I read a lot of good non-fiction books this year, but these three rose to the top and have stayed with me the most.

Almost Already


Almost Already by Jonathan Tony

No one's life turns out how they anticipate it will be, but what do we do when grappling with the dichotomy of our dreams and our realities? I appreciated the truth packed within this book, as well as its conversational style that lets us know we're not alone in our struggles. 



Party of One


Party of One by Joy Beth Smith

"The one thing I wish someone had told me when I was younger was, 'Even if you don't get married, you'll be okay.'"
It's incredibly difficult to be a single woman who wants to honor God and follow Him whether or not He fulfills the desires of our heart. Is He still good though the way is hard? Yes, He is!


Story Equation


The Story Equation by Susan May Warren

If you want to be a writer or a really savvy reader, I found this to be an excellent resource! Story crafting is explained in a way I'd never heard before, and I've found myself recognizing various techniques all over the place now that my eyes are open to them.
 Almost Already


Insecurities and failures are immune to no man. While those may indeed be fun things that no one wants to talk about, it is exactly what we need to be talking about. We're all on this Christian journey wanting to make the most of it for ourselves, our families, and for the glory of our Savior - and yet we all sometimes get mired in discouragement, run into closed doors, or flat-out make stupid mistakes because we're human. 

Jonathan Tony invites readers into an honest discussion with vulnerability, humor, and Biblical wisdom. There's a lot of great stuff here, guys. I kept highlighting passage after passage because it was either relatably funny or sharply insightful, and I've found myself talking about this book with many different people over the past couple weeks. I couldn't believe how applicable it felt to right where we all live - the daily choices to keep on going even when it seems like all we're doing is spinning our wheels.

I liked that there were plenty of pop cultural references sprinkled throughout the book, bringing needed levity into such a soul-deep topic. Here's an example from Chapter 2 that really made me chuckle: "I started thinking the movie 27 Dresses was written about my life. I'd never seen it, but I assumed she died alone in a bunk bed and still owed about $15,000 in student loans." Each chapter starts off with a quote from a movie or TV show to set the tone, and this lighter content flows seamlessly with the weightier ongoing discussion.

I appreciated that the author used a lot of Biblical examples and brought these stories home in new ways. Some were familiar, like Hannah or Naaman. Others, like Amaziah, are not in the regular Sunday School rotation. Here's a great observation about Joseph: "We all want to be [Genesis] Chapter 41 Joseph. We want to be standing on top victorious, but we wouldn't have had the Joseph of Chapter 41 without the Joseph of Chapters 37-40" (Chapter 9). God shows up in varied and unexpected ways all throughout the lives of these Bible characters, just as He does in our lives. His ways are so far beyond ours.

This is a book I would recommend to everyone who has ever had questions or hit a snag in life. In other words, I'd recommend it to everyone! We're all trying and failing, being hard on ourselves, and occasionally growing frustrated. But we're not alone and we are not helpless. As Jonathan says in Chapter 5, "If we can learn to accept the reality of God's grace in our weaknesses, we can then learn to give ourselves grace, too." May there be much grace to fill our days as we keep trusting the Lord one step at a time!

I received my copy of this book from the author. All opinions in this review are my own.
 Spirit-Led Heart


Women who are led by the Holy Spirit of God - who does not want to find themselves in that group? Suzanne Eller writes with conviction, gentleness, and beauty to encourage women to learn to recognize what the Holy Spirit brings to our lives. God has given the Holy Spirit to comfort, caution, and counsel us, and so much more besides!

Suzie takes us on a study of the book of Acts to show us how the Holy Spirit impacted the early church. Each chapter features a story from that book, touching on Peter, Stephen, Paul, and others. I appreciated how the themes for the chapters were built around Biblical examples, and I could tell that Suzie had done research into the time period and the context of the Scriptures.

One of my favorite quotes from the book came from Chapter 3: "When lies feel like truth, we have a choice to make. We can allow those messages to define us, or we can live by truth." The Holy Spirit will certainly help us to find truth for our lives. I also loved the chapter on how the Holy Spirit looks past the labels that can become applied to our lives, and He'll equip us to do more than we would ever think possible as we surrender to Him. There's another great chapter about how the Holy Spirit fights for us because we are loved and valued. 

While readers may find some theological differences when discussing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, overall I would recommend this book to any woman who wants a reminder of how much God has given to us. It's easy to become discouraged, and we all face trials and difficulties. But we never face them alone. We always have God who loves us, Jesus who rescues us, and the Holy Spirit who helps us live out our faith. What confidence awaits the heart that is led by Him!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
 How to be a Perfect Christian


This is a work of satire.


That's important for you to understand right off the bat. As a work of satire, it's brilliant and ingenious. It shows the foibles of American cultural Christianity in a way that will make you laugh out loud on one page and feel punched in the gut on the next when you realize that you may be guilty of some of this wayward thinking. 

The first part of the book is dedicated to helping the reader find the perfect you-centered church. There are helpful tips like making sure the church's name "sounds like either a retirement community or a natural disaster," a check list for what to look for in a worship leader, plus a quick breakdown of every denomination and what is acceptable to find in a statement of faith. I loved the section on how to avoid getting involved in ministry, or if you do give in to peer pressure and find yourself serving somewhere, listing out the highlights and low points of various ministries within the church. 

There's a whole section about how to convey your holiness and spirituality online. You're given tips for all the right hashtags to use and how to choose a profile picture that best portrays your Christian maturity. Don't forget to engage with everyone who disagrees with you so you can show your superior knowledge on all matters - "It's well known that the majority of converts to Christianity came to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior after a Christian friend just went nuclear on them online." (Chapter 5) 

The last part of the book details becoming the perfect Christian in your home and social sphere, and I didn't enjoy this as much because unfortunately it hit a little too close to home. For example, I didn't laugh when I read in Chapter 10 that Jesus's true intention in coming to earth was "to establish His kingdom through a political party, namely, the Republicans." I happen to know people who really and truly believe things like that, and I was actually raised in a home that comes close to matching the suggestions laid out in Chapter 8. It's different if you've lived it and have had to navigate those waters.

My favorite part of the book were the fake quotes from famous Christians through the ages, as well as the variety of charts and graphs creatively sprinkled in. Overall I'd recommend this title to everyone with a sense of humor, especially if you've been in the trenches of church ministry. This book will be making the rounds among our church staff!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
 Listen Up


"Listen Up" is a 13-week study on Jesus's parables - but with a twist. This is specifically written to be used for family devotions. Each chapter contains five nights of Scripture reading, discussion prompts, and insightful questions meant to draw out both parents and children. Occasionally there are suggested activities to enhance your understanding of a particular story, but for the most part each of the nightly topics could be covered in about 10 minutes.

I have enjoyed reading the book and getting a clearer picture on some of the parables myself. For example, in Week 5 Machowski tells us, "The parables are designed to help us examine our own lives." That makes a lot of sense, but I don't think I'd ever heard it put quite that way before!

The truths are written simply and clearly. Chapter 8 opens with: "This week we will learn that God is the most generous giver of all, so we can trust Him to give us what we need and follow His example in sharing what we have with others." This is an important lesson and one we cannot hear too often, even as adults.

There's a solid emphasis on evangelism within the home as well as reaching out to others. The goal really is to have Truth sink deep into the hearts of our young ones, making sure they know this is all about what's inside and not an act that someone can put on. I found this quote from Week 3 to be quite thought-provoking: "Treasuring Jesus is not just about the words we say, or how good we took on Sunday. Treasuring Jesus is about what's inside your heart; do you really love Jesus and want to live for Him?"

I would certainly recommend this for families everywhere who desire to grow closer to Jesus together. The questions and discussion prompts always promote parents sharing from their own life experiences, which is sure to help make these things more real for their children. What a great resource!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.
Party of One


Confession: Over the years I've avoided reading books on singleness. I didn't want to read them, just as I didn't want to be single. I keep hoping that eventually my singleness will cease to be an issue because somewhere along the way I'll find that I've passed on to the next stage of life. You know, the one you dream about from the time you're a little girl. Marriage. Hopefully followed by Motherhood. Single Street is just the highway to get there, right?

Something prodded me to take a closer look when I heard about this book. I recognized that Something, or more appropriately, Someone. I had no idea what I was in for! This book is astounding. It's honest and scary and a little confrontational, in all the good ways. It's full of grace and faith and tenacity. I highlighted so many passages that when I went back and typed them up afterwards they filled 5 pages on Google Docs. It was definitely the Lord prompting me to pick up this book a few weeks ago, and I'm so glad I know Him well enough to recognize and respond!

What makes this book astounding? Joy Beth Smith takes us on a real-life look at singleness in all its messy struggles. "Honestly, it's crushing to live under the constant weight of unmet desires," she says in the first passage I highlighted. Oh sister, I know the language you are speaking! In three parts, she proceeds to unpack the heart of a single woman and challenge us to live in Truth and Hope and Purpose.

Part I: Unfulfilled Promises. We grow up being taught that someday we will be wives and mothers. If it doesn't automatically happen, either not when you expect or perhaps not at all, it causes a lot of questions. In Chapter 3 Joy Beth asserts, "There aren't the guarantees we're raised to think there are. And us asking these questions is not questioning God's character, but it's questioning what we've been handed down from family and the church." Hmm. That's rather true, isn't it? God never promised us a husband. Who builds up that expectation? And what can we do about facing that heartbreak and living as valid and valued members of Christ's Body? For one thing, Joy Beth urges us to dig into community. We do desperately need other people in our lives - people who will come alongside us, support us, speak truth to us, and to whom we can do the same thing. Those are universal needs, and I happen to agree with her observation in Chapter 4: "If the church were to live in that community that we see in Acts, we would actually have better, stronger marriages, because we're getting married for the right reasons, not only to solve the loneliness problem."

Part II: Sexuality.
"Paul tells me to get married if I must due to my lust; well, Paul, if it were that easy, I'd have a minivan full of kids by now." That line from Chapter 7 really resonated with me! The celibate life is flat-out difficult, and often grows more difficult the longer it goes on. And it's not really talked about because there are no easy answers. Zero. Zip. Nada. I loved how Joy Beth calls us to glorify God by owning up to the fact that He made us with this sexual component to our lives, and by stewarding it to the best of our ability. She explains in Chapter 6, "Stewardship is the quiet, daily work of acknowledging your sexuality, seeing where it's integrated into your life, seeing where the edges are fraying, and being faithful to patch up as needed." She also speaks straight truth when she tells us in Chapter 8, "Sexual purity is a sacrifice, one that the Lord demands of us, and for good reason." As ever, the real pattern for our lives can be found in Jesus Christ, although maybe in a different way than we've ever thought about before: "I embrace my kinship with a sexual Jesus who also struggled against His flesh, against weariness and fatigue and temptation, and still He sinned not. That's a Jesus I actually admire a great deal, one I'm willing to spend the rest of my life trying to model both my singleness and sexuality after" (Chapter 6).

Part III: Living In Reality. We as single women may feel like we're missing out on a big part of life, but if we have followed God and He has led us here, we need to be living out the lives He wants us to live. This section is full of "You'd better say 'ouch' if you can't say 'amen'" lines, such as: "My purpose is not waiting for me at at the altar or inside a cradle. I need to learn how to live a life that's pleasing to God right now - I need to figure out what Biblical womanhood looks like apart from these roles we fill" (Chapter 12). This world needs women who are faithful and women who live out their God-ordained callings. We can help set the standard no matter our marital status. We need to step back from holding marriage up as an idol and live unashamed, grace-filled lives of purpose. What has God called you to do? Are you doing it? Are you seeking Him? Who are our lives to be centered around anyway? Check out another quote from Chapter 12: "When we become pursuers of God, we will make amazing wives. And mothers. And daughters. And friends. Because when we feed that main channel, all those tributaries will benefit."

This review barely skims the surface of Joy Beth's book, and if my reflections have stirred your interest, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, either for single women or married women who want to find ways to be an encouragement to their friends, sisters, or daughters. May our hearts ever be drawn closer to one another and to our Heavenly Father, whose good plans for our lives may look different than ours, but they are still good.


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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.


It's always fun to look back at my favorite books on the year! It was hard to select only one for each genre, as there were so many good reads from 2017. You can click on any of the titles below to read my full review.

Historical Fiction




The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett


This story set in 1927 in Mt. Rainier National Park has all the charm of classic literature, including a heroine who is a true lady while also standing up for what she believes. 


Young Adult Fiction

kids playing basketball


The Lewis & Clark Squad Series by Stephen Bly


I revisited these childhood favorites and thoroughly enjoyed them! This is a six-book series about a group of teens participating in a summer basketball league. It's all about fun, faith, and friendship!


Contemporary Fiction




"Life After" by Katie Ganshert

The sole survivor of a terrorist bombing tries to come to terms with her new lease on life while being wracked with guilt that she lived when others did not. Very thought-provoking and well-written.


Non-Fiction




"Women Who Move Mountains" by Sue Detweiler


While this is supposed to be a book on prayer, I found it more to be a book on walking confidently and securely as God's child. So much good encouragement!


Classic Literature




"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens


This tale may be short, but it is packed full of wonderful lines and thoughtful reminiscing. Ebeneezer Scrooge's gratefulness to be alive and able to change his ways gets me every time!


Novella





"One Enchanted Noel" by Melissa Tagg

Delightful characters with emotional depth set in a charming fictional small town. The whole Enchanted Christmas Collection is a real gem!



 


Have you seen the Netflix show The Crown? They have done a stunning job bringing to life the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. If you, like me, have watched the show and wondered where they blurred the lines between fact and fiction, this is a book you'll be wanting to read. Written by royal biographer and show historian Robert Lacey, this official companion feels authoritative and thorough as it digs into each episode and the history behind it.

Both the book and Episode 1 open shortly before 21-year-old Elizabeth Windsor is to wed Prince Philip. Princess Elizabeth had met Philip when she was 13, and reportedly he was the only one she ever dreamed of marrying. King George VI's sudden death in 1952 caused 26-year-old Elizabeth to ascend to the throne, and suddenly it was a very different world for this young couple. While they had always lived a somewhat public life, and while Elizabeth had often assisted her father or even gone on tours on his behalf - she was indeed in Kenya when she learned of his death! - she was just one young dutiful woman who became one of the most well-known figures in the world.

Just like the series on Netflix, this book primarily focuses on the first three years after Elizabeth II's ascension, covering her coronation, the scandal of her sister's love affair with divorcee Peter Townsend, the decline of Winston Churchill, and so much more. This volume is filled with historical photographs as well as stills from the show. All the major players are given a biographical sketch, if not entire sections devoted to who they were and how their lives interacted with the Queen and the royal family. It's highly informative and yet easy to read, especially for devoted history fans.

After watching the show I had a few questions, like were Elizabeth and Philip really caught fighting on film by the Australian press in 1954? Did the Queen Mother actually purchase a ramshackle estate in Scotland after her husband's death? This book answered all of that and more, plus provided lots of interesting tidbits, such as the fact that Queen Elizabeth's racing manager, her childhood friend "Porchey," was the owner of Highclere Castle, better known in modern days as the set of Downton Abbey! If you enjoy history and have had your curiosity piqued by Netflix's award-winning drama, you should consider picking up this detailed companion!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
 



Author and speaker Dennis Rainey has put together a fantastic little book with seven succinct principles for a life dedicated to Christ and His Kingdom. The idea for this book originated from a commencement address that Rainey gave several years ago, at which time he tried to find "essence statements" that captured the major themes of the Bible. Now those essence statements are coming to the public in the form of this pocket-size book that would be a perfect gift for upcoming graduations.

My favorite chapters were two in the middle. One was called "Believe God, Not The Deceiver," and the other "Obey God, Not Your Feelings." It's so important to be able to recognize what is true and false, fact or emotion. Being able to separate these things and live by Truth has helped me so much throughout my life!

I took note of several quotes in this book, but my favorite was from Chapter 4, which is a statement that Rainey credits to Dr. Howard Hendricks: "The Christian community today suffers from a 'Vitamin A' deficiency - Application." Oh man, that's some good, thought-provoking stuff!

This book would be excellent for anyone looking to revitalize their faith, or for a young man or woman on the cusp of adulthood. If you want to live a life that matters, these principles should definitely be among your considerations!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
 


Michael R. Emlet draws on his years of experience both as a family physician and counselor to present a tool for people in ministry everywhere. Whether you are a pastor, church leader, or lay person interested in learning more about psychiatric diagnoses and the uses of medication, you will enjoy Emlet's balanced and Biblical perspective on this difficult topic.

In the first half of the book, Emlet discusses the what the DSM is, how it has changed over the years, and what a diagnosis may or may not mean for an individual. In the second half he dives into the issue of medication, and trying to find the wise balance of when to consider using medication to go alongside other areas of treatment. I thought this was a great point in Chapter 14: "It is important to remember that we exist as body-spirit creatures. We are simultaneously body and soul. There's never a time we're not spiritually engaged. And there's never a time we are not bodily engaged. This means that attention to both physical and spiritual aspects of our personhood is mandatory in ministry." 

I liked how Emlet made a point that if a person has a psychiatric diagnosis, that's not so different from a person who may have a physical diagnosis. Someone may be battling cancer, but they themselves are not cancer. It's similar with mental issues, in the fact that someone may suffer from bipolar disorder, but that does not define who they are. They are still a human being in need of a Savior and compassionate interaction with fellow men. "A diagnosis, if present, is one of many starting points for ministry, and certainly not an end point," Emlet encourages in Chapter 8.

As each individual person is different, so will be treatment for any needs in the life of that individual. There is no perfect or universal treatment for any of these things, and one must seek God's guidance. I liked how multi-faceted health and wholeness was presented as the goal. This line in Chapter 13 seemed to sum it up beautifully: "...As believers we hope not only for symptom reduction but also tangible growth in love for God and love for people." As far as the book itself, it is informative and easy to read, with extensive footnotes for people who might like to further investigate this subject. The chapters are short so that a reader will not feel overwhelmed by the information. I would recommend book to anyone interested in better understanding these things and equipping themselves to help those in our paths who have these needs.





I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "Descriptions and Prescriptions," click here.


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"It is necessary to mental and moral health that we believe in the plenary wisdom of God, that is, the full wisdom of God. God is not permitted to have just a bit of wisdom or almost the sum of all wisdom, but we believe God has all wisdom, full wisdom beyond which there cannot be any wisdom. It is necessary to Christian faith, to mental rest and moral soundness that we believe in this wisdom of God as being absolute, perfect, and infinite, and I am not using words carelessly."

So says A.W. Tozer in this newly published volume. This collection of Tozer's sermons on the subject of God's wisdom has been edited and brought forth by James L. Snyder, a noted Tozer authority. It would make an excellent addition to anyone's theological library!

In the early chapters Tozer delves deep into how the ancient Hebrews perceived God's wisdom, and how their view differs from the Greek perception of the same. He expounds on how Christ is the personification of this aspect of God's character, and how clear this is in Scripture. In the second half there are more practical applications to a modern believer's everyday life.

While I did not find this book as personally meaningful as some of Tozer's more well-known books, such as The Pursuit of God, I still found it instructive and inspiring. Many thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.



As an avid fan of the Olympics, even if not so much track and field, I was glad for the chance to read Sanya Richard-Ross's autobiography. I really knew very little about her beforehand, but she covers everything from her childhood to her retirement before the 2016 Olympics in Rio. 

Sanya was a fast-rising track star in Jamaica before her family realized they would have more opportunities if they immigrated to the United States. The Richards family settled in Florida, and Sanya ran her way through school and on to her collegiate career at the University of Texas.

I especially enjoyed the parts about the three Olympics at which Sanya competed - Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, and London in 2012. She goes into details like who always travels with her, what her race day routine is like, etc. One of the things to which Sanya credits her success is surrounding herself with a good group of coaches and supporters. I liked this quote from Chapter 10: "In the end, it won't be the medals or the promotions that mean the most; it will be the people and the memories you create along the way." 

The most heartbreaking portion of Sanya's story comes in 2008, when shortly before the Beijing Games she found out she was pregnant. She chose to have an abortion literally days before flying to China for the competition, and was still suffering the physical effects during her disappointing 400m race there. Sanya does not glorify this choice, and she talks about how it has affected other parts of her life, including her marriage. It does seem that in seeking spiritual healing for this devastating time Sanya really and truly encountered God's love for her. It was after this part of the book that the spiritual insights seemed to become deeper and more authentic.

Another part that spoke to me was towards the end, as Sanya was dealing with injuries and having to consider retirement. "Just taking the next step, I realized, is an act of hope as you trust God to see you through," she said in Chapter 13. That could apply to all uncertain times we find ourselves in. 

I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading about athletes - their story, their faith, the way our lives are similar or different. Thank you to the publisher for my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



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 book cover


This is not simply a book on prayer. It's a book designed to completely change the way you approach God and live as His child. Full of Scriptural truths about who we are and who God is, this is meant to be a transformative help in praying with confidence, boldness, and grace, as the subtitle says.

This book is written to be a lengthy personal or group Bible study, with Scripture readings and question prompts to get you thinking and processing God's Word and what He is saying to you through it. It also includes a 21-day devotional and journaling guide and a short segment on fasting. The depth of content makes this one of the best resources on prayer that I have seen.

I confess that when I read Wendy Griffith's introduction at the beginning that I was thinking this book might not be for me. While indeed the author and I may hold some different theological views, don't be scared off by the introduction. This book is very practical and deals with the ways we desperately need God's work and healing in our lives and how we can press in to Him.

There is so much in this book that I found myself blessed by nearly every chapter. I felt God meeting me in many different areas as I read. If I had to pick a favorite chapter, it might be the one on replacing perfectionism with abiding in God's presence. That's some good stuff! I would recommend this book to all women looking to go deeper in their relationship with the Lord.

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.



The idea behind this book drew me in right away. Life requires bravery, and sometimes an immense amount of it! I was hoping to find encouragement and wisdom within these pages, and it came through above and beyond my expectations.

Lee Wolfe Blum shares many stories from her own life and the lives of women who have faced many of the hard things we fear. Abuse. Husbands with addictions. Family members with personalty disorders. Health crises. Loss of dreams. Loss of loved ones. Heartbreaking stories of things we wish did not exist in our world. Yet we face them every day, in our own lives or the lives of those around us. These things often don't make for polite conversation and they certainly aren't seen on social media. How can you live bravely and honestly when you feel the world doesn't have a place for your story?

One can start by recognizing that your story is valuable and you are not alone. We need each other, and we do not win by keeping these things to ourselves. As the author says in chapter 12: "When [the Enemy] makes us feel like we can't share the most broken parts of ourselves with one another, he wins. If I'm afraid of what you might say or think about my choices or decisions, if I believe that you can't understand, I stay alone in my pain." Please don't stay alone. Share with someone trustworthy and you will immediately begin to feel a difference in the weight of these things. I loved the wisdom from this quote on page 58: "Telling our stories is only the beginning of the healing process, but as the first step, it's often the hardest."

I felt the author did an excellent job being real and focusing on healing while not glorifying pain and tragedy. These things are hard, but they are not all there is, and we need to remember that. It's part of being brave and making the best choices we can even if we don't like the options. We don't stay stuck. We reach for Jesus, we reach for our community, and we be brave. I found something thought-provoking in every chapter, but I especially loved the last two where the author explored the importance of realizing God is not through with our stories and that we need to be cheering one another along the way. This is so important, and it's where we can find the courage to go on one step at a time. "To think we don't face this choice between life and death every day is denial. We need to talk about this. This is why we need a Savior and why we need one another. Real life is hard stuff." (page 202)

I would recommend this to all the brave, beautiful women in my life who need to know they are seen, loved, and appreciated. We are in this together.


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LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "Brave is the New Beautiful," click here.


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Blum pin1






I was first introduced to Jennifer Worth's story through BBC's popular series "Call the Midwife." With Season 6 due to begin airing in the U.S. this weekend, I figured it was a good time to read the memoir that started it all.

Worth, or Jenny Lee as she was known then, was in her early twenties when she began working as a midwife in London's poverty-stricken East End in the 1950s. While her status as a nurse kept her safe from harm, she had an up close and personal view of the hardships and necessities of life in the slums, where many families still lived in condemned tenements with only one outhouse for an entire building. Men worked at the docks, and women raised their babies and held homes together as best they could.

Many of the stories from this novel were translated into the first season of the BBC show, so I remembered a number of them, as well as how they turned out, but that did not hamper my enjoyment of the memoir at all. In fact, I would say a highlight was how well Worth's tales and her descriptions of her friends and coworkers had come alive through the series. I thought Sister Juilenne, Sister Monica Joan, and Chummy were especially well-cast for the adaptation.

While serving in the East End, Worth lived at Nonnatus House, a convent run by Anglican nuns who were dedicated to the nursing profession. As a non-religious woman herself, Worth was puzzled by the devotion that these women had to God, to each other, and sometimes even to their patients. Through living and working alongside them, Worth begins to feel a desire to know more of God herself.

Important Note: The content of this book is for mature readers only. It contains many graphic descriptions of birth and the birth process, as well as nauseating details about the housing conditions of the poor. There is a lengthy, heartbreaking, and horrifying story of a fifteen-year-old girl forced into prostitution. Language is used which readers may find inappropriate. Use discretion in deciding upon this or any other reading material.



Here are my favorite reads from 2016! I hope you'll check some of them out for yourself. Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction



Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

This World War II story focuses on a plucky female pharmacist and a Naval officer as they try to uncover a drug ring operating out of Boston Harbor.


Young Adult Fiction



The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

A captivating retelling of The Little Mermaid, Melanie Dickerson again proves her brilliance as a fairy tale writer.


Contemporary Fiction



Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg

I loved the depth of the characters, and I really related to one of them in particular. I just love Melissa Tagg's stories!!


Non-Fiction

I've got to go with the autobiographies of two Olympians here! Weren't the Rio Olympics exciting??



Greater Than Gold by David Boudia

David's journey from an active tot to a world class diver, and how he found Jesus along the way.




Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

Leader of the Final Five and winner of five medals in Rio, this 4'9" gymnastics wonder shares her story from adoption to training to topping the podium.


Classic Literature



Mr. Harrison's Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

This short novel, from which part of the miniseries Cranford was drawn, is laugh-out-loud funny and encompasses the delights of a small English village.


Novella

This category has two winners as well, because I couldn't choose between these two delightful Christmas stories.




One Enchanted Eve by Melissa Tagg

If you enjoy competitive baking shows, you'll love this story of a down-on-her-luck baker and her quest to find one wow-worthy recipe to land her dream job.





Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

All Alexis needs for Christmas is her home remodel to go well. When everything goes wrong it may be time to reevaluate the true meaning of Christmas.



It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, and this book is full of reminders about why I love it. Bob Welch thoughtfully dissects the movie and its characters, discussing what we can learn from this classic film. Having enjoyed his similar book on Les Miserables, I knew this would be perfect holiday reading material, and it was!

Each chapter begins with a quote from or about the movie, and then talks about how we can apply various themes and thoughts into our lives. I love George Bailey and the impact he makes on Bedford Falls. As Welch says on page 90, "...The good we bring to the world, to the community, to our families, doesn't necessarily have to be big and glitzy. It can be small and quiet, which doesn't negate its importance." This is something I'm passionate about, and I love it when other people catch this vision.

I enjoyed the backstory and behind-the-scenes tidbits about the movie that Welch highlights. He talks about various script changes that Frank Capra's story underwent, tells us which lines the actors ad libbed that made the final cut, and comments on public perception of the film when it was released in 1946 versus how it's viewed today. It was clear the cinematic history was carefully researched and is seamlessly woven into the narrative, showing the high regard Welch holds for the movie.

The book is also laced with Scripture and makes plenty of connection to faith's influence on our lives. How does God desire us to live? Does He value the sacrifices we must make for others? Jesus knows more sacrifice than any one of us. I'd definitely say this book was written for a Christian audience.

"People respond to those who inspire, which is what, in his quiet way, George does," Welch writes on page 157. I hope that you and I will be more aware of the ways we can touch and inspire the world around us, both in this Christmas season and throughout the New Year. May we change our worlds the way George Bailey changed Bedford Falls!



If you've ever wondered how Jane Austen might have celebrated the winter holidays, this book on Regency Christmas traditions is for you! This little book is full of information, everything from etiquette to activities to recipes taken directly from the time period.

This book contains sections devoted to different kinds of parties, whether a simple card party of an elaborate Twelfth Night celebration. It discusses different days that gifts might have been exchanged, and what those gifts might have been. I enjoyed the section about caroling and which songs Jane Austen might have sung.

There are plenty of things explained that sound strange to our American ears, like traditions from St. Thomas' Day and Boxing Day, or the description of a mummers play or yule candle. In short, this is a thorough examination of how Christmas and New Years was celebrated two centuries ago and a fun resource for history fans.



I was thrilled to have the chance to review this autobiography by Simone Biles, the darling of the 2016 Rio Olympics. While many might not have known who Simone was at the start of the Games, certainly everyone knew who she was afterwards! Winner of five medals, four of which were gold, Simone broke records and shone in the spotlight. Now we have the opportunity to read the story of her life in her own words.

Simone starts with her earliest memories of life with her birth mother, and talks extensively about the transition to being adopted by her maternal grandparents, who gave her a home full of love and stability. She tells about how she was first introduced to gymnastics through a daycare field trip and immediately fell in love with tumbling as an outlet for her unusual amount of energy. When her parents enrolled her in classes she caught the attention of the coaches from the very first day. Her natural gifts were evident even though she was getting a "late start" to formal training, at age 6. With her abilities she soon caught up and passed the other girls her age with the skills she was able to perform.

I enjoyed learning about Simone's relationship with her coach, Aimee Boorman, and also about all her parents did to support Simone's growing dreams as she advanced in the sport. Simone talks openly about times she struggled with attitude and how she agonized over certain decisions regarding her education. She discusses the times she failed and the times she succeeded, each one shaping her character and career in its own way. Simone's Catholic faith has also played a huge part in her life. In the telling of her life story there is a great balance of honesty, humor, and humility.

Once I got to the part of the book about Simone's senior gymnastics career, I read the rest of the book in one sitting. It was so exciting to read her perspective of events I'd watched on television, including all the way up her crowning achievements in Rio. I wanted to know what Simone thought about Martha Karolyi and the other Final Five gymnasts, and she did not disappoint or skimp on the details.

I would highly recommend this book to all gymnasts or gymnastics fans. It's a great look at the hard work at sacrifices that this sport requires, as well as the fun and glory of success. As someone who has made her place in history, Simone's story will attract readers for many years to come. Special thanks to Michelle Burford for helping make this book a reality.


I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this book. All opinions in this review are my own.



This is a book I've been wanting to read for a long time. Boundaries are so key for all areas of healthy living, and I thought this book did an excellent job discussing them from a Biblical standpoint. This book is full of Scripture and the authors are kind as well as straightforward in showing the problems that come from not having boundaries, reasons we might not have proper boundaries, and how to begin and continue building healthy boundaries for ourselves.

A lack of boundaries will sabotage our lives. If we are incapable of saying no when something is asked of us, how can we ever give a whole-hearted yes? This book covers boundaries of all kinds - in relationships, at work, in the church, and even towards God. If this is a topic in which you are interested or a way in which you would like to grow, I would highly recommend this book.

I grew up in a boundaryless family, and while I have learned a lot of hard lessons about boundary setting in my adult years, this book helped explain the way my journey has unfolded. Many things fell into place and made sense. I was strengthened and encouraged as I read through these chapters.

One of my favorite things that the book focused on was having good support around you. The authors stress that healthy change cannot be made without people around us who can help us grow. This is so important! We need safe and trustworthy people who can help us with our boundary needs, whether good friends, professional counselors, a support group, etc. We as humans are built for relationships, and the best relationships are those with healthy boundaries. I'm so thankful for resources like these that help us take responsibility for our lives and grow in love and maturity.

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