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

A Blast From the Past – Love Comes Softly

lovecomessoftly Book InformationLove Comes Softly

Author – Janette Oke

Publication Information – Bethany House (1979, $13.99 paperback, $8.72 digital)

Several posts back, I mentioned that I had been gifted with several boxes packed to the brim with Christian books read and loved by my grandmother and her sisters.  It’s a treasure trove of Christian reading that’s mostly from the 1980s/90s.

I wasn’t quite sure where to start with the stash of vintage books. And honestly, I’m still not sure how the ratio of long-lost treasures to cringeworthy reads will shake out.

I decided to start with a book that I read and reread as a young teen. It’s been a while since I last revisited Love Comes Softly and I wasn’t sure if it would stand up to my happy adolescent memories.

The good news?  It certainly does.  To someone who reads a lot of current inspirational fiction, this novel might seem a touch old-fashioned. However, I find it old-fashioned in a good, nostalgic way.  Oke has a way of carrying catchphrases and motifs through her story that make not just the story itself but the memory of how the book makes one feel linger in the mind. Continue reading

An Unexpected Treasure

treasure An unexpected gem recently came my way. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother and her sisters have been devoted readers (I wonder where I get it from?) I have many memories of them reading and discussing books.

One of my great-aunts is getting ready to move to a smaller house near her children and during the packing process, she called me. She had 3 boxes of books, and wanted me to keep what I wanted from the box and then donate the rest.

I drove out and picked up the boxes this weekend. We had company, so I only got to open them last night. Friends, it is a treasure trove!

I knew these ladies read a lot of Christian fiction, and these boxes are full to the brim with all sorts of books. There’s some non-fiction mixed in, but these are mostly fiction books.  So far, most appear to be from the 1980s and 1990s.  There are some classics I remember seeing as a child, such as Love Comes SoftlyThis Present Darkness or the House of Winslow books.

However, there are lots of new-to-me treasures to discover, too.  And that’s where readers come in.  I plan to read through the books here, and see what new treasures I discover. There’s a pretty wide selection, so if you can think of any older (pre-2000) Christian novels that you’d like to see featured on here, I’ll happily read them if I’ve got them.  Just let me know in comments.  Thanks!

My Top Reads of 2015

accidentalfem 2015 was a wild and crazy year for me, folks.  I started the year with my son’s major surgery and a week in the ICU, followed by long recovery. And then there were just all the ups and downs that came with being a first-time toddler mom.  Hint: All those things people say about needing routines and planning your time are 100% completely true.

In the midst of the chaos, I still got to read.  And I read some wonderful books. Here are my favorite picks, both fiction and non-fiction, from what I read this past year.

The Accidental Feminist by Courtney Reissig – I highlighted and underlined so much of this book!  In terms of belief, I would say that my husband and I are both “old school” complementarians. We believe that what Scripture tells us about the roles of the sexes is correct, and we don’t agree with many of the liberal teachings that run counter to these verses. Likewise, we don’t agree with some of the teachings we’ve seen in recent years that take biblical complementarianism, turn it into a new gospel, and then use it to denigrate women.  Courtney Reissig writes clearly and does a wonderful job of steering readers away from both of these problems. I’ve read a lot of the older books on gender roles, and I think this new book is important. It’s also a bit more relatable for people of my generation than some of the older books out there.

fromdustFrom Dust and Ashes by Tricia Goyer – I’ve reread this book several times and it occupies a permanent spot on my shelf.  This novel, set in the aftermath of World War II, is a beautiful story of love, forgiveness and redemption. Goyer does a top-notch job of illustrating her themes without beating readers over the head, and the story itself is compelling.  Great fiction and great inspiration!

My Brother’s Crown by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould – I  find church history absolutely fascinating, and this book was a wonderful window into Huguenot life. I knew some of the cold facts of their persecution, but seeing it brought to life through the eyes of the characters in this book made a powerful impression on me.  An intriguing mystery and fantastic adventure as well. mybrotherscrown

Unshaken by Crawford W. Loritts, Jr. – Not only is it full of sound theology, but this book by Crawford W. Loritts, Jr. also gave me a much-needed boost of encouragement. Loritts discusses faith in ways that are well-grounded biblically. However, in addition to giving readers food for thought, he leaves us with great encouragement. And because it is so grounded in truth, I found that it hit me at a deeper place than some of the books of encouragement I’ve read in the past.

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden – As a Virginia native, I’ve been on many trips to Washington DC.  At its best, it’s a very inspirational city and there is much to see and learn there. This novel, featuring a young Senator and a brave librarian, gives readers a glimpse into old Washington. The story itself is intriguing, and I loved seeing places such as the Library of Congress, seen now as a traditional institution, when it was in its formative days.

huttobook Inheritance of Tears by Jessalyn Hutto – Miscarriage is a painful issue for many, and it’s probably not a subject for many “Best of Year” book lists. However, this book is unique in that it provides solid reassurance for those who have lost babies as well as for those who care about them. Hutto not only provides reminders grounded in Scripture, but also opens up her own life and makes herself vulnerable and approachable with her readers. I found this a very healing read, and I suspect others will as well.

God Bless Our Fall by Hannah Hall – This is one of the most adorable books I read all year. My son loves the animal illustrations, and the rhyming text is cute without being saccharine. godmakeakitten

Only God Can Make a Kitten by Rhonda Gowler Greene – Another endearing read for children. Animal books are very popular in our house, and this account of a little boy’s chat with his mother is a sweet read for little ones.

It’s only 8 books this year, but I have a feeling 2016 is going to yield a much fuller list of wonderful, “not to be missed” reading.

First Read of the Year: Review of For the Love

Book Information For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

Author – Jen Hatmaker

Publisher – Thomas Nelson ($11.99 digital,  $22.99 hardcover (now on sale for $12.73 at Amazon)

Reading challenge book? Oh yes! This is “A Book That Has a Fruit of the Spirit in the Title.”

I’ll admit something. While I tend to read plenty of fiction, both old and hot off the presses, I do tend to shy away from trendy books when I’m choosing my nonfiction reads.

This one snuck in on me, though. Several of my friends enjoy Jen Hatmaker’s blog and I’ve read it myself every now and again. I don’t always agree with the views expressed, but I do find Hatmaker’s honesty and sense of humor very refreshing. When my book club decided to read this book as a “light read” for the end of the year, I picked it right up. The positive review by Tim Challies in WORLD magazine didn’t hurt either. Continue reading

An Amazing Adventure in Faith – Review of My Brother’s Crown

Book InformationMy Brother’s Crown

Authors – Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould

Publisher – Harvest House (October 2015, $14.99 paperback, $10.49 digital)

This is the review where I feel like I should start off with an apology. Harvest House very kindly lent me an ARC of this book, and I have been way too slow in posting my review. However, I am grateful for the loan because I enjoyed the book immensely, and I hope that you’ll read and enjoy it as well.

The book is something of a timeslip, featuring stories set in modern-day Virginia and 1680s France. The modern-day heroine, Renee Talbot, comes from a prominent Virginia family. At their latest reunion, a 17th century document that has been part of her family legacy is about to be unveiled. And as the family gathers, Renee finds herself on a search for truth that will take her not only far in distance, but in time.

I found the historical story even more captivating. In the 1680s, we follow Catherine Gillet, the daughter of a printing family, as her Huguenot community faces ever-increasing persecution in France. Though it is understood Catherine will soon marry, her life and that of her betrothed are deeply uncertain and even endangered.  Even from the early chapters of the story, I found myself concerned for Catherine and her family. As it becomes apparent that the family must flee France, I found myself on the edge of my seat reading through this book. Continue reading

A Suspenseful Turn of Events – Review of Headline: Murder

headlinemurder

    Book Information

Headline: Murder
Author – Maggie K. Black
Publisher – Love Inspired Suspense(July 2014 $5.99 paperback, $4.99 digital)

I’ve not read Maggie K. Black’s novels before, but if they’re like this one, I might want to try reading her again. Headline: Murder is incredibly suspenseful and since the author starts her novel by throwing readers into the heart of the action, I found myself turning pages compulsively.

The novel opens in a Canadian courtroom, as a crown attorney(prosecutor) announces that a construction company owner accused of having stolen from both the government and his own employees will now walk free. Reporter Olivia Brant is in court for the hearing and waits for the defendant in the garage to get a statement. Worried about her career, she’s anxious to write a big story that will land her name on the cover of her paper.

In the courthouse garage, she gets more than she bargains for. Just as she starts speaking with the company owner, masked men storm the area and gun him down. Things look grim for Olivia as well until the mysterious Daniel Ash saves her and spirits her away from the scene. Continue reading

The Good, the Bad and the Everything – Review of Wild in the Hollow

wildhollow Book InformationWild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home
Author: Amber C. Haines
Publisher: Revell (August 2015, $16.99 hardcover, $9.72 digital)

I’ve been curious about this book ever since I heard about it. I’ve read Amber C. Haines’ blog off and on from back when her site was just called The RunaMuck. Some of the content I enjoyed back then looks like it’s been pruned away, but there are still good new blog pieces to be had there from time to time.

One of the things I enjoy most about Haines’ writing is that she tends to be very real with her readers. If you’ve read her blog for any length of time, you know she’s not perfect and doesn’t pretend to be. I suspect that we might differ in the particulars of our theology, but she captures the wonders of God’s grace in imagery that rekindles my joy in Him. Continue reading

Review – Among the Fair Magnolias

amongfairmagnoliasBook InformationAmong the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories

Authors – Dorothy Love, Tamera Alexander, Elizabeth Musser, and Shelley Gray

Publisher – Thomas Nelson (July 2015, $12.99 print, $7.99 digital)

As a native Virginian, I enjoy reading about Southern history as well as reading stories set in the South.  Even though none of the tales in this anthology features my home state, the authors cover a fascinating variety of settings and themes from pre-Civil War South Carolina, through Reconstruction.  While the quality of the stories did vary somewhat, I ended the anthology feeling glad I had read it.

A Love So True by Dorothy Love – Set in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina in 1860, this novella tells the story of Abigail Clayton, daughter of a successful planter with political aspirations. The tale opens as the Claytons prepare to welcome South Carolina society to their summer home for their annual barbeque. Abby anxiously awaits the arrival of Dr. Wade Bennett, the man she loves and longs to marry.

However, her father makes it clear that he intends for her to marry Charles Kittredge, a distant cousin and another successful planter. The marriage to Charles would unite two powerful land holdings and also has the potential to advance Mr. Clayton’s political aims. Abby has no wish to marry Charles, but she feels the call of duty to her father. Continue reading

Pure Melodrama – Reviewing A Heart’s Disguise

heartsdisguiseBook InformationA Heart’s Disguise

Author – Colleen Coble

Publisher – Thomas Nelson (March 2015, $6.99)

I’m more familiar with Colleen Coble via her books with contemporary settings, but I was aware that she had written historicals. When I read that she planned to re-release two early works that had been out of print for many years, I got curious. And when I saw that the release of the books would take place over several monthly installments, I felt more curious still.

Given the chance to pick up the first part of Journey of the Heart, I pounced. How would this Victorian-style reading experience go? After all, I grew up hearing how readers of Charles Dickens eagerly clamored at stores for the release of the newest part of each of his novels.

Continue reading