. However, this book really digs deeply not just into the person but also the time in which he lived.  The result is a vivid portrait that made me appreciate Franklin more, despite his infamous shortcomings.

Isaacson starts with Franklin’s early life, which was somewhat difficult to put it mildly. The picture that emerges is one of a bright boy who develops into a clever, determined young man whose humor and wit take him far. Though obviously very gifted, his pride and temper seemed to make him his own worst enemy at times.

In some ways, Franklin with his Poor Richard’s Almanac and famous maxims has been made to personify the American spirit of thrift, striving and innovation.  These are definitely present in the story of his life. However, Isaacson does a marvelous job of marshaling the primary sources to show him as human as well. The Franklin that emerges here is a more complex (and sometimes less likable) figure than the one we see in textbooks or even his own autobiography. A good biography of a flawed but important figure. Rating: 4.5 stars

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howardsendBook InformationHowards End

Author – E. M. Forster

Publication Information – Dover Thrift Editions (2010 reissue of 1910 publication, $0.99 digital, $4.50 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book more than 100 years old.

My first introduction to E. M. Forster came through the lush Merchant and Ivory films that were popular when I was a child.  At the time, I think I was too young to really grasp some of the themes of the novels but I could enjoy the gorgeous cinematography.

Now, as an adult, I can better appreciate the complexity of Forster’s books.  This novel, originally published in 1910, illustrates the tensions between the more traditional segments of English society as represented by the Wilcox family who own Howards End and the more modern (and decidedly secular) patterns of the Schlegel family.  In this tale of a friendship and other interactions between members of the unorthodox Schlegel clan and the Wilcoxes, we see the tensions again and again.  For instance, Margaret Schlegel and Mrs. Wilcox become very close friends but the worldly and “modern” Margaret just cannot understand the importance family holds for Mrs. Wilcox.

In addition to the push and pull of emotions and tangled relations between Schlegel and Wilcox, a chance meeting between the Schlegels and a young working class man named Leonard Bast set in motion a series of events that eventually unfolds with tragic consequences.  The result is both an interesting if sometimes disquieting portrait of the early 20th century as well as a thoughtful consideration of the meaning of life. Written from what appears to be a decidedly non-Christian perspective(Forster was an athiest), I don’t agree with some of the places that Forster’s pondering takes him but this subtle, well-written book is worth reading and thinking through nevertheless. Rating: 4 stars

Wrapping Up a Trilogy – Review of The Midwife’s Dilemma

midwifesdilemmaBook information – The Midwife’s Dilemma

Author – Delia Parr

Publication Information – Bethany House (April 2016, $9.99 digital, $5.52 print)

Reading Challenge book? No.

As readers of this blog may know, I enjoyed the previous two books in Delia Parr’s At Home in Trinity trilogy, set in 1830s Pennsylvania.  The heroine, Martha Cade, is a widow with grown children and I have enjoyed seeing her navigate the challenges of faith and life as a midwife in what can sometimes be difficult circumstances.

Throughout the series, we have seen Martha’s evolving relationship with her grown daughter as she moves into adulthood, and we have also seen the evolution of an old friendship with a local widower turn into romantic love. These themes continue throughout this book and eventually get resolved.

I enjoyed seeing how Martha’s sometimes difficult relationship with her daughter unfolded. The shift from child to adult for Victoria brought some strain with Martha, and I was happy to see the two of them learn how to deal with this evolving relationship. My main issues with the book sprang from the relationship between Martha and her (perhaps) intended.

It was obvious that this gentleman loved Martha and wished to marry her, but Martha kept finding reasons to put off making a decision.  I have to admit that I found her protracted dithering quite exasperating.  I could understand that she would not want to marry and leave her community completely devoid of a midwife. However, I felt like she used this as an excuse rather than facing any real hesitations she might have.

Things do eventually get resolved – on all the plotline fronts – though the ending did feel a tad rushed.  Aside from my quibbles with Martha’s treatment of the man courting her, I still enjoyed the book, though I’m not sure I’ll reread it. Rating: 3 stars

*Note: A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.*

Catching Up

Wow – it’s been a little while since I posted.  As some of my readers may know, I was pregnant for much of this year.  This pregnancy had its tough moments in the form of morning sickness and fatigue on a level I don’t think I’ve ever experienced.  Sooo….my reading and blogging plans got derailed a bit.

Even though I didn’t read as much as I normally do, I’ve still gotten some reading in and I journaled most of it.  So, I’ll be ending 2016 with some catch-up blog posts and book reviews and heading into what I hope will be a most promising 2017!

And best of all this year….we got to welcome a sweet baby boy into the family earlier this fall.  So very  thankful!

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Where Have I Been?

Yes, it’s been a little quiet here.  There’s been a couple of reasons for that.  First of all, I’m a judge for the INSPY awards this year and I’ve been having a wonderful spring reading 5 books that I’m not allowed to talk about online.  I’m passionate about good Christian fiction, so the cone of silence has been tough for me.  The INSPY award winners should be announced today, so keep an eye on their webpage!

In the meantime, while I can’t say anything about the books yet, I figure I can tell you that all of the books on the General Fiction shortlist are worth your time:

– A Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner

– The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

– Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

– Water from my Heart by Charles Martin

– The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

So, between reading award contenders and having early pregnancy kick my behind in terms of energy, I’ve been a bit quiet lately. Not for long, though!

I’ve read a few other good books that I’ll be talking about on here soon, so stay tuned and let’s all keep reading.  If you’ve made any good book finds this spring, let me know in the comments. My reading pile could always use feeding. 🙂

 

 

Making Theology More Accessible: Review of Visual Theology

visualtheologyBook InformationVisual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God

Authors – Tim Challies, Josh Byers

Publication Information – Zondervan (April 2016, $17.99 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes – This is a book published in 2016.

I have been looking forward to this book for a long time. I’m a visual learner, and even though I have had plenty of exposure to sound teaching and reformed theology, I often feel like I have trouble organizing what I know. And like many Christians, I really want to deepen my understanding and grow closer to God.

In many ways, I found this book a helpful tool for doing that. I think that new Christians and those looking for an intro to theology would be the readers who would get the most out of this book, but it’s not a bad refresher on the basics for others as well.

The opening chapters on the gospel, Christian identity and relationships talk about how we as believers are called to grow closer to Christ. The book then shifts to discussion of understanding the work of Christ, becoming more Christ-like, and finally, practical chapters on what living for Christ looks like in areas such as vocation or stewardship.

Everything is explained in fairly basic terms, and while the language can be a tad dry at times, it’s quite clear and for that reason, I found the book helpful and informative. It’s the sort of book where I’d read a chapter and stop to digest it for a while rather than just plowing straight through.

Some of the graphics in the book are quite excellent in terms of aiding readers to reach a deeper understanding of their faith. For instance, there is one which shows all the many things that having an identity in Christ means in the lives of believers. And then there’s the flowchart that walks readers through the process of dying to a particular sin. That was phenomenal for me. Not only do we walk through a series of questions about our sin and how we want to end it, but the authors point out common pitfalls we face during that continuing period of sanctification as well as biblical means by which to combat them. It’s good stuff.

The main weakness of the book for me was its unevenness. For example, we have that wonderful graphic on dying to sin and that graphic comes as part of a generally strong chapter that discusses putting off our old sinful identities. However, that strong section of the book is preceded by a chapter on doctrine, one of the weakest and most unhelpful chapters in the book. I understand that Visual Theology is meant to be only an introduction to studying theology, but telling readers that they should really, really study doctrine but that the authors aren’t going to go into such complicated stuff in this intro book really doesn’t do much for me as a reader.

In addition, while I did enjoy the visual aids that are included with this book, I do wish there had been more of them. Even so, if you are in search of a gentle introduction to theology, this is one to try. I can also see it being useful for homeschooling with adolescent-age children to get them started on a serious study of theology. Rating: 4 stars

Just Passing Through

road Sometimes I feel like it’s a long road I’m on.

Some days the road is smooth and level, and I can see so clearly in all directions. My steps are firm and I know my way. It’s as if I’m being led in just the right way.

Other days the road is bumpy, or it’s dark and I can’t see my way. I’ve never been so lost in my life. Getting lost makes the fear build in the pit of one’s stomach. The dread grows to terror and it’s hard to make one foot keep moving in front of the other. Sometimes you even just have to have faith that the road is still there under your feet. I don’t know what keeps me going, but someone leads my way or maybe even carries me through the worst.

And then there are the uphill days. I can see the light at the top of the steep hill, and that light pulls me forward. It’s a hard climb, but I can see the goal in sight and that will keep me going. Sometimes the difficulty of the terrain becomes all consuming.

It’s so easy to think that it is all just me and the road. Walking this road is all there is.

And then I remember. There really is a purpose, and there really is a Destination. On this earth, we’re just passing through.

The Children’s Bookshelf: A 2 Year Old’s Top 10 “Reads”

Time is flying!! I can’t believe my little man is 2 years old already(and we’re expecting a new baby in October so there’s even more excitement here!)  He’s reached a stage where his love of words and books is really starting to show, and I find it quite exciting. He loves to be read to, and he’s also rediscovering old favorites and pulling them out for rereads.  We’ve been having a lot of bookish fun here at my house.

So, what does my son love to read these days?  Well, it’s a combination of new discoveries and books read to him as an infant that he has rediscovered and pulled from the book basket for constant rereads.  Here are the top ten:

goodnightmoonGoodnight Moon is the first book I ever read aloud to my little guy. I remember that I started reading it to him a day or two after we got home from the hospital. At that age, reading aloud is less for content and more just to show little ones that reading and love and comfort all go together. This book is a great intro to the world of words and it’s one of those enduring small children’s classics that many of us know and love. I’ve seen a number of bedtime books and this is still one of the sweetest and dearest. I routinely give this one as a baby shower gift! Continue reading

Making Our Own – Review of The Made-From-Scratch Life

madefromscratch Book informationThe Made-From-Scratch Life

Author – Melissa K. Norris

Publisher – Harvest House (February 2016, $12.99 digital, $12.99 print

First things first – unlike the author, I am definitely not a homesteader. While many of my relatives live out in the country, I was raised in town. I live in a more rural area now and love it, but still, I’m only on a couple acres. So I came into this book with some homemaking skills learned from family and from kind mentors, but you wouldn’t want me running your farm.

So, does this book speak to people like me? You bet it does. First of all, I really liked Norris’ style. This is not just a dry book of recipes and information; the author has put a lot of herself and her own experiences into her writing and that makes for a book that is not only informative but full of heart.

The book is divided into user-friendly categories, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. Some of it (such as the information on raising livestock) didn’t apply so much to me, but a beginning farmer or someone newly married into a farm family would likely find it helpful. I already make some of my own cleaners and I cook just about all of our meals from scratch, but Norris includes some helpful facts and plenty of great recipes to increase my repertoire. Continue reading

When Nothing Comes Easy

frustration I had to laugh when I saw this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt. For the past couple of weeks, nothing has really felt easy.

You know those kind of weeks, right? The ones where we feel pulled in way too many directions and just can’t seem to find our center? That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. I work from home part-time and I’ve had some tricky matters to deal with there, I’m up against a deadline on a volunteer committee I serve on, I have a two-year-old who is going through a difficult phase and really needs his mommy.

And oh yes, I’m also pregnant and exhausted. Soooo exhausted. I remember being tired with my first little one, but not this bone crushingly fatigued.

So, how have I been living life? Well, it feels like I’ve been plodding through jello – or maybe a vat of molasses – the entire way. And I’ll admit that part of me feels a little entitled. With so many things making life more difficult, it’s easy to slip into feeling like I deserve to have something go my way.

And yet, as I fall into that thinking, I also read Scripture and see so many examples of God’s faithfulness. Things don’t always come easily for his people. In fact, we’re promised trials in this life. So what do we have? We have God with us. We do not walk alone.

This week, I have been reading in Psalms and I was especially struck as I came across the words, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”(Psalms 119:71-72) This runs so opposite to much of what we’re taught to think by the culture. And yet, God’s word holds true. I don’t often (read that, pretty much never) have the primary impulse to be thankful for trials in my life but in looking back, I can see that God has taught me through these trials. Most importantly, I can also see how God has been there with me, just as He promises us He will be.

So how does this change my thinking? Well, I know life isn’t always easy. But I also know we’re not alone.