Books

5/16/2017 — cori
March 24, 2017


This is the second time I've introduced an author rather than his book. But his work means so much more to you when you know the person. I was introduced to David Steindl-Rast through the OnBeing podcast. After listening attentively and being warmed, encouraged, and challenged by his words I knew I had just scraped the surface. I had to learn more about this gentle, old monk. I wanted to immerse myself in his writings and glean from his 93 years of wisdom and life on this earth.

The next thing I did was watch his TED Talk. Take the short 15 minutes to listen. It will transform how you see the world, people, and everything around you.


After listening to his TED Talk I started checking out his books at the library. I highly recommend "The Gift of Silence" and "99 Blessings". I want whatever this man has. His joy, peace, wisdom, radiant calmness, gentle spirt, and loving inclusivity. He is a man who represents God's love to me and everyone he meets. You can't help being a better person after spending time listening to David Steindl-Rast's words. 




March 8, 2017

I love Jodi Picoult. Whenever I don't know what to read, I know I can go find any of her books and escape into a new world. I love her writing style, the impeccable research she gives to her vastly varied subject matters, and the depth with which she writes. She also tackles hard subjects. 

This book is about race relations in the U.S, an admittedly hot-button issue. Yet she does it justice in a beautiful, blunt, and heart-wrenching way. Everyone should have the opportunity to read this book. It will open your eyes to what racism looks like in different forms, from different points of view. What it looks like in a work environment. What it looks like in different people. How it's handled in our justice system. How it seeps into the very fabric and core of our everyday lives often without us even realizing it. 

If you are even slightly concerned about the injustice faced by millions of African Americans and desire to understand it better, you will appreciate this book. If you are willing to look white privilege in the eye and examine yourself, you will grow into a much more compassionate person after reading this book.


February 4, 2017


I was 84th on the library's waiting list for this book. I'd heard it was a 'must read' - one explanation as to how Trump could have possibly gained any loyal following resulting in a GOP nomination and eventual Presidential win. I was curious and wanted to to know more. Two months after requesting the book, I finally got it and read it in less than a week. 

It is essentially the life story of self-professed hillbilly, J.D. Vance. In his opening remarks he even admits that his life isn't anything special, just one more hillbilly story. But that's precisely what makes it so special - its a peak into a huge portion of American society that most of us don't understand. The book chronicles the migration of J.D's family from the Appalachian Mountain's of Kentucky to the Rust Belt of Ohio and all the dysfunction that comes along with them.   

His stories are tragic, humorous, depressing, frustrating, and redemptive. To understand where someone comes from and what makes them tick goes a long way to better understanding why they make the choices they do. This large portion of the white working-class hillbilly population has a lot of pent up anger and resentment mostly focused on the government whom they blame for all their problems.

Vance explains how the loss of manufacturing jobs that anchored many of the small communities in the Rust Belt has led to the slow decline of small town economies and turned these once thriving areas into economically depressed areas without hope of recovery. These same people are fiercely loyal to their country, value the second amendment above all else, consider themselves "christian", abuse the welfare system, do not value education and hard work, distrust the government,  and will fight for "honor" whenever they feel they or their loved ones are being threatened. Granted, this is a generalization and does not fit the entirety of the white working class population. But it does give us a window into their motivations, thinking, and general behavior.

I had mixed emotions reading this book. I gained a better appreciation for the military after learning about J.D's experience and how much it taught him. I felt compassion for the innocent children made to suffer at the hands of ignorant, hurting, uneducated parents who put their own addictions and wants above the needs of their children. I felt anger towards those who don't want to do what it takes to better themselves or the lives of their children. I learned that the only way to get out of this destructive cycle is to physically leave the environment. Also, you can get out of an unhealthy environment, but it might take a lifetime to get the unhealthy environment and default ways of reacting to situations out of you. And lastly, I learned that love covers a multitude of sins. Love looks vastly different to many people - but we all know how it feels. We want, need, and thrive on the love of those closest to us no matter how dysfunctional, successful, healthy or imperfect those people are. We all love the best we can and cannot fault anyone for that.




January 2, 2017


Chloe read this book in her English class this past semester. Since she is a part of me, she has the need to share what she's learning with those she loves because that's what we do. She loved the book so much she insisted I read it. During the Christmas break, I started reading it aloud with her. Bennett happened to also be in the room and got hooked too. 

This is ultimately a book about forgiveness. The book touches on our criminal justice system, anger, violence, responsibility, finding inner peace, healing, consequences of our actions, and finding ourselves. It's written so well, it kept a 15 year old boy in rapt attention. The author does not mince words. Oftentimes incidents happen that I wish wouldn't have. I wish the main character would have understood the lesson earlier. I wish the supporting characters would have communicated better. I wish things weren't so harsh. But it is an accurate representation of real life. Life doesn't always go the way we wish it would; it takes ugly twists and turns at times. People don't always respond the way we would hope and how we react to these misunderstandings shapes our lives. Life is harsh and life is beautiful.

Some of the best quotes of the book are in regard to justice. Justice often fails because it seeks to punish, not heal. Jails and fines harden people. This wisdom rings true as we see over 4 million people currently in our "judicial system" with little to no internal change of heart or external change of character. Retributive justice is no justice at all. We must start finding ways of bringing about restorative justice.

The last quote is said in response to the main character after committing a horrible offense against another person. The people in charge are trying to figure out how to teach him responsibility as well as teach him how damaging the consequences of his actions were to him and all those around him. One character says, Cole isn't the only problem here tonight. He is only a symptom of a family and a community that has somehow broken down. If we can't find solutions, we all fail, we all share the guilt, and we all pay a terrible price.   How true that is. What affects one, affects us all. We are so intertwined and we don't even realize it. We pretend life is all about us. We fail to remember the greater good. We fail to consider how our own actions might have a ripple affect to all those around us; especially in our hyper-individualized Western society. I love the idea of Circle Justice presented in this book. I think we have so much good to learn from the ancient practices of the Native Americans - if we would just stop and listen and learn.

I'm so thankful I was given the gift of learning these beautiful lessons alongside my kids: healing happens when you forgive; true justice involves healing, not punishing; we have to let our anger go on a daily basis so we don't act out of it, but out of love; we learn many lessons by clearing our mind and learning how to really listen and see; nature teaches us many things if our hearts are open to learn; our biggest enemy is often ourself, we must learn to love and forgive ourselves before we can truly love others.





December 21, 2016


I am a better person for having read this book. It took me only 4 days. I inhaled it. The writing is comfortable, clean, easy, relaxed. The story is harsh, exacting, emotional, devastating. Kristin Hannah takes a subject matter that most of us know little about, living under Nazi Occupation in France during WWII, and brings it utterly, beautifully, and tragically alive.

This is another modern-day classic similar in it's epic quality and writing style to that of All The Light We Cannot See.  History will be repeating the opening line of this novel for generations to come: "If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."

The story follows the lives of two sisters, opposite in nature in every way possible, living in France during WWII. German occupation of their country was hell for these people. I've read hundreds of Holocaust survivor stories. I've read many stories of those who helped save and hide the Jews. But I've only read one other account of what it was like to live under SS rule in your own country. I learned of the depth of loyalty the French had for their country and the risks they were willing to take in leading the French Resistance. Every day could have been their last. Fear was a constant companion. It was full of sacrifices and concessions of every kind. Fighting the enemy happened in a multitude of little ways through the strength of hundreds of brave men and women. 

Thankfully, being that it's winter break, I had ample time to read. I finished the 440 page book in 4 days. I cried through the last hundred pages. I don't know if everyone else gets that attached to the characters, but I sure do. I was devastated, elated, heart-broken and proud. My emotions ran the gamut. The book is emotionally raw - but it is utterly necessary. This book will stay on your mind and in your heart for a very long time. That's beautiful writing my friends!







December 17, 2016


If you want to have a greater understanding of race relations 100 years ago, this book would be an ideal place to start. This is a true story of two albino African American boys being stolen from their farm in Roanoke, Virginia in the early 1920s and being held captive as freaks in the side-show of the circus. The author, Beth Macy, is a journalist. Her fact checking and research on this book is impeccable. Her interest in the story lies in the fact that Roanoke is also her home town and these two men are part of the folklore of its history. Being a journalist, she just had to follow this story. But it wasn't as easy as she thought it might be. This story was deeply guarded by the family of these two boys. It wasn't folklore to them, it was their life. It was extremely personal. In an age of Jim Crow, the South, the KKK, the larger-than-life circus, and the Depression era, this is a story within a story. But first, Ms. Macy had to earn the trust of the boys' caretaker and great niece, Nancy Saunders. That took 20 years. This tale is almost too amazing to be true, yet it is heart-breakingly so. The circus (the Hollywood of the 1840s to 1940s America) exploited those people with disabilities, abnormalities and birth defects. They played off of the common American's lack of scientific knowledge and understanding about such things. This is why hardly anyone questioned these sideshow acts. It is a story of a mother's remarkable courage to fight for her children, the boys' unwavering loyalty, and the sad reality of life for African American's of the South in the early part of the 20th century. You will be a more compassionate person after reading Ms. Macy's account of the Muse brothers.






December 17, 2016


This book created a paradigm shift in my thinking and life. It's that amazing. It challenges the idea of "original sin" and instead proposes that "original blessing" is the foundation of all human life. The ripple of effects of this are enormous. It affects everything. If you are willing to set aside what you think you know and listen to what Danielle Shroyer so eloquently writes, you may find yourself in the same predicament as me.

The doctrine of original sin states the humans are predisposed with a sin nature. "Original blessing is the stubborn assertion not that we are perfect, buy that we are loved. And this love has the power to transform even our shadows into light. Original sin sets up our relationship with God as a battle because it immediately describes our natures as set against God." This definitely gives you something to ponder.

The author, who has a fabulous way with words, explains that if we truly believe in original sin, then we, by default, believe that Jesus only came to save us from God. His death is really only for our future souls in order to save us from punishment. That belittles his beautiful life and horrific death. When you believe that before we were anything we were loved by God and blessed by him and called "good", then you know and live from that place of security in love. Sin is ever present knocking on our door as the Old Testament says, but it's our choice whether or not to open that door. 

If we see ourselves as loved to the core of who we are despite what we do or don't do instead of by default being prone to sin, we will live out of that love. It will be easier to choose life (blessing). Not that we always do or will. 

Jesus did not come or die to save us from God. Danielle Shroyer explains it beautifully in her own words, "Jesus doesn't say that God is angry, or that he is paying the price for our sin. He doesn't speak of the cross as something to be settled between him and God, but something to be endured between him and humanity. Jesus entered our suffering and death not to pay a price but to make a way. And that way leads us to whole, redeemed, abundant life. Jesus said he was the life, not the forgiveness."

I have to admit, when I first heard of this idea earlier this year (while reading Richard Rohr), I was extremely skeptical. It was contrary to everything I'd ever been taught. I couldn't fathom it. It seemed too good to be true. I read several other authors who proposed this same concept throughout the year but kept putting it on the back burner of my brain. I simply couldn't process it. It apparently took me several months to get to the place where I was ready to learn and go deeper. It admittedly is not an easy pill to swallow. Acknowledging that you may have wrongly believed/thought/adhered to a philosophy of life that you now see as faulty is always going to take time, humility, prayer and a lot of convincing. Even though this is new territory for me, I am so thankful for it and for the life and hope it brings back into my life.





December 12, 2016


If every school kid read this book, I believe there would be no more bullying. There would be more compassion between people. When you know the other's story, you understand where they're coming from, you can't help but be more gracious. This is a story of a girl who grew up in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S as a child, illegally. What this child and countless families go through is unbelievable. The risks you take to provide for your children, to escape poverty and violence, for the hope of a better future. Too many families have paid such a high price for these very things. 

I originally picked this book up at the library for Chloe to read. She had asked me to find her some more immigrant/refugee stories like one we had just listened too ("Where the Wind Leads" - I wrote a commentary on it in a previous post). She devoured this book and kept telling me how much I would love it and insisted that I read it. I did and was overwhelmed with the author's story. Her story-telling leaves you wanting more. As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to read anything else she wrote because I appreciate how well she weaves characters and events through her story-telling. And to think when she arrived in the U.S she couldn't speak a word of English - you would never be able to tell by her compelling writing ability. Her story echoes millions of other immigrant stories. I'm thankful she took the time to tell us.


November 14, 2016


This book though! I'm pretty sure Mr. Zinsser would abhor my opening sentence, but it's worth the ridicule. Gavin is taking U of M Writing this year. This was the book assigned for reading. Gavin suggested I read it because he was really enjoying it. I absolutely love it when the kids suggest a book for me. I usually always check it out. But this one...well, I was skeptical. It's a book about how to write. Who wants to read such a boring book? But because I said I would, I started thumbing through it. A few hours later I was several chapters in and in complete awe. I told Gavin, "Why are all humans not given this book immediately upon entering high school?! It would save us all from embarrassing writing errors as we trudged along through essay after essay." He was like, "I know, right?!"

Mr. Zinsser's style is witty, fun, articulate and practical. He doesn't mince words. He makes a boring topic so interesting you think you chose to read it for the pure pleasure of learning how to become a better writer. The tips and tricks he advises are innumerable. I had no clue I did so many things wrong in my writing.  If you are a human and you write words, this book is for you. Trust me, you'll not only love it, your writing will also become infinitely better because of it. 




October 26, 2016


I am a HUGE fan of Nadia Hashimi's writing! I love the voice she gives Afghani women. I love how she portrays the brutal, honest truth of life in Afghanistan. She has opened my eyes up to a culture I knew so little about. And now I'm thrilled to get to do the same for Chloe. We just finished reading Hashimi's first children's book, One Half from the East. It reveals with raw honesty how hard it is to be female (girl or woman) in this culture. But she does it with grace. She gives her female characters strength and grace. These women know the system they live in is not in their favor, yet they are always doing little things to subvert the system and show the their strength and wield their opinions and voices in whatever small ways they can. Chloe and I were actually sad it was over so soon. 


This was Hashimi's third novel and every bit as contagious as the first two. The reality of living as a woman in a male-dominated culture that doesn't value women for more than child-bearing is painfully revealed in these pages. Often times I found my self shaking my head in disbelief as I was reading. We just cannot relate to the unfairness and injustice of it all. This story is heart-breaking. This story is heroic. This story is about the depth of a mother's love and the costs she's willing to pay for that love. You can't help but have the deepest of respect for any woman living under these barbaric conditions forced upon her. You won't be able to stop thinking about this story or the real-life women this story represents.



September 16, 2016


How ironic is it that after 20 years of marriage we read our first marriage book?! I think someone gave us The Act of Marriage when we first got married, but it just didn't mesh with us. We didn't need a rule book. We didn't want to do marriage anyone else's way. We instinctively wanted to learn who each other was better and learn how to respond to that person the way no one else could. We were each other's teacher. Chuck has always been very intentional about showing love. He says we have to be purposeful, it's not just going to happen without effort. We have to go out of our way to do things for each other to show that love. It is that concept that has guided us through 20 years of our marriage adventure. We never want to stop learning, thus..The Zimzum of Love.

Saying I love this book would be an understatement. It is typical Rob Bell. It is concise, easy to read, beautifully, yet simply written and accessible to all. Come to find out, we learned so much of what is in this book by doing it over and over for the last 20 years. As I was reading it I told Chuck, "This book makes me feel affirmed, like all our efforts and thoughts on marriage and what we've been doing over the years are actually thought of and practiced by at least one other couple as well." Our ideology meshes perfectly with what the Bells write in their book. The way they describe marriage is the way we live it, but didn't have words to express it - yet someone finally did. 

This is my favorite quote: "We're spiritual beings, reflecting the image of God who is one, and when you commit to another and then continually extend grace to each other, year after year, conflict after conflict, the love between you becomes a grounded center from which love flows outward. As you allow this divine love to flow between you, it inevitably flows through you both, spilling over into the world around you."

I wish all couples would be given this powerful book at some point in their marriage. It is always good to re-examine where you are, where you've been and where you want to go. That's what life-long learning looks like. 



August 22, 2016


I found this book at the library on a display shelf. This is how I happen upon some of the best books I've read. I learned that it was a classic and that I'd never read it, so I picked it up. It was a long read for me. It certainly wasn't easy, but it was worth the time. This book is hard to read, but necessary for white people. I would say it is a good continuation of where Uncle Tom's Cabin left off. It takes place in the South and in Chicago in the early part of the the 20th century. Slavery may have ended, but that didn't make life any easier for African Americans - not by a long stretch; especially in the South.

Richard Wright's story is incredibly sad and unbelievable. That a child would grow up this way is heart-breaking. Not only did he live in abject poverty, on the brink of starvation, without a father, with a sick, bed-ridden mother but also had to deal with the horrible, unaccepting, hateful religious fervor of his Grandmother and Aunt.

Given his circumstances, it's no wonder that the Communist Party and it's ideals appealed to him in his early adult years. When you understand a person's story and where they're coming from and where they've been, it's easier to see why they made the choices in life they did. The idealism that all were equal, despite skin color, greatly appealed to Mr. Wright. He was later horribly disenchanted with the Party and chose to leave when he realized it was just another political system that wanted power at cost to the people. Another system that uses people even though it says it doesn't. 

Mr. Wright had an amazing sense of reading situations and people. He saw much deeper than most people. This is what makes him such an amazing author. The fact that he became an author at all is a huge testament to his drive to learn. From the beginnings of his story, you would never imagine he could attain his dream of one day being a writer.

The prose he writes are uncanny. He puts such feeling into his words or maybe his words are able to capture the depth of his feeling - either way, he's able to communicate the wrongs of racism so eloquently. Even though his experiences happened in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, his words still ring true today. That is actually a horribly sad irony - that racism is still so predominant in our modern culture. Listen to his thoughts about racism in the 20s:

"...I feel that for white America to understand the significance of the problem of the Negro will take a bigger and tougher America than any we have yet known. I feel that America's past is too shallow, her national character too superficially optimistic, her very morality too suffused with color hate for her to accomplish so vast and complex a task. Culturally the Negro represents a paradox: Though he is an organic part of the nation, he is excluded by the entire tide and direction of American culture. Frankly, it is felt to be right to exclude him, and it is felt to be wrong to admit him freely. Therefore if, within the confines of its present culture, the nation ever seeks to purge itself of its color hate, it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion. If the nation ever finds itself examining its real relation to the Negro, it will find itself doing infinitely more than that; for the anti-Negro attitude of whites represents but a tiny part- though a symbolically significant one- of the moral attitude of the nation. Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness. Am I damning my native land? No; for I, too, share these faults of character! "

It is incredibly sad to me, that many African Americans feel this same way in 2016. We cannot say our 'race problem' is gone, healed, a thing of the past - not when men and women need to remind the rest of society that "Black Lives Matter" too. White America simply cannot relate because we have mostly not experienced and lived generations of injustice and exclusion. We need to walk in their shoes or genuinely listen to their stories/experiences in order to better understand - it is the only way to learn compassion.

One final quote that I feel worth mentioning comes from an extremely negative experience Mr. Wright had with one of the Party leaders. His insight into this man astounds me. He could be talking about any number of political leaders today. One specific one comes to mind:

"He was organically capable of only the most elementary reactions. His fear-haunted life made him suspicious of everything that did not look as he looked, that did not act as he acted, that did not talk as he talked, that did not feel as he felt. His existence both gladdened and frightened me. I was glad that he was militant, but I was frightened when I pondered upon what he could do with his militancy. The only people he could move to believe in him were those who shared how own world of fear and all the world that lay beyond his terribly restricted vision was enemy ground."

This reminds me that these modern day attitudes are not new - but new versions of old attitudes that have haunted us from the beginning of time. We put new labels on them. We say our problems are bigger. But really they're not. We're humans, doing what humans have done since the beginning. If only we could all learn to live together peacefully.




July 27, 2016


To be honest, I have totally neglected this page. I have been reading a ton, but have yet to put any book commentaries on this page. What a shame. I guess it would be best to just say: Read any and everything by Richard Rohr. I've read about 7 of his books this year alone. He is my spiritual mentor right now. As much as I love to read what he has to say, I enjoy listening to him on podcasts any chance I get. He is such a gentle, wise man. His voice seems to have this instant calming effect on me. I know every teacher isn't for every person....so you may or may not enjoy his style. But I have found he is a healing balm in my life right now. The odd thing is, he is a Franciscan Catholic Priest. I am so thankful that he is the one speaking into my life right now because I so appreciate his perspective. Surprisingly, I seem to learn well from Catholic christians; not only Father Rohr but also Mother Teresa, Katie Davis, David Benner, Thomas Merton. God is everywhere, despite what so many would prefer to believe. Many religions, denominations, sects think that they 'have it all', they know the 'right' way. We don't know what we don't know. God can teach us any way he likes through any means he likes. Right now, Richard Rohr is my favorite cup of tea. I'm learning so much about contemplative prayer, the enneagram, non-dualistic thinking, and how everything belongs. The first book I read was called, "Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go", which I highly recommend. Then I moved on to "Everything Belongs", just beautiful. After that I was hooked, it didn't matter which book...I just needed to read what he wrote. I am currently reading, "Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life", this is a hard book, very convicting, but necessary. Father Rohr is taking me to the hard places, but I know I'm not there alone. These are deep, yet simple. I don't know how else to describe it. I guess when your heart/mind is ready to learn something new, you are able and willing to receive the message, even if it challenges everything you thought you once knew. 




May 27, 2016



Yet again, another example of a book I saw on the browsing shelf at the library and picked it up. I am so very glad I did. This is a story of one person's struggle with the church and all the baggage that comes with growing up in an extremely fundamentalist home. Yet she still remains optimistic about the church even through her struggles. She wrestles with what it means to be a Christian and what that really looks like outside of the church walls. This is probably does a better job of summarizing the message of the book more than my verbal trickling of words. There is no bitterness in her voice but there is a lot of humor, compassion and authenticity. I enjoyed her story so much that I went and found her other book:


I just have to say...this book is awesome! Quite the spectacular review, eh? It's witty, funny, sarcastic, genuine, unbelievable, thought-provoking, surprising and touching all at the same time. Rachel decided to take the Bible literally and do everything it says for women regardless of cultural and contextual changes that have occurred since the Bible was written up till now, our current era of time. This book received many scathing reviews saying she was mocking Biblical Womanhood, but I think it did just the opposite. 

The Bible is not a checklist of what to do and not to do in order to live right. People would like to make it that because that makes life a whole lot easier. Rather, we are to do all things with love. Love looks like Jesus on the cross. There is no list to follow. You can't point to a book written over several centuries, compiled by authors of antiquity from the middle-eastern men and written to a completely different culture and apply every word of that book literally to our current culture and call it 'biblical' The Bible was not written to us. It was written for us. Big difference. People who take everything in it literally aren't accounting for the different types of literature it contains (apocalyptic, poetry, prophetic, metaphoric, cultural idioms, wisdom literature of near ancient cultures). This is the ultimate point of the book as explained by Rachel herself. She shows the ridiculousness of claiming to live Biblically when many people who take it literally often blow off certain customs and verses as not important now but claim other parts are. 





April 2, 2016


Our family listened to this book on cd during our recent road trip. I admittedly have a very soft spot for refugees. If you don't, this author's journey will sure give you one. It is a mind-blowing tale of Vinh Chung's chance rescue from the Sea of China after attempting to escape from the Communist controlled Vietnam. It is a tale of people acting heroically as well as shamefully. I will never cease to be amazed at how cruel humans can be to one another. Just when I thought I heard it all, there is one more story of brutality at the hands of another human being. But it usually often countered by another story of undeserved rescue, grace, mercy, and help by a complete stranger at just the right time. 

On a side note, I feel that Vinh does a fantastic job of explaining the difference between a refugee and an immigrant. This is an important distinction that way too many of us are unfamiliar with. If we could only walk a mile in another's shoes, we would be so much more welcoming, gracious and giving to all those around us. 

The author gives a brief summary of the book here in his own words.




March 9, 2016


If you don't read any other book this year, make sure this is the ONE. This should be required reading for every human. It's that inspiring. Mr. George Dawson is one of my new heroes. He faced such hardship, discrimination, injustice and cruelty in his life and still thought life was so good. He said he never looked backward, only forward. He never felt sorry for himself. He didn't dwell on the unfairness of situations, he just accepted them, made the most of them and moved forward. He didn't learn how to read until he was 98 years old. If that doesn't inspire you, nothing will. Every single one of us can learn from this most humble of men. His mind is as sharp as a tack, his body as strong as an ox, his heart is as full of forgiveness as the ocean is full of fish. He respects all men. He only gives advice when asked. But most amazing of all - and this is the part of his life story that astounds me the most - he knew and still accepted his place in society and didn't let it turn him bitter or angry. He never judged people - he left that up to God. He was too busy working hard, watching and listening and gaining wisdom.




February 12, 2016


Chloe and I just finished reading this fabulous book aloud. We got it based on a recommendation and were pleasantly surprised. The story is set in London during the early 1950's. It covers the beginnings of the Cold War and the Wests' suspicions of the all things Communist. This was a fascinating yet hard topic and timeframe to be discussed in a children's fiction book. But the author pulled it off amazingly well. She did add an element of fantasy (magic) that definitely appealed to a younger audience, but it was very tastefully and realistically done. 

Maile Meloy's writing style is not watered down for a young audience. She writes in a way they will understand, but not overtly juvenile. I always appreciate it when authors recognize and respect children's minds and write in a way that causes them to stretch and grow. I was hooked from the beginning. It was a true page turner. You just can't imagine the twists and turns the story takes.

This book is especially fun read aloud because of all the different character voices. You've got British, American and Russian accents to try to recreate. It makes the story more alive for the listener when you do something simple like give a character a special voice. I guess that's why we really appreciate books on cd so much.


                                           




February 6, 2016


Uh. Maze. Ing! I almost don't have words to review this. It's all still sitting on mind and soaking into my heart. I'm still trying to digest all that I learned and gleaned. Even though I may not to be able to express the beauty of Sarah Bessey's words in an eloquent manner, it doesn't make them any less valuable. It just means I'm tongue-tied. But I feel compelled to write the review while it's impact is still so present in my consciousness.

Ultimately, this is a book about one woman's Christian journey and how she has coped with all the twists and turns her path has taken. I highly appreciate her respect of each person's journey. She doesn't try to force her way or ideals or revelations on to anyone. She's simply sharing her story. She genuinely respects where each person is in their path of life and realizes that all our paths aren't the same; yet there are still many things we can learn from each other whether or not we can relate. 

What first struck me was the beauty of the cover design. I can't help it - I like fonts. And this is simple and beautiful. I would have picked this book up based on the cover alone even if I wasn't already familiar with this author. But I was already familiar with her from her first book, "Jesus Feminist". I knew she had good things to say and now I know she apparently has good design sense too.

I was instantly hooked by the progression of Sarah's story. I was in awe of the similarity our paths took. She discusses her Charismatic roots yet doesn't seem to have any anger towards the faulty thinking (arrogance might be a better word here) about God and others that it developed in her (like I do). Instead, she realizes its all a part of who she is and a part of her story. She embraces the good, the bad and the ugly of the Church and her self. I haven't quite gotten there yet. She also talks about the 6 years she stayed completely out of church without an ounce of guilt and how God wooed her back when she was ready. 

Sarah simply, yet eloquently, relays her feelings of tension as she grapples with concepts and ideas she once held as indisputable truths that no longer are to her. "What are we supposed to do with these?" she asks. Well, we face it head on and we sort it out. We go to the hard place. We don't keep pushing these ideas/thoughts aside. We deal with them, even when it gets messy or causes even more confusion. We trust God through this process to show us the truth and give us the grace to accept it. 

If you've ever felt "out of sorts" and aren't sure how to process new things you learn about God or things he shows you that you didn't previously know - this book will help. But even better than that, it will let you know it's okay to struggle, to not know the answers and to be ok with that. It's ok to be in the wilderness. It's normal and it's part of life.

You will be encouraged, thankful and full of hope after reading this book.   



                                                -------------------------------------------






February 4, 2016



I'm a sucker for human interest stories. I love books that convey tales of survival against all odds. This is one such book: "When The Moon Is Low" by Nadia Hashimi. Nadia is an Afghan-American who has an intimate understanding of the Afghani culture. Hers is a voice of quiet strength. She especially portrays the plight of women in her ancestral country with much compassion. She gives those of us unfamiliar with this way of life a window through which to view these undeniable contrasts. 
This particular story deals with the struggles of the modern immigrant and refugee trying to flee a worn torn land. The struggles this family face during their journey are a burden too impossible to carry at times. It puts us in their shoes emotionally and mentally and even sometimes physically. I felt the pain of hunger (or the guilt of having so much food at my fingertips) when the characters had no idea where there next meal would come from.
I need to read these types of stories. I need a constant reminder not to be complacent in this life. Yes, these stories make me sad, but they also give me hope and courage. They remind me that often times it's the kind act of one random person that can make a difference in someone's life.



                         
December 14, 2015



Have you ever read a book that you just can't stop thinking about? This is that book for me. I typically do not enjoy books set in this era. I usually find the writing dry, the characters dull, and the story embellished with too many modern ideas. That is NOT the case with this book. Kathleen Kent is such a phenomenal author. Her research is impeccable. Her characters ooze with life. Her writing style is spot on authentic to the time period. This would normally be a turn off for me, but in this instance, she makes it believable. The characters come alive. They speak true to the time frame yet are relatable, understandable and vulnerable. You instantly connect. You can picture yourself in 1690's Massachusetts. You can feel the cold, the despair, the heartache. I was engrossed from the moment I picked it up and read like a fire was underneath me. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Salem Witch Trials. This book challenged that belief. Now I not only know about the trials, I felt as though I lived through them. I feel them. May you have the pleasure of feeling them too.  




                              

November 17, 2015



Chloe and I have spent the past month or so reading these two books together. To say they are awesome would be an understatement. Laurie Halse Anderson is a master storyteller. You loose yourself in her books. You find yourself thinking about the story all the time. She's that good!

These two books are written about the American War for Independence. I have read a lot of books about this era. I am well acquainted with this time of history. Yet in all my years of reading, I have not once read a book that tells the story from a slave's point of view. It's utterly fascinating. 

Anderson is a stickler for research. She even lists all the books she read and used as a guide in order to accurately portray the characters, setting, plots and events. She based the characters in her book on true accounts of real people. She brings the history alive in such a compelling way. She even takes the time to write dialogue true to the manner of the times, yet also completely understandable and intelligible to those of us reading it in this day and age. What a gift this author possesses. 

There is supposed to be a third and concluding book to the series called "Ashes" out in January of 2016. Chloe and I just might go stir crazy with anticipation before then. These are found in the children's section of our library but they are written so well that any and everyone would enjoy reading them. I'm actually surprised it's a children's book because of the level of Anderson's writing. She definitely expects her readers to come up to her level and when they do, they are rewarded with depth, emotion and intellectual stimulation that one rarely finds in children's novels. 





November 13, 2015


Yes, this is a kid's book. Yes, I loved it. It's that simple. Good writing is good writing whether it's for adults, teens or children. Christopher Paul Curtis has such an amazing voice and I'm so thankful he's using it to speak to children. He writes about a time in history that our children need to hear about. It's the relatively close past for us, the 30's-60's but quite the distant past to our children. He also writes from an African-American perspective which we need to hear. He is simply brilliant.

We got this as a book-on-cd for a little road trip we took a few weeks ago. We've either read or listened to all of his other books, so it was a no-brainer to chose this new one. This is a book everyone in the family will love and learn from. The fun thing about listening to the book is that it comes even more alive. Every one of his books-on-cd have been voiced over by such talented people. I actually preferred the book in this format.

Curtis doesn't sugar coat life. Sometimes life sucks, hurts and goes differently than we hope; yet we endure. That is his message. We make it through to the other side stronger and full of greater character. That is the main theme running through most of his books. 

This book is set in the 1930's in Indiana and Michigan. It follows the life of a 12 year old girl who goes to a colored-only school. She is at the top of her class. Her strict teacher has high hopes that she will one day be a writer or teacher. Then tragedy strikes, like every good plot twist, and her life is turned upside down. This is a book that helps us walk in the shoes of a young African-American girl living in the U.S during a time when prejudice was open and explicit. Life was plain unfair. Yet her family still thrived. Her community thrived. This is a story that shows how you can overcome unfairness and tragedy in life with love and hope and family. 

It is truly beautiful.



                          

October 16, 2015



This is a modern day classic. You can't help but feel more intelligent as you are reading it. It is riveting, compelling, deep, and raw. Anthony Doerr is an intensely gifted writer. He weaves an epic tale that spans two narratives set in WWII France and Germany. 

I have a fondness for books that change characters every other chapter. To me, it keeps a book lively, mysterious and titillating. It is a 530 page book that captures you from the start and demands you find the mystery that lies in the telling. The voice of the author is intelligent yet teaching, true to the time frame and cultures it is written in, yet somehow hits amazingly close to home. It ultimately describes the battle in all of us that rages between good and evil, do nothing and save your self or do one brave, selfless act that changes the course of history. 

At first you can't even imagine how the tales will combine to form one narrative; how the lives of these two vastly different human beings could become entwined. Yet they do, in a beautiful, redeeming quality. Marie-Laure is the blind daughter of a simple, humble man who works as the key holder for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. His life revolves around his daughter. She spends her days at the Museum surrounded by history, learning from scientists and curators of the magic that is our world. They escape to the sea side walled city of Saint Malo during the bombing of Paris. It is here that she meets her mysterious, hermit of a Great Uncle who will become her ally, co-conspirator, hero and friend.

Far away, in the coal mining town of Zollerverein lives Werner and Jutta, brother and sister, orphaned and living in the Children's House. Werner is a gifted child, especially in regards to all things radio related. He listens on a contraband radio to lessons taught by a Frenchman sending information over mysterious waves in the sky that reach him all the way in Germany. A series of events causes officers in the Nazi Army to notice his special talent and he is sent off to a para-military school for boys. There he meets a boy so attuned to life and his own conscience. This boy, who will not finish military school, will haunt Werner the rest of his life. He is haunted by the Frenchman he heard over the radio waves years before: Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

The Siege of Saint Malo begins in August of 1944. The world changes for both Marie-Laure and Werner. The ending is true and good and beautiful and brave. It is life. It is ultimately how all our stories intertwine given enough time.


                           

September 22, 2015



I can attest to this truth. Since I had no clue what I was doing when I started having children, I just did the only thing I remembered from all the parenting books: I read to them. Gavin wasn't even two weeks old and I have a picture where he's laying on my lap looking up at a board book that I have open in front of him. Of course the experts said that it had to be of the black, white and red variety - which it was. He was instantly enthralled. He studied every page. By three months old I had already signed us up for the Grolier Book of the Month Club. We got every single Dr. Seuss book in the mail. Whenever anyone would come over to see us, Gavin would crawl, then toddle, then walk then run to bring them a book to read aloud to him. By three years old, after I would read a book to him once, he would go back and study it for hours "reading" it to himself. Once he had it memorized, he would "read" to Bennett, the only other willing suspect and captive audience (since he was only an infant at the time).  Gavin's vocabulary is a direct reflection of his love of reading. It's humongous and varied. 

Then along came Bennett. His love of books started because of his brother. He didn't love them as deeply and intently as Gavin did, but hey, whatever Gavin did (in his eyes) was cool, so he did it too. I also read to him all the time. Granted, this is the child I had to bribe with a ninja costume to complete his reading requirements once school came around. Apparently the motivation helped and he quickly started gobbling up books. The boys used to bring me at least 10 books (of the Berenstein Bear variety) every morning that we would have to read together in bed before we got up. This was especially fun once baby Chloe came along. I'd hold her bottle steady with my chin with her in my lap while Gavin and Bennett were cuddled up on each side of me. They would take turns flipping the pages since I was minus a hand. But that didn't stop us from reading. Now Bennett reads for his own pleasure. He especially likes human interest stories.

I think Chloe was born already knowing how to read. She wasn't about to be left behind in this family of book mongers. She aced the Bob Books by 3 or 4 and was up to Junie B. Jones by 4 and 5. Of course Junie B. Jones was always super fun to read aloud and get the character's voice just right; we laughed so hard. I loved reading those books! Chloe now loves Historical Fiction and Mythology.

I think reading is a type of discipline. It is not a love for everyone. I didn't love reading growing up - I just wanted to play outside. I grew to love it though. Once I found a topic of interest, nothing could stop my desire to read more. Chuck didn't love reading growing up either. It was work for him. It wasn't enjoyable. He said that once he saw the joy I had in it, it was contagious and he wanted that for himself too. He worked at liking reading. Like all things, it's a choice. If you love to learn, you will soon find something you love to read.

And to think I would have never learned all this and seen the benefits of reading aloud to my children if a caring friend had not given me one of the most important parenting books I ever received:


This book influenced our parenting style more than any other. I was so convicted by what I learned from Mr. Trelease's years of experience. I make it a point to give this book to every expectant friend I meet.


                                       
September 19, 2015


This is far and away the best book I have read all year. It is controversial, counter-cultural and convicting. It challenges you to really dig deep and make some hard decisions about what you believe. And when you believe something, it typically changes your life and the choices you make on a daily basis. It has to in order to be real. 

Brian Zahnd has a poetic and passionate writing style. He writes with conviction, not trying to persuade, just sharing what he's learned on his diverse journey. He says himself that it is a path he never went looking for and never would have chosen had Jesus not led him to it. 

This book is very political. It will challenge your world view. You will either be offended by it or be in awe of it. There is no middle ground. Either way, it is a message the church needs to hear and keep in the forefront of it's collective mind. What you believe changes the way you live and ultimately impacts those around you. 

I choose peace.




September 13, 2015


As parents, we can all benefit from this book! As humans in general, we desperately need to grasp this concept. Failure is our training ground. We can look at failure two ways: 1. Great - now everything's ruined! or 2. Wow - look how much more I have to learn! One mindset is defeatist, the other optimistic. Which one do you want to live in front of your kids?

I like how Jessica Lahey, the author, expresses the premiss of this book on page 159: "Our job is not to protect them from their failures along the way, but to help them cope with setbacks as they occur, because when they move out of their childhood home and begin to forge their own path, they are going to need all the resources and tools we can give them. The road ahead is theirs, not ours, and as tempted as we may be to pave the way for them so that we can live vicariously through their successes, it's time to let them live their own lives, to unravel our own priorities and needs from theirs."

We do such a disservice to our children always rescuing them. Even though our intent may be out of love, it actually hinders their growth. It leads to such over-controlling that it drives a wedge between parent and child. Over-controlling parents suck the life, enthusiasm, dreams and will out of their unsuspecting children...all in the name of 'love'. Actually, it's fear that causes this. As adults we have to learn to be okay with our own failures, even embrace them, so that our kids will learn by watching that they too can be okay with their failures. 

Thank you Jessica Lahey for this most wonderful, controversial, counter-cultural book. I desperately needed this reminder and am thankful you had the guts to stand up and remind us parents!



                                                  
September 8, 2015


This book is such a breath of fresh, funny air. Jen Hatmaker is hilarious! Her adorable personality shines through on every page. This book made me laugh so hard, I cried. Yet it is also poignant and can hit raw nerves at other turns. We all need to hear what she has to say and how she says it; everything from parenting, relationships, politics, media, the good/bad/ugly of the church and how to show grace in everyday situations. I honestly can't wait to read it again.



                                         

August 11, 2015


I typically shy away from novels about slavery.  I find them to be too idealistic, too romantic, glossing over the evilness of the entire institution.  I started this book with some trepidation but was worried for nothing.  Sue Monk Kidd is such an incredible author.  She makes her characters so alive and full of depth. I especially appreciated the story line from the point of view of both the slave and the slave holder. The story was simultaneously being told in first person by two different people. Very hard to accomplish - yet she did it with flair! 

This is ultimately a story of an girl (Sarah Grimke) born into southern aristocracy who ultimately, throughout the course of the book, becomes an abolitionist and outspoken women's' rights activist.  She is too radical for her time, her family, her church. She is an incredible person who, almost single-handedly, fought against a system that seemed of Goliath proportions.  While at the same time, the story of Hetty, the slave girl, is beautifully penned. The author doesn't gloss over the depth of emotion, torture, and despondency that the slaves carry and endure. She does their cause justice. 

What I truly appreciated about this book is that it is based entirely on actual historical figures, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Sue Monk Kidd did amazing research to accurately portray the time period in the way the characters speak down to the smallest of details such as incorporating the Grimke's own words from their pamphlets and letters into the story. Although she took creative license, she based most of the story on true details from Sarah Grimke's life. The character of Hetty, the slave girl, was completely fictionalized yet accurate in the portrayal of the daily life a slave would have had to endure.

It's one of those books you can't get off your mind once you've finished.  You want to keep mulling it over and over in your head. I was truly inspired by this story and thankful that Sue Monk Kidd took the time to compile all her research into such an endearing, beautiful, poignant and intriguing story.





August 5, 2015


Don't read this book if you believe that our justice system actually believes "all men are created equal".  Don't read this book if you believe that America is a place of "liberty and justice for all". Don't read this book if you think that police, judges, attorneys (those in a place of power and authority over us) can do no wrong. Because the cases, stories, and dialogue in this book will prove otherwise and leave you in a state of shock. 

Being a white, middle-class American, I am not privy to the injustices faced by so many others in my country. I don't experience injustice first hand. I can only learn about it by reading the accounts of people who do.  The system is kind to me. I'm not used to being treated differently (in a negative way) by the people who I thought were protecting me in a system that I thought was there to defend me if wrongly accused. Apparently I thought wrong. 

I was floored by the degree of injustice I learned that is happening every day in our courts, police stations, jails, streets, towns, and borders.  I'm outraged when I hear stories of how the poor are being held to stringent standards of the law, given no mercy for tiny infractions of the law while wealthy financial gurus on Wall Street aren't held to the same standards and don't have to pay a cent for known illegal activities including purposefully defrauding the government and their own customers. That's just not the sense of equality I was taught that our governmental system was all about.  I was either lied to or was too naive to believe the idealism and social religion of our country. Either way, we have to wake up to the fact that justice is not the same for all of us in this country.  And that's not right.

This is a frustrating book to read because you feel as though your hands are tied and there's nothing you can do to stop the big machine from eating people up and spitting them out and/or showering greedy villains with even more money. I know systems won't and can't change over night. Neither political party is innocent, they are both playing fast and loose with Wall Street. I also know programs aren't the best way to help people. They're a start, but they're just not personal enough. People need people... to care, help, walk along side them, stand up for them.  We can only change the system one person at a time.  Standing up for injustices when and where we see them, sacrificing our selves, time, money, security, status, privacy when necessary.  We can't be silent any more. Once you are made aware of something, you are responsible for it.

We have to delete this long-held warped idea that those who have lots of money or are wealthy somehow did something to deserve their station in life just like we can't believe the lie that all those who are poor are slackers and drug addicts and somehow deserve the poverty that life threw at them (if they'd only made better choices...). That is way too simplistic and ignorant. Everyone has a story. Everyone needs mercy - especially those we feel are undeserving. 

Don't read this book if you don't want your perspective to change. I just kept thinking the whole time I was reading....if more people only knew, they wouldn't let things go on like this. 





July 30, 2015


Chloe and I just finished reading this book together. It's one of those books where you are thinking about it all day long; when you're not reading it,  you're trying to figure out when you have 5 free minutes to sit down and read.  You have to read it! It draws you in.  Who cares that it's a child's book. It is so well written. The story line is very deep and intense for children.  It is about a young, highly intelligent girl who looses everything and everyone in this world and how she copes after that loss. This is a topic that children need to read about, we can't shield them from loss, death, struggles. The depth of emotion the author was able to convey is brilliant. Walking the reader through the pain of loss and eventually coming out on the other side is something we can all learn from, especially from someone who has experienced it. 


                                 



July 13, 2015


One of my favorite things to do is go to Half Price Books and browse through their clearance section. I have found some amazing deals and wonderful books that I would never have otherwise known about. This book happens to be one such find.

I don't think I would have ever purposefully gone looking for this book but I'm so incredibly glad I found it and learned what I did.  The reason being, what I learned in school growing up was a completely different version of history.  I never learned about many of the things this book discusses. I was only given the victor's version of history - the side where the victor gets to tell the story the way they want it told.  I only knew about all the good, the heroic ideals, the patriotic sacrifices, the version that makes us sound and look better than we are.

Truth be told, all nations/countries have history they aren't proud of.  But refusing to discuss it, teach it and sweep it under the carpet is not the best tactic for trying to forget it about.  We also should not gloss over it.  We must learn from our past mistakes.  That's what makes people better and even governments.

This book details the sad history we have had towards immigrants in our country, how we scapegoat groups of people, how our own government has used media hype to incite riots, fear, over-zealous patriotism, and hysteria in the general populace.  Nativism is extremely dangerous.  It's isolationist and produces mistrust of any and everyone not like you.

Each account is sadly documented truth.  We must learn from these mistakes or we inevitably will repeat them over and over again. Often times as I was reading this book, even though I was reading a section on World War I, I felt that I was reading about the mentality of today.  All you'd have to do is change the name of the 'enemy'.  It was scary. 

It is not a comfortable book to read by any means.  Who likes to see skeletons in their own closet? But it is necessary to confront them in order to better ourselves.



                                      

June 1, 2015







May 22, 2015



Ever since I was a teenager and my mom gave me the very first book I'd ever read about a Holocaust survivor, I have been hooked.  I have read any and every Holocaust survivor book I can get my hands on.  I've been to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C twice and the Holocaust Museum in Dallas where we got to visit with an actual survivor.  I never get tired of the stories.  I never ceased to be amazed.

This book held me captive.  Clara is an excellent communicator.  She captured so much emotion and detail that I hadn't read before.  I felt that I entered into her nightmare with her.  She, along with 18 other Jews, survived the war by hiding in a bunker underneath an anti-Semite's house for 20 months in Zolkiew, Poland.  It is as unbelievable as it sounds.  The anti-Semite was a German born, Polish man named Valentin Beck.  She is Clara's hero.

There is one quote that sat very heavy on  my heart that I'd like to share.  About a year into their hiding, Clara's younger sister died.  It devastated the family.  The words she writes to explain the heartache are so poignant, I have to share them: We were still alive, whether we wanted to be or not.  I now knew there was no such thing as a broken heart.  It will go on beating to taunt you and mock you and tell you that even in grief it is indestructible and full of love. 





May 7, 2015





We just finished this book in Book Club.  This is not an easy book to read.  But it is a beautiful book. Peterson is a poet and even when he's writing narratives, it's done with a poet's thoughtful, imaginative and creative flair.  He is an expert in Hebrew and Greek.  He has been a pastor for over 30 years.  He lays out the context of a timeframe in the most eye-opening way.  I love the depth of history and background he gives.  

Reading this book in the context of a book club is a beautiful way to read it because you are able to hear everyone else's take on the same passage of text.  I always learned something from the other perspectives.  Each person takes something out of the narrative that applies to their life situation and experiences.  That is the beauty of reading together.

I think the entire book can be summed up in this one quote on page 270: 
Following Jesus gets us little or nothing of what we commonly think we need or want or hope for. Following Jesus accomplishes nothing on the world's agenda.  Following Jesus takes us right out of this world's assumptions and goals to a place where a lever can be inserted that turns the world upside down and inside out.  Following Jesus has everything to do with this world, but almost nothing in common with this world.

If you're looking for an easy answer as to what the Jesus Way is, you won't find it here.  It is an extremely thought provoking, depth diving, heart searching book in which you read, contemplate and meditate.




December 8, 2014


This book breaks my heart.  It is truth that we need to read.  This book will change the way you think about capital punishment, racial issues in our country and what justice and mercy look like.  What affects one affects us all.  The author can do a better job of giving a summary of this book than I can. He recently gave an inspiring TED Talk.  I highly recommend it.  You can watch it here.  




                                                 

October 6, 2014



I just love a good inspirational story.  And being that I spend a lot of my time with immigrants and refugees, this one pulled at my heart strings.  It is a true story of a boy born in Ethiopia, living in Eritrea and forced to move to a refugee camp in Sudan due to war in their homeland.  They later made their way to the United States.  This is a truly inspiring story of making it despite all odds.  

But the most beautiful part of the story is the lessons learned not through the author's Harvard education but through the simple instruction, love, and example of his Father.  His parents taught him to look for angels among the most unlikely of people (thus the title of the book).  This way of looking at the world taught him to treat everyone with kindness, a trait he grew up being known for.

If you're ever in need of a boost of encouragement, this would be my go to book of choice.  You can't help but feel better and love the world around you a little more than when you started.



                                       

October 1, 2014




Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts is one of my favorites!  I'm reading this with Chloe and Bennett right now and loving every minute of it.  It's a companion to Palacio's first book "Wonder" about a young boy with facial deformities going to a 'normal' school.  The book is broken into months.  Each day of the month has it's own precept.  It's so much fun to read together because we each pick our favorite precept from that month and talk about it.  Here are a example of a few of my favorites:

"When given the choice between being right
or being kind, choose kind." -   Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

"Life in not meant to be easy, my child; 
but take courage: it can be delightful." - George Bernard Shaw

"Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the
right using of strength." - Henry Ward Beecher

See what awesome opportunities we have for conversation from this amazing precepts?!  Not only do we discuss their meaning but we also talk about the who said the quote.  And best of all - the kids love it!





August 29, 2014



Right book.  Right time.  I just love it when it works this way.  This book burnt a hole through my heart.  She reached in and grabbed the words straight from my mouth.  Everything I've known to be true and right and good (yet not experienced) about the church is what Jen says that she was also convicted about.  

My heart of hearts knows that to show people the love of Jesus you have to be around the people who don't know him.  It's not our job to judge them and their circumstances and how they've happened to end up there.  Our only job is to love.  We can't wait for those who need to love to come up to 'our level' of goodness, knowledge, error of their ways; we need to meet them right where they are and love them - just as Jesus did for us.  

This is what my heart yearns for church to look like.  I want to follow Jesus' footsteps into the places of brokenness.Love requires self sacrifice.  It's not pretty, easy or a formula that can be packaged up neatly and reproduced in every situation.  It's scary, awkward and new.  It requires letting go of your self perceptions, egos and needs.  Jen mentions how she was tired of 'blessing the blessed'.  Isn't that the truth!  We have more than we need while so many in the world die of hunger, lack of water or of unsafe living conditions.  It's harder to bless those people.  It requires getting dirty, giving up our stuff we're so proud of, maybe even going to places that aren't safe and secure.  

This book was the proverbial 'straw that broke the camels back' for me.  I've always believed these things to be true but have my actions lined up with what I say I believe?  It's caused me to question my motives, is it out of a true love for Jesus?  Is it out of fear?  Is it to be 'right'?  Is it genuine care for other human souls?  Is it the thing to do?  Is it for pride?  Is it to be noticed?  I hate these heart wrenching places because I'm scared to really find the answer sometimes.  I know the heart is deceitful above all else.   But I'm thankful that God started this process in me and He will finish it.  I am just a vessel of his love (or at least in theory I should be).



                                           
August 14, 2014


My immediate impression upon reading this series was, "Man....why couldn't I have thought of that?" This is such an awesome topic; an excellent psychological thriller.  And best of all, it's a Young Adult book.  Seems to be my 'go to' section of the library lately.  Either I just can't admit I'm as old as I am and continue to read Young Adult fiction in order to stay young OR they are just written so well I can't help myself.  The jury is still out on that one.  

One thing I love about Young Adult books is that they are 'cleaner' than most adult fiction books.  You don't really need a ton of swearing or detailed descriptions of illicit actions in order to get the story across.  I appreciate authors who can tell a good, inspiring, riveting story with deep characters and keep language and adult content to a minimum.  The focus becomes the story, not the shock value of what's written.

Many Young Adult novels focus on the post-apocalyptic era....some time in the near, distant future. Kids are always looking forward, not living in the past.  They imagine bigger, better technological advances for when they're adults.  They envision governments, processes and the planet in general totally different than it is now.  This is fascinating to me.

Another thing I've noticed about Young Adult fiction is the fixation on over-controlling governments and young, daring teens who believe in a cause so much they are willing to risk everything to stop the over-reaching arms of government, politics, and often (violent) authority figures to achieve their ultimate goals of peace and harmony.  These books mirror the idealism of youth who've yet to be jaded by the world and still hope for a better world.  They know they can make a difference.  I appreciate that optimism.  I also appreciate the way authors introduce young love.  Most of the time it's written in a way that is sweet, yet still romantic.  Hollywood doesn't like that.  They prefer shock value (most of the time).  Granted, not all Young Adult books follow this pattern, but as a general rule, they are not as explicit as Adult Fiction.

This series is so awesome because it is a psychological thriller.  The author has imagined a future world where teens that have committed crimes have their minds and personalities wiped clean and are reintroduced to society as brand new, non-criminal people who have a chance to start over again. However, things are as easy or neat as they seem.  There is always something sinister lurking underneath.   The way the government uses and treats people is a huge theme in this book that is set in London, England.  Things that started out with the best of intentions often turn out hurting more people than they help, it seems.

This has been a series the whole family has enjoyed.




                                  August 3, 2014



If you enjoy learning about different cultures, you will love this book!  Ever since Chuck and I read, "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Kahlid Housini, we have been drawn to learn more and more about this unique culture that is Afghanistan.  People are people everywhere in the world.  We tend to focus on our differences but there are so many similarities.   We all care deeply about our children.   We all hate the side effects of war.  We all have dreams.  We all will do whatever it takes to survive. We all want a life better than what we had for our children.   Learning about other cultures helps you understand them better and be less judgmental.  

Nadia Hashimi is an excellent author.  Even though this may be her first book, you would never know. She has such a beautiful style of writing, very eloquent and thoughtful.  Her depth of character development astounds me.  I also appreciate her sensitivity to certain subjects and leaving things to your imagination instead of describing horrific scenes in overdone detail.

I walked away from this book with a much deeper compassion for the plight of Afghan women than ever before; especially as an American woman who has never experienced violence, hardship, discrimination or hate directed at me.  My heart breaks with what other women in the world have to experience as "normal" every day life.  




July 14, 2014



I love this for so many reasons.  But the best reason is, it puts life in perspective - doesn't it?!  We wouldn't want to read a boring book.  The greatest books have plot twists you never saw coming.  If we can appreciate it in a book, maybe we could better learn to appreciate them in real life too.





July 7, 2014


I started this series last summer.  It is a series of 5 books that began 5 years ago with the concluding book having just been released this May.  What a joy it was to read this series.  I knew nothing about this author when I started.  I just picked it up based on a recommendation.  I'm so glad I did.  Reading Richard Paul Evans is like sitting in a room with a close friend and just visiting for hours.  His style is very easy going and conversational.  He is instantly relatable and earns your trust from his opening lines.

The interesting thing about this first book....you know what's going to happen, yet he entices you to read it anyway.  It's kind of like The Count of Monte Christo -  you know the author's intentions from the first page, you just don't know how he is going to accomplish it.  I LOVE THAT!  My curiosity is piqued and I must read!  

Richard Paul Evans is the best at inspirational quotes.  You can find them woven through-out his books.  Life is not clean and pretty and all figured out in these books.  Rather, it's messy, ugly, hurtful and unexpected.  A lot like life.  And you're drawn in because you want to see how other people make it through hard periods of life too.

The first book is by far the best.  But I must warn you, each book leaves you hanging, so you have to read the next one.  Having "walked" with the main character through-out his journey this far, I am sad to say good-bye to him.  I hate to let this friend go.  I will sorely miss him.




                                            
June 2, 2014


I must confess, I am really into Teen Lit right now.  There's some really good stuff out there.  Just because a book is marketed to the Teen audience, doesn't automatically make it a book about teens or a book adults wouldn't enjoy.  Quite the opposite actually.  I read both the "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" trilogies last year based on Gavin's suggestion and was hooked.  Good literature comes in all forms.  But what sold me was not only the fantastic writing, quick paced action and excellent character development, it was the deeper meaning behind the story.  These three series are laced with socio-political underpinnings that grab your attention.  The series I've currently fallen in love with is the Giver Quartet.

Set in a post-apocalyptic era, these are 4 completely unique books that all tie together in the last book, "Son."  What amazes me is the amount of years between each writing.  "The Giver" was written in 1993, the final book, "Son" was just released in 2012.  Yet the books flow together seamlessly.  These books are filled with subtly and deeper meanings than what you read on the surface.  What I appreciate about that is that the author isn't trying to 'dumb down' any ideas.  She's writing for an intelligent audience.  For that reason alone I love that it's marketed to teens.  She's showing her deep respect for the adolescent mind, for their ability to pick up on subtle socio, political, economic and spiritual cues.  I just love a book that makes me think.



May 23, 2014


Oh my.  This book brings such conviction to my heart.  The author summarizes the book best when he says, "Jesus is redefining everything we thought we knew about connecting to God.  He is redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved."  This was the perfect book at the perfect time.





May 2, 2014


I cannot say enough good about this book.  I grew up deathly afraid of the Book of Revelation and avoided it at all costs.  All I knew about it was what I heard from the adults around me in the church. And what I heard was not good.  It never sat well with me.  The Jesus of Revelation didn't match the Jesus I was learning about in the rest of the New Testament.  So I just put it the subject out of my head and never gave any more thought to it.

Until recently that is.

Lately, I have had a yearning to know, to learn and to grow in this area. The sticking my head in the sand tactic didn't make the whole issue go away.  There are more people than ever out there talking about what they think it means.  How do you know who to believe?  Who is telling the truth?  For that, I can only trust the peace that God gives me and the direction He leads me as I follow Him.  I have consulted some theologians and scholars that I hold in esteem and reviewed the books they've recommend. The purpose here is not to 'be right'.  I have no desire to be right, I just want to learn but more importantly, I don't want to be deceived (I've spent way too much of my life in that state).  I don't want to be afraid any more.  And since so many people are talking about this hot topic at the moment, I need to figure out where I stand.  What do I stand for?  As with all things, when I'm not sure what to think of an issue, I do research.  I don't just tote the party line.  It honestly doesn't bother me to not hold a mainstream theology.  I'm very counter cultural in how I choose to live and I feel that also carries over into my experiences with mainstream christianity.  

This book challenged every belief I thought I held on the topic of the 'end times'.  I no longer want to follow the traditional path of dispensationalism that is so common in the mainstream, American, Christian circles (think the "Left Behind" series).   I personally don't believe that to be true any longer.   I no longer believe in the rapture to rescue us from a pre/mid/post tribulation or a fighting/warrior Jesus. I believe this book is meant to reconcile the non-violent, self-sacrificing Jesus of the Gospels as one in the same.   This book has done that for me.  I'm so thankful to finally have a peace in my heart about this very misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented book of the Bible.

I wish Christians, actually everyone who's interested for that matter, could have polite dialogue about this topic.  Unfortunately, it seems politeness is out of the question and pride has taken over.  Only a certain few believe they hold the eternal truths and look down on all those who don't.  We learn a lot more when we keep channels of communication open, listen to one another and try to understand the other's point of view.  We all see thru the glass dimly.  None of us hold all the answers.  We all have a little bit of truth.  If we listened to each other and worked together more instead of worrying about who's the most right, maybe we could actually show the love of Jesus more and begin seeing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.




                                                        
April 27, 2014


This is a beautiful love story set in the late 1920's.  It might come across as a little too idealistic for some, but I appreciated the depth of devotion and admiration the couple shared throughout their lives. This book is such an easy, enjoyable and delightful read that will give you lots of ideas of how to better show your spouse in simple little ways how much you adore them.  

My favorite quote from the book: "Why do you ask such deep questions?"
"Because...without deep questions, there are only shallow answers."  

That's my kind of answer!



                                             

April 14, 2014





March 28, 2014

You know the saying:


But I confess...I always do.  A good cover is normally a sign of a good book.  It's like how chefs say: You eat with your eyes first.  If something looks appetizing, you are more inclined to try it.  The same holds true with books for me.  Take these books for example.  I knew nothing about them but still decided to pick them up off the library shelf and give it a try because the cover intrigued me.  And in each case, the book far exceeded my expectation.

This amazing book is set in a timeframe I don't particularly enjoy reading about: France in the 1300's. But this book sucked me in from the very first page.  It's about a young girl born albino and mute whose mother died giving her birth.  A sure sign during that time in history that she was cursed and must have been a witch.  To make matters worse, her father was a paper maker.  But this is an age of Inquisition and intolerance, when difference and defiance are punishable "sins" and new ideas are considered damnable heresy.


This is a tale of a 'plain' girl growing up during the age of the Persian Empire.  She learns her father's trade of being a scribe.  She is the cousin of the great Jewish prophet Nehemiah who offers her a job in the Persian Court as the scribe for the Queen.  This was so fantastically written.  I was lost in an era I knew very little about but it came to life on the pages before me.  


This is one of Chloe's favorite books.  She even made an iMovie about it.  She's enthralled with the illustrations, fonts and maps found inside the book.  The cover art alone is enough to draw me in as an adult.


I randomly picked this book out for Bennett and I to read together.  Amazing!  We read it maybe 5 months ago and are still talking about it to this day.  This is a story that will touch every heart, change how you look at people and make you thankful for everything you have.





                                            March 17, 2014

Chuck and I are currently in a book club that is reading this book.  I don't know that I ever would have purposely chosen it, but I know I would have gotten around to it eventually since I love any and everything by N.T. Wright.  He has such a gentle disposition and is an excellent teacher (although, a bit wordy). He is incredibly astute  and humble; highly knowledgeable in history as well.  This makes understanding the Bible in context so much easier for people like me.  I value his opinion, years of research and prayerful insight.

The reason I probably never would have chosen this book is because I never really read the Gospels.  I know that is horrible to admit.  But ever since I was young I found them to be discouraging, not encouraging.  I might be the only one of the human race to feel this way.  I've accepted that.  I was hoping Jesus would sound a little nicer than he does in the first 4 books of the New Testament that detail his life.  I've always shied away from them for this reason.  Jesus scared me.

Then I learned that the translation of the Bible and reading the stories in context (of time, culture, history) make a huge difference in understanding.  That shook my world and drew me in like a moth to a flame. I desired to learn more about the ancient Jewish culture and customs to help me better understand the timeframe in history that God chose to dwell among us.  I wanted to learn more about idioms used, cultural norms and what else was happening in history during this timeframe.  Once I started adding this information to my mental data bank, the gospels didn't confuse me so much anymore.  The Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus I know started to seem like the same person.

When I saw the opportunity to study this book in a book club setting I was really excited. Not only because it was by an author I respect, but because I would get to learn of other people's struggles and opinions and understandings.  I want to open my eyes to a wider view of things than just my own.

What surprised me (and excited me) right off was how Wright makes the assertion right at the opening of the book that we've misread the Gospels for hundreds of years; that they aren't solely about Jesus coming from heaven to earth to save us from our sins.  It is such a deeper, more developed, beautiful story.  And how lucky are we to have 4 different vantage points to view this story from: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This book certainly challenges you as to what your interpretation of the gospel is.  And I think that is a good thing.

I won't spoil the book for you, but I will give you a hint: The Kingdom of Heaven is here.  Now.





March 6, 2014


This is sooo true for me!  While I'm reading a book (or after reading a book) and a new truth is taking root deep in my heart or I've stumbled over some profound thought or insight it just rattles inside my head not knowing where to go.  I chew on it long and hard.  I make great imaginary speeches to huge imaginary audiences about what it is God has taught me or what life lesson I just grasped.  I debate myself over and over inside my head while grappling with an ideal or belief that has been challenged.  I cling tightly to a phrase or concept that deeply impacted me that I've read that too quickly becomes a fleeting thought  hoping it doesn't drift away as soon as I think about what I have to cook for dinner.  

These are the reasons I write down what I'm learning.  Sometimes the lesson doesn't sound so profound once it seeps about of my head.  Sometimes I can barely string a line of words together to make a coherent sentence about what I've learned because it's still just a feeling or an abstract thought and hasn't quite taken root yet.  Other times, the new truth or idea comes barreling at me full speed and threatens to overrun every thought and action until I spill it out on paper and am able to finally stop obsessing over it. 

Then, once I read and reread what it is that flowed from my thoughts, through my hands, onto the computer screen (sometimes it goes pen to paper still too), I sit back and chew on it over and over again and say to myself, so that's what you think about that.  Hmmm.  Often times I need to tidy up my grammar or run on sentences.  Many times I question what I was thinking.  But once it's written, I finally own it.  Things get lost in my brain way too easily if I don't give them a permanent home.  Plus, I find it's a wonderful way to look back and see, in a tangible way, what God has taught me through the years and how He has guided my every (mis)step.  




March 4, 2014

I've decided to start a new section on my blog devoted to books.  I'm sure I've mentioned a time or two how much I love to read.  I have kept a running list of books I've read per year since 2008.  But I decided I'd like to do more than that.  I'd like to have my own little 'book review' of each book.  I learn something from each book I read and want a written record to remind me (especially as I age and forget little details like that).  Anyways, I thought it best to start with the 10 books that changed my faith. Here they are:


This is not a be all, end all list.  I probably could have put 20 books on this list...but who does that?  Everyone puts lists in nice little groups of 10.  So I thought I'd try that too.  

I grew up religious.  I grew up a 'good' girl.  I was very self-righteous.  I was scared and/or suspicious of everyone not like me.  It was 'us' vs. 'them' mentality in the church of my youth.  If you're not with us you're against us.  I never once heard that I was to love my enemies.  I never once experienced grace.  I was scared of God.  I didn't want Jesus to come back and ruin my plans to get married and have kids.  Although I grew up in church, I didn't know or experience Jesus as real in my life until I was 25.  That's when I truly decided to follow him.  No titles, no denominations, no religion. 

Following THE WAY isn't the popular path I've discovered.  It's rather counter-cultural.  It's not us vs them but loving all - everyone.  It's not about pointing out other's sins.  It's not about being right.  It's only about love.  These were all concepts new to me.  These books helped me understand Jesus and his teachings better.  Many books caused me great frustration as I read through them and my old ideas were challenged.  Many caused me to question even more.  But each of them brought me closer to Jesus.  

In the coming days I'll be adding more book titles and authors to this list.  If for nothing else, to remind myself of where I've come and how God taught me on my path of faith.  My path will look different from your path.  We don't have to share the same experiences or same books or same insights to both love Jesus and learn from him (and each other).  This is just how he knew to reach into my heart and make himself real.

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